Halls visits the undefeated Pioneers in the first round of the TSSAA Class 5A playoffs, but Red Devils coach Jeremy Bosken won’t be on the sideline because he’s serving a suspension for being ejected in last week’s game against Seymour.
“I can’t be there during the game, but as soon as the final whistle blows I will be there and find some of their kids, love on them and enjoy the moment,” Bosken said.
Bosken coached the Pioneers from 2013-16. He was an assistant coach at Cleveland in 2017 before taking over at Halls prior to this season.
“The appeals and everything went through,” Bosken said Thursday. “I won’t be there, but it looks like we will get some kids back. I was ejected for arguing that there were no punches thrown, which the video supports. But the TSSAA said my ejection was a judgment call and they couldn’t overturn it.”
The Pioneers’ Class 5A battle is one of several TSSAA playoff games involving local teams Friday night. Kickoff for all is set for 7 p.m.
In other 5A matchups, Daniel Boone hosts Gibbs and Tennessee High travels to take on South-Doyle. In 6A, Science Hill is at home against Bradley Central. In 4A, Sullivan South hits the road to battle Chattanooga Central and Elizabethton hosts Howard. And in 2A, Sullivan North goes on the road to undefeated Meigs County.
Halls (5-5) at David Crockett (10-0)
Bosken said preparing the game plan to meet his old team has been a gift and a curse.
“You watch film and you’re proud to see what those guys have done,” Bosken said. “But it’s a curse when you’re on the other side and say, ‘How do we defend this?’ ”
Wide receiver and cornerback Sheldon James leads Halls. Other key players include 6-foot-5 receiver Ethan Campbell, who was fourth in the state in the high jump last year, workhorse running back Tyler Holmes and sophomore quarterback Ty Humphrey, who is averaging 200 yards passing per game.
“He kind of reminds you of (former Crockett quarterback) Ryan Burger,” Bosken said of Humphrey.
Crockett, which is 10-0 for the first time in school history, is a heavy favorite. The Pioneers boast Class 5A Mr. Football semifinalist Cade Larkins at quarterback, and he has plenty of skill-position threats at his disposal.
Larkins is enjoying a record-setting season. After passing for 3,172 yards, he needs 249 more to move into 10th place on the state’s all-time list for a single season. He also has thrown for 36 touchdowns.
Gibbs (6-4) at Daniel Boone (8-2)
Unfamiliarity will be one of the Trailblazers’ opponents.
“Gibbs runs the flexbone offense like Georgia Tech, so that is an advantage in itself simply because you don’t see that a lot,” said Boone coach Jeremy Jenkins. “It is a ball-control offense and they try to hit you with some deep shots. So you have to play assignment football and read your keys.”
The Trailblazers also like to keep the ball on the ground, offering the potential for a fast game. In the regular-season finale against Cherokee, Boone had three running backs surpass the 100-yard mark, including Charlie Cole, the Trailblazers’ 1,000-yard rusher.
Among the standouts for the Eagles is quarterback Dalton Wright.
Gibbs, which won six games in a row before a 46-0 loss to Knox Central to close the regular season, also provides a threat with its defense, Jenkins said.
“They are very opportunistic on defense and love to get penetration with their front,” he said. “They have created some turnovers, so we have to do a good job taking care of the ball.”
Jenkins said he believes his team is ready.
“I don’t see the nerves, but our kids are anxious at the opportunity to host a playoff game,” he said. “Our players and staff have worked really hard to have this opportunity and I expect us to play well.”
Bradley Central (7-3) at Science Hill (5-5)
Science Hill can’t throw out the first 6½ games, but the Hilltoppers are in mighty good shape for a .500 team.
They were 2-4 and trailing 20-0 against Farragut just before halftime in Week 7. The Hilltoppers rallied to take the lead against the one-loss Admirals before falling 23-21.
They’ve never looked back.
“We’ve played better since the Farragut game,” said Science Hill coach Stacy Carter. “We’ve got to keep the momentum. Bradley has a tough team, but I think if we play well we will win.”
Quarterback Dylan Standifer is the main man for the Bears, throwing for 1,946 yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. Standifer also has 337 yards rushing and six scores.
His favorite target is Saylor Clark, who has 61 catches for 886 yards and 11 scores, and Tray Curry has totaled 534 yards on 47 grabs with four touchdowns. Ricky McCleary leads the running attack with 952 yards and 10 scores.
Defensively, linebacker Hayden Owenby (10 tackles for loss, four sacks) is a standout player.
“He’s probably their best defensive player,” Carter said. “They just get after it. They blitz a lot, and they are tough kids. They are a hard-nosed team.”
Bradley ended Science Hill’s season in 2017 with a 41-34 first-round decision.
Sullivan South (7-3) at Chattanooga Central (5-5)
The Rebels will try to reverse a 45-42 loss in last year’s first-round matchup.
“Last year was tough,” said Sullivan South coach Justin Hilton. “Our kids went down there and laid it on the line, but came up a little short. The leaders of our team need to be sure we bring the same intensity and focus this year.”
Central has dealt with its share of injuries, including the loss of standout running back Michael McGhee. Hunter Jones rushed for 75 yards in the regular- season finale, a 34-0 loss at the hands of Class 2A power Tyner.
“They have a lot of speed and athleticism,” Hilton said. “They will be a great challenge for our football team, and a win would be a huge step for our program.”
Howard (5-4) at Elizabethton (9-1)
Elizabethton is a heavy favorite, but Howard is dangerous enough to gain the Cyclones’ attention.
“There is a huge unknown playing Howard,” said Elizabethton coach Shawn Witten. “They have the ability to make plays when plays break down. They find ways to make something out of nothing.”
The Chattanooga school was 1-4 at the midway point of the season but rallied with four straight wins.
Running back Eric Johnson has 21 carries for 132 yards — including a 79-yard game-clinching touchdown run in the fourth quarter — in a 19-6 season-
ending victory over East Hamilton. Quarterback Marquez Williams is another threat.
“Our defense has to rise to the occasion,” Witten said. “We have to be disciplined and know the situations. Our experience needs to play a factor.”
Overall, Witten said he believes his team is ready.
“We are playing good football right now, and the kids are confident,” he said. “We have prepared ourselves for this all year.”
Sullivan North (5-5) at Meigs County (10-0)
The Golden Raiders made it to the second round of the playoffs last year but will be hard pressed to repeat that finish this year.
Meigs County not only has outscored its opponents 410-45, but the Tigers have also allowed only three points per game over the past eight contests.
The Tigers are favored to win the 2A state title.