From the Desk of Chris King and Chandler Morrison
By Thanksgiving, high school football has come and gone for most of the state, but in the Sequatchie Valley, gridiron talk still dominates the dinner table.
And there’s sure to be some mention of the matter during the blessing.
But for most, it’s already a miracle that Marion County, South Pittsburg and Sequatchie County all host home State Semifinal matchups on Friday. It marks the first time ever that three teams from the valley have made it to the semifinals in the same season.
“It is an unbelievable accomplishment for the area,” said Marion County Head Coach Joey Mathis. “A lot of tradition for all three programs and it just speaks volumes about the commitment of all three communities to football.”
Marion County heads into the Semifinals with a full head of steam as the Warriors are coming off a 55-14 Quarterfinal win at Forrest.The Warriors head into the Semifinals 12-1 with their only loss coming against rival–and a team still alive in the playoffs–South Pittsburg midway through the season.
And although Joey Mathis is a first year head coach, this isn’t his first tango with Turkey Day scheduling.
“Fortunately for us, we have been in this position the past two seasons,” said coach Mathis. “So we have a plan and schedule that has worked for us the past two seasons. Being out of school all week has allowed us to slow down and prepare.”
And in case you were wondering, the Warriors will be at Baxter on Thursday, succumbing to their regular season-long habits.
“We will be practicing on Thanksgiving,” said coach Mathis. “We usually go over our regular Thursday routine and then we end with a family like meal. We will speak to the players about what Thanksgiving means and to be thankful for their parents for all the commitments they have made throughout the season.”
The Warriors and Mr. Football finalists Hunter McClain and Alex Kirkendoll are set to host 12-1 Austin-East on Friday. The Roadrunners are coming off a 20-13 victory over Happy Valley last week in the Quarterfinals. Austin-East also brings in a Mr. Football finalist in Coastal Carolina commit Darius Harper.
Sequatchie County heads into the Semifinals coming off a drama filled 21-14 overtime victory over East Ridge in the third round. The Indians head into the Semifinals 13-0 but they aren’t allowing Thanksgiving to affect their preparation.
“We will be practicing early Thanksgiving morning to allow players to spend time with their families,” said Sequatchie County Head Coach Adam Caine. “Other than an early practice, we are trying to keep things normal for our players this week.”
The Indians are set to host class 3A powerhouse Alcoa (12-1) on Friday. Alcoa is coming off a 17-14 win over Elizabethton last week in the Quarterfinals. This season marks only the second time in school history that Sequatchie County has made it the State Semifinals.
Unlike the Pirates and Warriors down the road, the Indians only have a State Runner-Up title to their name, so the Thanksgiving chatter in Dunlap is certainly embracing the 14-point underdogs.
“I think it’s a huge honor to be able to practice on Thanksgiving,” said coach Caine. “I think some programs might take it for granted but for a program like us we are really honored to be here. I am very thankful for our guys and grateful to be playing on Friday.”
South Pittsburg heads into the Semifinals coming off a decisive 56-20 win over Columbia Academy in the Quarterfinals and the Pirates are riding a 13-game winning streak. The Pirates are set to host 13-0 Greenback in the Semifinals on Friday. Greenback is coming off a 28-21 win over Coalfield last week in the Quarterfinals.
The Pirates have a Mr. Football semifinalist in Mitch Butner, but they welcome two Mr. Football finalists Friday as they try to knock off the Cherokees. Head coach Vic Grider, though is more familiar with the late postseason planning than anybody as his team’s been involved in nine quarterfinal matchups, seven semifinal games, and five State Title games since 2001.
Marion County, South Pittsburg and Sequatchie County will look to continue their successful seasons on Friday night and punch their tickets to the State Championship in Cookeville next week.
On Thursday, turkey and family are priority number one for these Valley programs and their players. And there’s something to be said for a brand of football that puts family first and football second.
That doesn’t mean your family still won’t get heated talking about the referees over a delicious plate of down-home cooking.