Although Tennessee's high school football playoff brackets won't be official until TSSAA releases them tomorrow morning (11 a.m. start), we can make several bold assumptions about where Oneida and Scott will be playing next week.
The Indians will be at home, hosting Tellico Plains, while Scott will travel to upper East Tennessee to face Elizabethton.
Those projections are based on the outcome of Friday's football games, which featured a number of upsets and mild surprises involving teams that impacted the playoff futures for both Scott and Oneida.
The Indians entered the evening hoping to wind up as high as a No. 2 seed in Class 2A, which would have given them a first round bye and a second round playoff game at home, but knowing they could fall as low as No. 5. While Oneida (8-2) was putting the finishing touches on a 62-0 win over Jellico, a number of games elsewhere around the state played out in ways that Oneida had hoped they wouldn't, essentially giving the Indians a worst-case scenario on the playoff big board.
While Grace Christian's 35-14 win over Rockwood insured that the Indians will have a first round game at home, Oneida saw Oliver Springs and Cloudland lose important games, which dropped the Indians to a No. 4 seed. That seeding means the Indians will draw a much tougher opponent in the first round, with the winner making the trip to Knoxville the following week to face Grace, the state's top-ranked team in Class 2A.
Moments before learning of the Indians' likely No. 4 seeding, Oneida coach Tony Lambert said his team relishes the opportunity to play in the postseason regardless of who the opponent is.
"It is what it is," Lambert said from Jellico. "It's all about survive and advance at this point. We're going to take it however it comes our way and try to make the best of it."
Meanwhile, Scott had the week off — having completed a 7-3 regular season with last week's 55-27 win over Cumberland Gap — and was able to watch the games play out mostly in its favor as the evening progressed. While Claiborne just missed qualifying for the playoffs, as the No. 33 team and 32 slots available, the Bulldogs upset Grainger to knock Grainger out of the runner-up spot in District 2-A, which would have given Grainger preferential seeding over Scott. Also, Unicoi County upset Sullivan Central, 25-23, to sneak into the Class 4A playoffs as a wildcard team, bumping Knox Catholic to the second quadrant and boosting Scott's projected playoff seeding another spot.
The end result is Scott being projected as a No. 6 seed, avoiding a first round matchup against the state's top two teams, Fulton and Greeneville.
Here's how the Class 2A bracket is likely to look for the first quadrant, based on the Independent Herald's projections:
• Grace Christian (10-0) will be the No. 1 seed as champions of District 3-A. The Rams will have a first round bye and host the second round game, with home field advantage throughout the playoffs so long as they keep winning.
• Hampton (7-3) will be the No. 2 seed as champions of Region 1-A. The Bulldogs upset Cloudland 21-12 Friday to earn the lofty seeding. They will have a first round bye and host the second round game.
• Silverdale Academy (9-1) will be the No. 3 seed as runner-up of District 5-A. Silverdale entered the night on pace for a No. 2 seed, but was upset by Boyd Buchanan, 22-21. Silverdale will host No. 6 Rockwood next week, with the winner traveling to No. 2 Hampton the following week.
• Oneida (8-2) will be the No. 4 seed as runner-up of District 4-A. The Indians are seeded behind Silverdale by virtue of Silverdale's nine regular season wins. Oneida will host No. 5 Tellico Plains, with the winner traveling to No. 1 Grace Christian the following week.
• Tellico Plains (7-3) will be the No. 5 seed as runner-up of District 3-A. The Bears burst onto the Class 2A scene in East Tennessee with an upset win over Rockwood earlier this season. They will travel to Oneida next week.
• Rockwood (7-3) will be the No. 6 seed as a wild card team. Despite the Tigers' loss to Tellico Plains earlier this season, Rockwood remained ahead of the Bears in the playoff standings. However, Greenback's upset loss to Midway Friday enabled Tellico Plains to finish as the district runner-up, receiving preferential seeding.
In Class 4A, meanwhile, here is how the first quadrant bracket is likely to look based on our projections:
• Fulton (10-0) will be the No. 1 seed as champions of District 3-AA. The Falcons will host No. 8 Unicoi County next week and will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
• Greeneville (10-0) will be the No. 2 seed as champions of District 2-AA. Despite tying with Fulton in the wins column, Fulton played five teams this season with records of .500 or better, compared to only three for Greeneville. Next week, Greeneville will host No. 7 Grainger.
• Elizabethton (9-1) will be the No. 3 seed as champions of District 1-AA. The Cyclones upset previously unbeaten Sullivan South Friday, 28-27, to capture the district title. They will host No. 6 Scott in the first round of the playoffs.
• Sullivan South (9-1) will be the No. 4 seed as runner-up of District 1-AA. The Rebels will host Carter in the first round of the playoffs.
• Knox Carter (9-1) will be the No. 5 seed as runner-up of District 3-AA. The Hornets were No. 2 entering the evening, but were defeated handedly by Fulton, which led 62-0 at halftime of the de facto district title game in District 3. Although Carter has the same number of wins as Sullivan South, and both teams have played the same number of teams with records of .500 or better (5) and have beaten the same number of teams with records of .500 or better (4), Carter's opponents had 47 combined wins, compared with 49 for Sullivan South. The tiebreaker came in Friday night's action, when eight of Sullivan South's 10 opponents recorded victories, compared to just six of Carter's. While the two teams were destined to play one another, the tiebreaker earned home field advantage for Sullivan South.
• Scott (7-3) will be the No. 6 seed as a wild card team. The Highlanders entered the evening at No. 8, but benefited from Claiborne's win over Grainger and Unicoi County's win over Sullivan Central. The former insured that Grainger could not receive a preferential seeding to Scott, while the latter lofted Unicoi County into the playoffs and bumped Knox Catholic to the second quadrant, based on earlier projections by TSSAA.
• Grainger (4-6) will be the No. 7 seed as a wild card team. The Grizzlies entered the night as the No. 2 team in District 2, but a narrow setback to Claiborne set up a 3-way tie in the district, with Chuckey-Doak winning the tie-breaker based on total wins. Although Claiborne and Grainger each finished with six wins and Claiborne defeated Grainger, the Grizzlies played six teams with .500 or better records this season, compared to just five for Claiborne, which helped boost Grainger into the playoffs.
• Unicoi County (4-6) will be the No. 8 seed as a wild card team. Unicoi defeated Sullivan Central (4-6) in an upset, then received some help from some other teams who lost games Friday. Like Grainger, Unicoi County played six teams with records of .500 or better, boosting their playoffs resume. While both Unicoi and Grainger played the same number of teams with records of .500 or better and had the same number of wins against teams with .500 records or better (1), Grainger's opponents won a total of 57 games, compared to 56 for Unicoi County.
If there is a potential surprise on Saturday morning, it would be TSSAA deciding to shift Scott to quadrant two rather than Catholic. However, based on earlier projections by TSSAA, that seems unlikely.
Both Scott and Catholic are natural first quadrant teams, but there are nine teams in East Tennessee qualified for the Class 4A playoffs that TSSAA considers to be natural first quadrant teams. Earlier this season, when nine teams were projected to qualify, TSSAA chose to shift Catholic to the second quadrant. While Scott is the western-most team on the map to qualify for the playoffs in the first quadrant, Catholic is located on Interstate 40, making the drive to Middle Tennessee a more logical choice.
Next week's playoff games will all start at 7 p.m.