We are nearing the halfway point of the regular season and the contenders are starting to separate themselves. It’s mid-term exam time for a lot of teams in the mid-state this week. How teams handle these key tests will determine playoff positioning as well as bragging rights for the next year. I had a really hard time choosing my five biggest games of the week. It was so difficult to eliminate some games that I will do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to reveal the five games that barely missed the cut. Sorry to Franklin/Ravenwood, Stratford/White House-Heritage, Hillsboro/Hendersonville, Independence/Summit, and MJCA/FRA. Your games are good but not quite good enough. The five games that were good enough stretch from north to south and across public and private ranks. Here is the Friday Five for Week 5 in order…
1. Oakland (3-0) @ Blackman (1-2)
Even at 1-2, Blackman could still be the chief competition for Oakland in Region 2-6A. The Blaze are immensely talented and ready to prove that their slow start is a product of their schedule and does not accurately reflect their prospects moving forward. I caught up with Blackman Head Coach David Watson earlier this week. You can hear that interview here. He knows that his team learned some tough lessons in losses to McCallie and Shades Valley (AL). They applied some of the lessons from the McCallie setback in an impressive 17-14 win at Riverdale. If anyone can put pressure on Oakland in 2-6A, it will more than likely come from the group of Blackman, Smyrna, Cookeville, and Riverdale. Blackman is 1-0 against that field of challengers. With a dynamic running game led by Master Teague (All-Name team), why not Blackman? Another question that will be addressed tonight is whether or not anyone can challenge Oakland. With an SEC quality safety tandem in JaCoby Stevens (LSU) and Kaleb Oliver (Mississippi State) and a strong armed veteran QB in Brendan Matthews, the Patriots look poised to steamroll the rest of Rutherford County. The size of that steamroller will be determined tonight at The Inferno.
2. Baylor (4-0) @ Brentwood Academy (3-1)
What a night for those that care about Nashville and Chattanooga private school powerhouses. Which at this point in the season, should be everyone who has anything to do with Division II-AA. Four teams in the East/Middle region are rising to the top of a crowded field and they all play each other tonight. Undefeated Baylor at BA is the first of the two big match-ups on my list. Full disclosure: Brentwood Academy sponsors this column. This is also the first time they’ve made my list this season so don’t accuse me of favoritism. It’s not because they aren’t good enough. The defending state champs are extremely talented and very well coached. Led by Sr. QB and Austin Peay commitment Jeremiah Oatsvall, the Eagles run a high octane attack that can beat you through the air with Camron Johnson and big TE Gavin Schoenwald and on the ground with Oatsvall and fellow Austin Peay commitment Jack McDonald at fullback. BA won this game 42-30 a season ago but lost a lot of big time players from last year’s team and will be challenged mightily by top ranked Baylor.
3. Cane Ridge (4-0) @ Beech (3-1)
I claimed two weeks ago that we had just witnessed the Region 6-5A championship when Cane Ridge won an OT thriller over Hendersonville. Then something happened. Beech happened. The Buccaneers stunned Hendersonville last week and put themselves square into the conversation for a region title. Our Jaclyn Wallace caught up with Beech head coach Anthony Crabtree (Audio) and talked about his program which has consistently churned out winners. Beech did a great job holding Hendersonville’s Wing-T rushing attack well below it’s average but will have to defend a different kind of attack this week. D.J. Thorpe is the real deal for Cane Ridge. The Senior QB has incredible command of the Ravens’ spread offense. If he has a big night, it could mean trouble for Beech. Either way, it’s going to be a great atmosphere and should be an incredible game that will go a long way in deciding who wins Region 6-5A. Kevin Smith goes more in-depth in his Coach Speak column. Click Here
4. McCallie (3-1) @ MBA (3-1)
The second game to make my list in the Nashville vs. Chattanooga battle royale will take place on West End Avenue. McCallie is perfect in the state of Tennessee with wins over Red Bank, Father Ryan, and Blackman by an average of 36 points. The lone loss for the Blue Tornado came against Peachtree Ridge (GA). Much like McCallie, MBA got off to a slow start against an out of state opponent. The Big Red lost 33-24 to Hewitt-Trussville (AL) before reeling off three straight wins by an average of a whopping 44 points. If McCallie is going to pull off the road win, they will have to do what no one has been able to accomplish: slow down Ty Chandler. The senior Big Red running back and University of Tennessee commitment is a threat to score every time he touches the ball and has racked up huge numbers in very limited action. The Big Red have been so far ahead in 3 of their 4 games that Chandler has been a spectator in the second half. Something tells me he will still be in the game in the 4th quarter tonight.
5. Giles County (3-1) @ Marshall County (4-0)
This is the game of the year in Region 4-4A and I’m very confident putting that in print. These are the two strongest teams in the region and that’s no disrespect to Page who is pretty good. This game is also my “arrive early if you want a seat” special of the week. Both Pulaski and Lewisburg care deeply about their communities and their football teams. They will show up tonight. Giles County seems to always show up and they’ve done just that this year putting up 70 points (70!) in the season opener against Columbia. They followed that up with a close loss to a very good Shelbyville team before winning a close one against Lawrence County and blowing out Lincoln County. Marshall County is maybe the most underrated team in the mid-state. Public Address announcer Quentin Campbell has been telling me about his Tigers all offseason and throughout the start of the regular season. Quentin is on to something. Led by Bryce Wallace (Bo’s younger brother) at QB, the Marshall County offense is a fun one to watch. It’s also a veteran group with seniors Tre Crutcher and Jay Howard providing explosiveness and consistency on the outside while Cain McWilliams (MTSU commit) provides both pop and speed on the ground. McWilliams is 6;1, 225 and runs a 4.54, 40-yard dash. McWilliams also provides leadership on defense from his linebacker position while Tavi McClean (Jr.) applies good run support and pressures opposing quarterbacks at defensive end. This will be a fun one to watch tonight. If you are in southern middle Tennessee, make your way to Lewisburg. If you don’t mind a drive, make your way to Lewisburg. It won’t disappoint. Have a happy and safe football Friday night!