COVID-19 jeopardized this strangest of football seasons the entire way, but TSSAA teams have nearly made it to the playoffs.
Here’s a look at the postseason scenarios for 13 Williamson County-area teams entering Friday’s regular-season finales:
Spartans coach Brian Coleman said his team won the Region 5-5A title “in a weird way.”
By default, you could say.
Summit (8-1, 4-0) will earn its fourth COVID win, including three region games, in Friday’s regular-season finale against Lincoln County.
Virus precautions prevented Lincoln County, Page, Shelbyville and Overton from playing their games against Summit, so the Spartans were awarded forfeit victories in those games.
“It’s very strange,” Coleman said. “All four have been different situations.”
Two forfeits came late in the week, preventing Summit from finding a different opponent.
Summit hasn’t had to forfeit, but some Spartans have missed games due to the pandemic.
“Sometimes these contact tracings are hitting us on a Wednesday or Thursday the week of the game so you’re scrambling to get other people ready for a starting position,” Coleman said. “Most of the time with the contact tracing it’s sitting close to a kid in class or something like that.”
Coleman encourages his players to sit in the corner of classrooms, hoping they will be safer there. But some classrooms are too crowded to do that or the room is too small to get 6 feet of social-distancing separation.
DeKalb County, the Region 3-4A champion, will miss the playoffs due to a positive case.
“We’re just trying to avoid a situation like that, so we’re brainstorming on how to protect these kids,” Coleman said.
Summit is likely to play Hillwood in the first round of the playoffs although the brackets haven’t been released yet.
The Spartans finished as state runner-up last season, but there’s no guarantee of another deep run.
“There’s a lot that goes into a playoff run and now you want to add the COVID situation into it,” Coleman said. “It’s pretty nerve-racking for football coaches, that’s for sure. Day by day, hour by hour, everything is unpredictable.”
Receiver/linebacker Keaten Wade, one of Summit’s star players, has played in only one game after reaggravating a foot injury against Franklin County on Oct. 8.
His twin brother, Destin, has passed for 698 yards and nine TDs and run for 713 yards and nine TDs.
“We’re trying to push him for Mr. Football candidate,” Coleman said. “He’s one heck of a player, especially in 5A.”
The twins are being heavily recruited although the pandemic is making the process difficult.
Independence is one win away from its first region title since 2016.
The Eagles (6-1, 4-0) need a victory over Ravenwood in Friday’s regular-season finale to claim the Region 6-6A championship.
If Ravenwood (5-4, 3-1) wins and Brentwood (6-3, 3-1) beats Centennial on Friday, there will be a three-way tie at the top.
The TSSAA’s first three tiebreakers are region records, head-to-head against region opponents and overall records.
Beating Ravenwood will be a difficult task.
“They’ve got a really dynamic defense (with) playmakers,” Eagles coach Scott Blade said. “Offensively, they can ground and pound as well as anybody and also take the top off a defense.”
Clemson commit Jake Briningstool (6-6, 220) is a special concern for Indy.
“No. 9, the Briningstool kid, he’s probably the best player we’ve faced all year,” Blade said. “Incredibly talented on both sides of the ball and he’ll be real tough to slow down.”
The senior tight end and Clemson commit is 247 Sports’ the top-rated prospect in Tennessee. He started the year at outside linebacker before moving to end.
“His size, his speed, his athleticism,” Blade said. “I think he’s the top-ranked football player in all of Tennessee and there’s a reason for that. He can really do it all.”
Blade calls him “an incredible player with an incredible motor.”
Independence counters with a talented player of its own in dual-threat quarterback Jaxson Campbell, a senior who has over 2,000 yards in total offense.
He’s passed for 1,300 yards and 13 TDs and rushed for 719 yards and 12 TDs out of the Eagles’ multiple-front spread offense. Seven of his TD passes have gone to senior Calvin Wilson, who’s averaging 24.8 yards per reception.
“Jaxson has done a great job for us running the ball, his leadership in and out of the locker room and he’s wrapping up a great career here at Independence,” Blade said. “Everything goes through him.”
Campbell also plays safety and returns punts.
About a month ago, Independence had to shut down for two weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This should be our 10th game; this will be our eighth game,” Blade said. “We were out of school for two weeks, so it’s been a challenge for everybody and it’s something we face daily with contact tracing and everything else.”
The Eagles have won six straight since a 40-34 loss to Summit in the opener.
The Raptors could earn the two seed in Region 6-A with a win at Independence on Friday. A loss would drop Ravenwood to the three seed in the playoffs.
Containing Campbell will be priority No. 1 as the Raptors try to make the dual-threat QB one-dimensional.
“We feel if we can make him throw consistently and not beat you with his feet and legs, then we have a better shot,” Raptors coach Matt Daniels said. “So trying to make him get rid of the ball quickly, make sure you contain him when you are getting after the passer with a good pass rush or pressure, making sure we keep him in the pocket and of course trying to be in our best coverage position as possible on the back end to make it difficult for him to complete passes.”
Briningstool has shined for Ravenwood, which has won four consecutive games over Independence.
“In just five games on the defensive side of the ball, he’s got six sacks and almost 10 tackles for loss,” Daniels said. “When you add that to the production that he brings on offense: 12 total touchdowns, 700 yards receiving – he’s exactly what we needed, a two-way star for us.”
Ravenwood has played a difficult non-region schedule against Blackman, Pulaski Academy (Ark.), IMG Academy (Fla.), Christ Presbyterian Academy and Smyrna.
“It’s been brutal, but in a good way,” Daniels said. “We feel like it’s preparing us for the next five or six weeks. It’s a schedule that prepares you for the playoffs. It’s humbled us a little bit.”
One game over .500 is uncustomary for a program that’s enjoyed a 33-8 run the past three seasons.
“I think we’re still headed in the right direction, so I’m hoping that we’re going to peak at the right time in November and that’s kind of what we’ve done the last few years,” Daniels said.
Raptors cornerback Myles Pollard caught the attention of college recruiters in September during a 45-14 loss to IMG, the nation’s top-ranked team in USA Today’s Super 25. The game was nationally televised by ESPNU.
“He’s had several SEC offers that have come after that game,” Daniels said. “He had a big hit where the running back was actually coming out of the backfield on a wheel route and Myles made a really good, clean hit: shoulder to the chest area right when the ball got there.”
The IMG player made the catch, but Pollard popped him with a decleating hit.
“It was loud and the ESPN announcers were going nuts about it, so it was a pretty big play,” Daniels said.
Arkansas, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Penn State and Louisville are among the schools who have made scholarship offers to Pollard.
Brentwood (6-3, 3-1) could still capture its third straight Region 6-6A title with a win over Centennial coupled with a Ravenwood victory at Independence on Friday.
“I think our biggest concern is with us, to be honest with you,” Bruins coach Ron Crawford said. “We are a beat-up, injured football team. Secondly, we are just playing poorly on defense, playing selfish, not taking coaching.”
Crawford called last week’s 26-21 loss to Independence a “terrible performance” defensively.
“We’ve got to figure out who’s going to compete on defense and who’s going to do things the right way, and who’s going to do things like they’re coached because they either don’t know or don’t care,” Crawford said. “So we’ve got some improving to make, man.”
Injuries might sideline six Brentwood starters against Centennial.
Fortunately for the Bruins, quarterback Cade Granzow is healthy.
The 6-foot-3 senior has completed 136 of 217 passes for 1,551 yards and 17 touchdowns with two interceptions.
The Auburn baseball commit has football offers from Kansas, Vanderbilt, MTSU, UAB, Air Force, Eastern Kentucky, Indiana State and Coastal Carolina.
Tennessee commit Walker Merrill is one of his favorite targets with 44 catches for 496 yards and five TDs in four games.
Brentwood’s Aaron Walton has 46 receptions for 525 yards and nine TDs.
Bruins defensive back John Howse IV has committed to Vanderbilt.
Eight of the Bruins’ backup and special teams players are out of the lineup due to the pandemic.
The Admirals (4-5, 1-3) could earn a playoff spot as Region 6-6A’s four seed with a win at Dickson County (1-8, 0-4) on Friday.
The slumping Cougars have lost six straight since a COVID win over McGavock on Sept. 11.
Connor Beavon, whose last-second TD pass to Taylor Spierto on fourth down gave Franklin an overtime win at Page last week, has thrown for 1,710 yards and 12 TDs with seven interceptions this season.
Brentwood Academy earned one and possibly two home playoff games when it clinched the Division II-AAA East/Middle Region title with a win at Ensworth last week.
BA visits Baylor in its regular-season finale on Friday.
The Eagles (9-0, 4-0) may open the playoffs against Memphis University School or Montgomery Bell Academy in the quarterfinals, but nothing has been determined yet.
BA is aiming for its 15th state championship, but Eagles coach Cody White believes the field is wide-open.
“I don’t think there’s much separation, to be honest with you, between us and everybody else,” White said. “We can’t slip up and we can’t not continue to improve, and there are some things we’re not very good at right now.”
White thinks “there is a ton of parity” in Division II-AAA this season. There won’t be much difference between the one seeds and the four seeds.
Christian Brothers (7-2, 3-0) might be the strongest team from the West.
BA kicker Teagen Lenderink is five field goals away from breaking the single-season state record of 21 set by James Wilhoit, now a history teacher at the school on Granny White Pike.
“He’s the best one I’ve ever seen in high school,” White said. “On par with Baylor’s kicker, the one that went to Wisconsin (Rafael Gaglianone) and was such a great (kicker) for them. He’s a super good student.”
Lenderink transferred to BA from Rockford (Michigan) this season.
BA quarterback Taylor Montiel has passed for 1,762 yards and 10 TDs with three interceptions and a 61.3 completion percentage.
The Knights (4-3, 3-1) could earn Region 4-4A’s two seed with a win against Marshall County (8-1, 3-1) on Friday.
“It’s a typical Marshall County team, man,” Knights coach Paul Derrick said. “Big, physical, fly around on defense, play pretty aggressive in the secondary. Offensively, a couple different running backs that like to get downhill, playmakers on the outside and the quarterback distributes the football to all those guys.”
Tullahoma (9-0, 4-0) clinched the region title with a win over Nolensville last week.
The Knights are likely to open against Livingston Academy or Macon County in the first round of the playoffs.
Nolensville returns 10 starters from last year’s 11-3 state semifinal team.
Knights quarterback Ryan Galardi has passed for 940 yards and five TDs. Samson Johnson has rushed for 698 yards and 13 TDs.
“This is the time of year when you want to be playing your best football, so that’s what we’re going to try to do Friday night and hopefully we can carry that on into the playoffs and make another deep run,” Derrick said.
Like all coaches, Derrick never knows if his team will have a COVID issue.
“You’re literally going day by day with this deal and it’s something that’s far beyond our control as coaches and that’s one of the things that drives you mad,” Derrick said. “You try to plan and most coaches are very organized and detailed and try to map things out well in advance. And with this whole deal it’s been one of those things where you can’t do that. You’ve got to be able to modify and adjust and go on the fly with stuff that comes your way.”
Nolensville has had to reshuffle games and lost a few players week to week.
“We’re like everybody else that’s playing through this pandemic,” Derrick said. “We’re just trying to do the best we can given the situation we have and we’re just thankful that we’re getting to play and hopefully we can finish this season off.”
The Yellow Jackets (7-1, 4-0) will try to extend their Region 6-3A winning streak to 25 games in a showdown at Stewart County (7-1, 4-0) that will determine the league title on Friday.
“They have a really good quarterback who’s a really good runner,” Fairview coach Chris Hughes said of junior Will Page. “We’ve got to contain him. They’re really aggressive on defense. They come after it, they send pressure.”
Fairview is seeking its fifth consecutive region championship.
Hughes is concerned about his team allowing big plays in last week’s 35-14 win at Dickson County.
“We gave up 150 yards and two touchdowns on two plays and we gave up 109 yards on 42 plays,” Hughes said. “So if we can eliminate those two plays, that’ll bode well for us.”
Fairview’s only loss was to Class 6A Lebanon on Sept. 26.
“I wish we’d have got all of our games in,” Hughes said. “You can’t duplicate that experience of games. The COVID thing has kind of put a damper (on the season.) I feel like this is one the most talented football teams I’ve ever coached and I’ve had some good ones.”
Fairview was shut down for two weeks due to the pandemic in September.
“One of those seven wins is a COVID win, so we’ve only actually played seven games,” Hughes said.
Fairview quarterback Riley Bennett has passed for 859 yards and rushed for 177 with no interceptions or fumbles in his first year as a starter.
“That’s the first time since I’ve been coaching that that’s happened,” Hughes said of no turnovers in eight games.
Yellow Jackets running back Logan Nardozzi, a Mr. Football semifinalist in 2019, has rushed for 3,354 career yards and 37 TDs. He has run a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash, according to his trainer.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior is averaging over 10 yards per carry this season.
“If he doesn’t get back to that, I’ll be shocked,” Hughes said of a Mr. Football nomination for Nardozzi.
Christ Presbyterian Academy
CPA (6-2, 2-1), which ends its regular season with a home game against Franklin Road Academy on Friday, will be a Middle Region two seed in the Division II-AA playoffs.
The Lions are headed to the east side of the bracket.
CPA always makes deep runs under coach Ingle Martin, who has led his team to the semifinals or better during every season since his arrival in 2011.
He has a 111-25 career record, including two state titles, three runner-up finishes and four semifinal appearances.
“The biggest thing for us is the kids that we get to coach,” Martin said. “Any good coach will tell you you’ve got to have players to win games and we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had some really good players over the past 10 years.”
One of those good players is linebacker Langston Patterson (6-1, 210), a junior who has multiple offers including Notre Dame, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Louisville.
His older brother, Kane, is a backup linebacker at top-ranked Clemson. Langston also plays running back, where he’s rushed for 408 yards and nine TDs.
“Langston Patterson is obviously having a terrific year,” Martin said. “He’s a kid who’s been offered by just about everybody and his ceiling is so high just from a football acumen. There isn’t anything on the football field that he’s not really good at. He could probably be a good punter, he could probably be a good quarterback. He’s just a really gifted athlete.”
Running back Tyler Reid leads the Lions in rushing with 480 yards and quarterback Cade Law has passed for 833 yards and nine TDs.
The pandemic has affected CPA, just like every other school in the state. It suffered a COVID loss to Brentwood in September after some contact tracing.
A Thursday game against Independence was canceled due to lightning.
“We’ve got really good friends at Stewarts Creek and they found out in the last day or two that they’re going to have most of their team and coaches quarantined,” Martin said of the school in Smyrna whose season ended prematurely due to COVID-19. “So, if anything, 2020 gives you perspective. We talked about that with our kids on Monday.
“The fact is we get to still play. We know we’ve got this week and next week guaranteed. We hope our kids can stay healthy and we can keep everyone safe and play those games. Everything is a blessing to be with your friends and teammates. It’s just a crazy time.”
Battle Ground Academy, Lipscomb Academy
BGA (4-3, 1-2) is headed to the Division II-AA playoffs regardless of the outcome of Friday’s game against Lipscomb Academy (7-2, 3-0).
The Mustangs have won seven straight, including last week’s victory over CPA, since an 0-2 start.
BGA will try to contain quarterback Luther Richesson (6-3, 202) and explosive running back Alex Broome, son of Maplewood coach Arcentae Broome, a former star running back at Stratford and Tennessee State.
The younger Broome recently got offered from Tulane, Harvard, Princeton and his dad's alma mater, TSU.
“Alex Broome is one of the better backs, if not the best back, we’ve seen so far this year,” Wildcats coach Jonas Rodriguez said.
BGA wide receiver/defensive back Xavier Shaw has returned from a broken collarbone and quarterback Brett Brown has completed 18 of 29 passes for 300-plus yards and four TDs in the past two games.
Shaw has offers from Indiana State and Western Illinois.
The Patriots (4-5, 2-2) could earn the three seed from Region 5-5A with a win at Franklin County on Friday.
A loss would drop Page to the four seed. Only two starters return from last year’s 10-2 team that made it to the second round of the playoffs.
Grace Christian Academy
GCA (4-5, 2-4) could get the DII-A East Region fifth seed with a win at Grace Baptist (1-8, 0-6) on Friday.
The Lions are hoping to end a three-game losing streak.
GCA quarterback Ashton Kelley has thrown for 1,457 yards and 10 TDs. Blake Barton leads the team in rushing with 1,127 yards and 19 TDs.
Kelley’s favorite target is Maddux Lambert, who’s hauled in 41 catches and four TDs