2019 record: 34-18
Last week: 3-2
Week 11 brought the regular season to a wacky ending. And if you have been following closely all season, that should not come as a surprise.
Springfield beat Creek Wood 14-7 to capture the Region 5-4A title for the second straight season. After losing to Montgomery Central on Oct. 11, it appeared the Yellow Jackets would be traveling in the playoffs. Instead, they can play at home all the way to Cookeville.
Jo Byrns and White House Heritage both slipped into the playoffs with Week 11 victories. Heritage ended Montgomery Central’s once-promising season with a 20-13 road win.
While Springfield will enjoy home cooking, East Robertson, Jo Byrns and White House Heritage all face 2-plus hour drives for their playoff openers on Friday.
Here’s an intriguing thought: if Springfield and White House Heritage both win their first-round games, the two teams would meet on Nov. 15 for a Battle of Highway 76 rematch. Yes, this rivalry needs a name and a meeting in the playoffs would be epic.
Anyway, here are my picks for the first round:
Jackson South Side at Springfield (Friday at 7 p.m.)
Springfield got better and better as the season progressed. When I saw the Yellow Jackets lose 35-0 to East Nashville in a scrimmage on Aug. 9, I certainly was not expecting them to win the region championship.
But here we are. Dustin Wilson’s team is playing remarkable defense – they have allowed just eight points per game over the last month. And the rushing tandem of quarterback Kevontez Hudson and running back Kevontay White has made the offense effective enough to win.
Jackson South Side (3-7, 2-3) has struggled this season, but the Hawks won the right games (Chester County and Liberty) to advance to the postseason. South Side has lost three of its last four contests.
These teams are trending in different directions, and that will probably show on Friday.
PICK: Springfield 31, Jackson South Side 12
White House Heritage at Lexington (Friday at 7 p.m.)
The Patriots (7-3, 3-2 Region 5-4A) continued their turnaround with a season-defining victory at Montgomery Central. Heritage went 1-19 over the last two years and has not been to the playoffs since 2015.
Trenton Tuttle was a bit of a one-man wrecking crew with three total touchdowns against the Indians. If he and QB Will Wilson can continue to connect, that should open holes for Parker Deaton, Jackson Mapes and whoever else the Patriots hand the ball off to.
Lexington (5-5) is another team that won the right games. The Tigers beat Chester County, Jackson North Side, Jackson South Side and Liberty to finish 4-1 in the region. Otherwise, Lexington went 1-4 in its non-region matchups.
To the Heritage players: I know you guys are reading this. I’m not picking against you this week. But please do your part to give us the second-round showdown we all want to see.
PICK: White House Heritage 21, Lexington 15
East Robertson at Bledsoe County (Friday at 7 p.m.)
Despite a coaching change and season-ending injuries to several key players, East Robertson (5-5, 3-2 Region 4-2A) managed to win four of its final six contests and advance to the playoffs for the second straight season.
Bledsoe County (7-3) took the No. 3 seed in Region 3-2A. The Warriors have won three straight games, and their defense surrenders just 15 points per contest. But they haven’t played as difficult of a schedule as East Robertson, which lost to Forrest (10-0), White House Heritage (7-3), Trousdale County (8-1) and Watertown (8-2).
There is some potential for an upset here. But given the long road trip and the youth of the Indians, I’m sticking with Bledsoe County.
PICK: Bledsoe County 34, East Robertson 20
Jo Byrns at South Pittsburg (Friday at 7 p.m.)
The struggles in Cedar Hill have been well-documented in this column. Coach Tom Adkins is working with a young Jo Byrns team that has been injury-riddled all season.
But the Red Devils (2-8, 2-3 Region 4-1A) dished out a 46-0 beating to Pickett County to advance to the playoffs for the third straight season.
Meanwhile, South Pittsburg (9-0) is considered a favorite for the Class 1A state championship. The Pirates have won every game this season by two scores or more. And yes, this is the same South Pittsburg that beat Jo Byrns 41-6 for the state title in 2010.
Friday will be the end of the line for Jo Byrns. But the Red Devils don’t lose many seniors, so look for them to make another playoff trip next season.
PICK: South Pittsburg 56, Jo Byrns 7