published Monday, October 1st, 2012

Blog: Marion, Hixson top area surprises

If there was a surprise to the high school football season, at least in the Chattanooga area, it would have to be Marion County, which began 2012 with its fourth head coach in the last dozen years.

The Warriors are 6-2 under Mac McCurry, who last year was the defensive coordinator at Signal Mountain.

"I came in trying to get everybody to believe — and there was some doubt early — but the kids have certainly bought in," the personable coach said Saturday night.

Marion got its sixth win Friday, surviving a 51-47 game against Lookout Valley, and has games remaining with Grace Academy, Copper Basin and Chattanooga Christian.

"That was a big win [Friday], but every week has great playoff implications," McCurry said. "I know we have to win Friday night and the next Friday night and the next. A 'W' the next three weeks is just as important as the one last Friday."

The Warriors' two losses this season came against South Pittsburg — and that one was close for a while before the Pirates pulled away (49-21) — and Hixson, when the Warriors blew a two-TD late and fell 36-27.

Hixson might be a close second as a surprise team. The Class 4A Wildcats are 4-2 with their two losses coming in the season opener (44-12 to Class 5A Walker Valley) and two weeks ago to unbeaten Class 4A member DeKalb County.

Much of the credit has to go to first-year coach Jason Fitzgerald, who pulled a lot of smoke-and-mirrors magic during his days at Rhea County, and his staff, a group that includes former Rhea assistants Walt Cameron and Matt Hampton. Of course one of Fitzgerald's first tasks was getting the players to believe in themselves and each other. It appears that he has done that, and it also appears that he has renewed interest in the program within the Hixson community.

Things have to be at a fever pitch in Hixson after the Wildcats pulled off a 28-19 victory over Tyner, maintaining their own unbeaten status in District 6-AA while handing the Rams their first district loss. It goes without saying, though, that they'll have to play their picture-perfect best this week when they play on the road against defending district champion East Hamilton (5-1, 2-0).

The Hurricanes have blown through five of their opponents with their only loss coming to neighbor Ooltewah. In the five wins, they've scored an average of 44 points, and they're on a four-game win streak.

Reclassification rumors

With reclassification plans likely to be released in the near future, rumors and gossip are flying among coaches.

Here are some to consider:

• East Hamilton leaving District 6-AA and moving up to District 5-AAA. The Hurricanes are likely to make more money on gate receipts, but it's a step up in competition with the likes of Cleveland, Bradley Central, McMinn County and Ooltewah.

• Signal Mountain changing districts, possibly moving out of 7-AA with Bledsoe, Grundy, Sequatchie, Notre Dame and CCS into 6-AA with Central, East Ridge, Hixson, Howard, Red Bank, Tyner and possibly Brainerd.

• Notre Dame dropping from Class 4A in the playoffs to Class 3A, and maybe even Class 2A, and Brainerd might drop from 4A in the postseason to 3A.

• Depending on how the numbers fall, Boyd-Buchanan considering a move to Division II-A.

• It's likely that Red Bank will replace South Pittsburg on Signal Mountain's schedule even if the Eagles' move from 7-AA doesn't happen. Also, that Baylor will be looking for at least two games because the Red Raiders no longer will be playing Soddy-Daisy or Bradley Central, that Central likely will drop Polk County and Cleveland and add Coffee County and Cumberland County, and that Blackman has made its last trips to the Chattanooga area unless it reaches an agreement with Baylor.

The initial set of standings for the TSSAA playoffs was released last Tuesday. To refresh your memory, the top 24 teams in Classes 1A and 2A and top 32 teams in 3A, 4A, 5A and 6A on this list will be in the playoffs unless a school not listed in the top 24 (1A, 2A) or top 32 (3A, 4A, 5A,6A) finishes first or second in its district. A team or teams finishing first or second in a district would replace the lowest ranked schools(s) on the list.

Surprisingly, Notre Dame is the top-rated area Class 4A team, coming in at No. 6, three notches ahead of East Hamilton, which has been ranked fourth the last couple of weeks in the Associated Press poll. That will change this week after East Hamilton's 35-0 win over East Ridge and the Irish's loss to Signal Mountain, which was No. 19.

South Pittsburg is ranked a surprising eighth in Class 1A. While the Pirates lost to Class 4A Signal in a Sept. 21 shootout, one has to seriously wonder if the computer is missing a few megabytes of info. Seriously, eighth? Don't be surprised if the Pirates move back to No. 1 after Greenback's loss to Knoxville Grace last Friday night, and here's hoping that it doesn't hurt the Pirates that their schedule was pared to nine games when an opponent from Georgia backed out.

Boyd-Buchanan was ranked No. 2 behind Dresden in Class 2A, but what's so pitiful here is that the Bucs might wind up having to play Friendship Christian in the second round or semifinals of the playoffs. Of course, Dresden entered the weekend with a 6-0 record and five of those teams it had beat had won at least 50 percent of their games.

Both Polk County and Christian Academy were among the Class 3A teams ranked ahead of Alcoa.

If the playoffs had started last Tuesday, Cleveland, Ooltewah and Walker Valley would have been in the 5A field and McMinn County and Bradley Central would have played in Class 6A.

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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