Bradley Central at Polk County
Storyline: It's a Goliath (Bradley's Bears) vs. David, but when they played at Benton two years ago Polk's Wildcats pulled off a 34-12 upset. The names have changed but Bears coach Damon Floyd says it looks to be a typical Polk team: "It'll be a slobber-knocker. They hit you and keep hitting you. They're disciplined." Bradley will rely on quarterback Bryce Copeland, who's entering his fourth year as a starter, and Tennessee-bound tackle Austin Sanders. Polk will counter with running back/linebackers Zach Miller and Justin Green and tight end/linebacker Aaron Caldwell.
Walker Valley at East Ridge
Storyline: East Ridge won 39-17 a year ago behind Eric McCurdy, and the Pioneers quarterback is surrounded by athletes with speed. Both coaches, Tracy Malone and Walker Valley's Glen Ryan, are in their first year at their respective schools. The major focus for Ryan's Mustangs has been defense and consistency. East Ridge went 5-5 but missed the playoffs in 2011, while the Mustangs were winless, losing three games by a touchdown or less. Walker Valley, with hopes of keeping the hammer down from start to finish, will rely on quarterback Garrett Wallace, a second-year starter, and running back Gabe Cartwright.
Cumberland County at Bledsoe County, 8
Storyline: Bledsoe's Warriors have a three-game streak of season-opening wins, including a 34-14 victory over the Jets last season. The Warriors must replace versatile running back Brandon Smith and strong passer Cody Holloway, but they have Holden Boynton (145 rushes for 1,076 yards last year) returning to the backfield. If Dakota Wooden makes the grade at quarterback, it will free Jeremiah Gilbert to return to receiver. Bledsoe also has at least three offensive line starters returning, including center Riley Wooden.
Rhea County at Powell
Storyline: The visiting Golden Eagles' quarterback battle is over, Austin Dotson getting the job after Austin Thurman suffered a season-ending torn ACL. Powell, a Class 5A playoff finalist in 2011, is still good, Rhea coach Doug Greene said, adding that the Knoxville-area program has the swagger of a team that expects to win. Rhea is thin at linebacker and will be without five probable starters. The good thing, Greene said, is that the next guys have stepped up and the team hasn't missed a beat.
Sequatchie County at York Institute, 8
Storyline: The teams have played twice in the last three years with Sequatchie's Indians opening last year with a 35-22 win. Coach Chad Barger's concerns are more with his team than York after graduating 35 seniors over the last two playoff seasons and looking at a varsity with more than 40 freshmen and sophomores. And Sequatchie had a tough time hanging onto the football in last weekend's jamboree. Barger sees potential but also a lot of fuzzy-cheeked youngsters in their first real varsity action.
Signal Mountain at East Hamilton
Storyline: Opening the season with a bang for both teams, this game will feature two of the top public-school programs in Hamilton County. So far in preseason scrimmages, Signal Mountain has looked every bit the state championship contender it is touted as. The Eagles have shown the ability to score quickly as well as physically pound opponents with methodical drives. This will be the biggest home game in Hurricanes history, and after last year's playoff debut, and the return of starters to most every position, a back-and-forth offensive shootout could be in the making.
Baylor at Soddy-Daisy
Storyline: Both teams come into the contest with new looks. Baylor's Red Raiders return only four starters on each side of the ball from a two-time Division II-AA state runner-up team, but they're going against a Trojans team that is underclassman-heavy. Soddy-Daisy does return junior dual-threat quarterback Brett Standifer. Other than that, the biggest question will be how this Baylor team starts to create its own identity after a sub-par jamboree performance.
McMinn County at McMinn Central
Storyline: The host Chargers have improved over the past two seasons, but they face a huge test right off the bat against their bitter rivals. This game hasn't been close the past two seasons, with the Cherokees winning by an average of 29 points, and they sport a pair of solid backs in Dre Sanders and transfer Kelvin Wells Jr., whom the big offensive line will try to spring for big yardage all game long. If the Chargers are unable to stop that, this year's game won't be any different than the previous two.
Grundy County at Marion County
Storyline: New Marion coach Mac McCurry has spent the offseason laying the groundwork for turning around one of the area's proudest programs. He has the community excited and the players have bought into his system, and now it comes together in real competition. Marion returns 17 players with starting experience, and they and their teammates are motivated to put last year's disappointment behind them. Grundy County's early strength should be on the defensive side of the ball with eight returning starters.
Whitwell at Copper Basin
Storyline: These teams combined for just four wins last year, so while this isn't a district game, it is pivotal for setting the season's tone. Copper Basin has a wealth of experience back in the offensive line, but a new starting quarterback in hard-running Dylan Boggs. The Cougars also have plenty of experience up front on the defensive side. Whitwell also is bringing back a lot of experience with 15 lettermen, including 11 seniors. Quarterback Justin Havis has big-play potential for the Tigers.
Lookout Valley at Midway
Storyline: If Lookout Valley's starters remain healthy, it should be a very dangerous team. The Yellow Jackets showed plenty of speed in last week's jamboree with running backs Jamal Jones and Toney Summerow flashing big-play capabilities. Lookout Valley set the tone for its eight-win season last year with a mercy-rule victory over Midway, and with so much returning talent for the Jackets, expectations are for another impressive win.
Boyd-Buchanan at Chattanooga Christian
Storyline: This is Boyd-Buchanan's first chance to erase the taste of a last-second season-ending game in the Class 2A playoffs. The Chargers had more of a slow and painful season, earning three wins in their third year of existence. Quarterback Levi Corbett will lead CCS but without his favorite receiver, Beau Simmons. The Bucs also have a returning quarterback in Jim Cardwell. He threw for 1,106 yards and six touchdowns last year, and he and John Hale combined for 17 touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards rushing.
Grace Academy at Notre Dame
Storyline: These teams may not combine for 109 points like they did in last year's 13-point victory by the Golden Eagles, but both offenses again may be a little ahead of the defenses early on. Both head coaches, Grace's Bob Ateca and Notre Dame's Charles Fant, have offensive-coordinator backgrounds. The Golden Eagles have at least one advantage in that it returns Josh Smith to run an offense in which the quarterback's decision making is vital. The Fighting Irish are going through a youth movement, but there's some talent there.
Howard at Franklin County, 8
Storyline: These teams combined for 72 points last year in a 12-point Frankin County victory. LaWayne Ruffin and Rashad Brummitt are familiar names in skill positions for Howard, but how well the offensive and defensive lines perform will go far in determining what they're able to do. Howard's Brandon Walters (6-foot-8, 279 pounds) should be difficult for the Rebels to keep out of their backfield. In last Saturday's jamboree, Franklin County had a long, sustained drive against East Hamilton that ended with a field goal. If this one comes down to the kicking game, advantage Rebels.
Silverdale Baptist at Clay County, 8
Storyline: It's no secret that Silverdale's key statistical column will be time of possession. As coach Al Rogers put it: "I can control the ball when we're on offense. I can't control it when we're on defense." Rogers feels that his Seahawks match up well with the Bulldogs, but it's going to require some physical play. Clay County has some quick-strike ability that Silverdale must guard against.
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