Region rivalries will heat up starting Thursday. Week 8 is chock full of important games with postseason implications.
It's also got a few trap games, starting with:
Cleveland at Maryville
TV: 7:00 p.m., myVLT
Why it matters: Because although Maryville might be in the driver's seat for Region 2-6A, the Rebels' race to the postseason has just begun.
It's a crowded party at the top of the standings, with all of Maryville, Ooltewah, Bradley Central, and the aforementioned Cleveland all boasting two wins in region play.
Sure, they'll figure out a pecking order sooner or later, but until then it's all hands on deck for 5-1 Maryville, whose only loss came to Alcoa on Sept. 7.
The Rebels and Blue Raiders had a high-scoring affair one season ago in a 59-38 Maryville win. It remains to be seen though if Maryville can sustain that offensive effort against a formidable region opponent. Take out last week's 55-10 walloping of William Blount, and the Rebels are averaging 31 points per game.
It might be enough for this week, but both Cleveland and Ooltewah (next week's opponent) could be potentially dangerous if the game turns into a shootout.
Gatlinburg-Pittman at Austin-East
Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Why it matters: Because if anyone's going to cause a late season shakeup in Region 2-3A, it's going to be one of these two teams.
Gatlinburg-Pittman has put away Northview Academy, Pigeon Forge, and Scott with ease, and tentatively shares a spot at the top of the region standings with Alcoa.
Simply put, they're not giving up points. Second-year head coach Derek Rang said before the season he was confident in play on both offensive and defensive line, and knew his secondary was going to limit damage on big plays. So far, so good. The Highlanders have given up a touchdown to Scott and Pigeon Forge, and that's about it.
Also consider that G-P has faith in a veteran quarterback in JD Shults, and you feel pretty good about their chances playing anyone in the region.
But here's the thing: Austin-East opened up their second half of the season on fire when it had possession of the ball.
The Roadrunners are coming off a 52-0 shellacking of Scott, with their other region win coming 36-14 at Kingston.
I say this meekly, but perhaps the winner of this game gives Alcoa run for its money. Perhaps. One game at a time.
Coalfield at Greenback
Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Why it matters: Because for as long as I've been here, this game decides the winner of Region 2-1A.
East Tennessee powerhouse Greenback has won 14 consecutive games dating back to last season. Why stop there?
The only team to give the Cherokees pause was the Oliver Springs Bobcats, who limited them to 28 points in a 28-18 win.
The 'Kees have since re-energized, topping Grace Christian 48-14 on Rivalry Thursday, and taken a bye week with a 6-0 record.
Also, running back/safety standout Josh Edwards is supposed to return from an injury in time for this game. And midseason Alcoa transfer Jalen McCord will be available in the backfield.
I got my eligibility papers back today & I WILL be playing this Friday❗️💯— Jalen Mccord (@Jalen_McCord25) October 4, 2018
Coalfield, meantime, is 4-0 in region play (5-2 overall) and pretty much gets top playoff seeding if they win this game. It would also behoove them to beat Oliver Springs in a couple weeks, too.
Keith Henry's team flirted with greatness in 2016 and 2017, led by current EKU quarterback Parker McKinney. The Yellow Jackets put up video game numbers on offense with Parker, an elite passer, on the field.
Call it serendipity, but the next in line in the McKinney clan, Peyton, has been a huge plus for Coalfield this season.
Peyton McKinney rushed for 83 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns on the ground in last week's 22-13 win over Midway.
This rivalry game versus Greenback has usually stood in the way of a Coalfield run to Cookeville. Could that change this week?