Big games are on tap tonight in Oneida and Huntsville, as both the Indians and the Highlanders will host important region games. At Jim May Stadium in Oneida, the Indians will welcome Rockwood, while Scott will welcome Austin-East to Highlander Stadium in Huntsville, where they're getting set for tomorrow's Heritage Festival.
Tonight's games matter, more for Oneida than for Scott, but either game has playoff implications.
Oneida's game against Rockwood is a battle for a first round playoff game at home.
The stakes couldn't be bigger for the Indians and the Tigers. Getting a first round game at home means the difference in hosting someone like Hampton, South Greene or Cosby in the first round, versus traveling to Happy Valley or Sullivan North. There's a big difference in those two scenarios. Happy Valley has already beaten Hampton and Cosby by combined scores of 102-0, while Sullivan North has beaten Cosby and South Greene by combined scores of 96-27.
Oneida has already secured a playoff berth, with region wins over Wartburg and Cumberland Gap. Rockwood has not won a region game yet; the Tigers' only conference game was a loss to Meigs County two weeks ago. But if Rockwood defeats Wartburg and Cumberland Gap, as will be expected, the playoff berth will take care of itself.
A win tonight would allow Oneida to keep pace with Meigs County atop the Region 2-2A standings, but the reality is that the regular season region championship will be decided when the Indians face off against Meigs County at Dr. M.E. Thompson Field in two weeks, regardless of what happens in tonight's game.
Oneida comes in with an overall record of 5-1, 2-0 in region play. The Indians started the season 5-0 for the first time in nine years before running into a buzzsaw named York Institute last week. The Dragons handed the Indians their first loss of the season, 28-7.
Rockwood enters tonight's game with an overall record of 3-3, 0-1 in region play. That record is somewhat deceiving; the Tigers have faced remarkably difficult competition. Rockwood's losses have come to a 4-1 Sweetwater team in Class 3A (27-18), a 5-1 Kingston team in Class 3A (49-28) and to the state's top-ranked Class 2A team, Meigs County (48-27).
The Tigers' wins were against Midway (41-40), Tellico Plains (33-13) and Harriman (36-15).
While Rockwood's win over Midway was a close one, it's a win that's looking increasingly impressive as the season progresses. The Green Wave have not lost a game since that season-opening loss, though they will find out much more about themselves tonight when they face off against a powerful Coalfield squad.
If you're wondering just how dangerous Rockwood might be, consider this: they handled Harriman easily in a Thursday night TV game a week ago, winning 36-15. That same Harriman team visited Jim May Stadium two weeks earlier and was driving inside Oneida's 25-yard-line with a chance to win late in the game before ultimately losing, 13-7.
If Rockwood has a weakness, it might be its defense. The Tigers have given up at least 40 points in half their games this season and giving up an average of 32 points per game. Meigs County scored a season-high against the Tigers' defense, while Kingston tied a season high. Midway's 40 points is the second-highest total scored by the Green Wave this season.
On the flip side, Rockwood has shown an ability to put points on the board itself. The Tigers are averaging 31 points per game. In their three wins, they have averaged 37 points per game.
Oneida's defense, meanwhile, is giving up just 13 points per game, while the Indians are scoring 26 points per game. The Indians have given up just four second half touchdowns all season, although all of those have come in the past two weeks. Additionally, Oneida has only given up seven rushing touchdowns in six games, with four of those coming last week against York.
Oneida coach Tony Lambert and Rockwood coach John Webb are close friends in the coaching industry.
"I have as much respect for him as anybody in this business," Lambert said of Webb last week. "He's a good coach and a good man."
Lambert said Rockwood is a big, imposing football team, and said tonight's game will be "a slobberknocker."
The Indians and the Tigers will kick off at 7:30 p.m. at Jim May Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on WBNT 105.5 FM with Tim Smith doing play-by-play and Mark Matthews and John L. Strunk doing color analysis.
It's a big weekend on the campus of Scott High School. The Highlanders are hosting a region game tonight, and tomorrow will host the 11th annual Heritage Festival at the Museum of Scott County, which is adjacent to Highlander Stadium.
In Austin-East, Scott will welcome a very much improved football team that appears to be gunning for an opportunity to challenge Alcoa's supremacy in Region 2-3A.
The Highlanders and the Roadrunners have squared off in each of the past two seasons, with Austin-East winning both. Last year, Scott quarterback Billy Hall broke his collarbone when the two teams met in the season-opener, and Austin-East was able to pull away for a 26-0 win in a game that otherwise seemed to feature two evenly-matched teams.
This year, Austin-East — which returned a boatload of talent from last year's squad — is off to a 4-1 start through the first half of its season. The Roadrunners are 1-0 in Region 2-3A play.
Austin-East's only loss was a narrow setback against a powerful Fulton team, 20-14, two weeks ago. The Falcons are 4-1 on the season, with their only loss coming at Maryville last week. In their four wins, Austin-East was the only team to seriously challenge them. To give you an idea how strong Fulton is, the Falcons defeated Karns two weeks ago, 40-0. The Beavers defeated Scott High last week, 30-7.
Of course, Austin-East doesn't need Fulton to do its talking. The Roadrunners' record speaks for itself. Austin-East has wins over Gibbs, Brainerd, Kingston and Halls. The Roadrunners demolished a strong Kingston squad earlier this month, 36-6. To date, that is Kingston's only loss of the season. The Yellow Jackets rebounded with wins over Rockwood, Northview Academy and, last week, a 42-15 win over Stone Memorial.
Austin-East's most recent outing was a 31-13 win at Knox Halls last week. Karns defeated the same Halls team by a 39-21 score earlier this season.
"We kinda always approach it as though every game is as big as the Super Bowl for us," Scott High head coach Keith Shannon said of Austin-East. "I promise you, we treated (Karns) just as big as we will the Austin-East game. I think the opponents are very alike. It'll be a very similar type of opponent.
The Highlanders enter with a 1-5 record, and a 1-1 mark in region play. The Highlanders earned their first win of the season two weeks ago at Gatlinburg, a 34-28 win. Even though that was Scott's first win of the season, the Highlanders feel as though they were good enough to win several of their earlier games, including matchups with Clinton and Stone Memorial.
Tonight's game is not a must-win for Scott High in the playoff race. For that matter, neither is next week's game at Kingston. In all likelihood, the Highlanders' postseason fate will come down to the final two games of the season, against Northview Academy on Oct. 13 and at Pigeon Forge on Oct. 27.
On the other hand, a win tonight would give the Highlanders a huge leg up in the Region 2 playoff race. A win would not secure a playoff berth for the Highlanders, but it would move them to within one game of securing a berth.
Scott and Austin-East first met in 1997. The Highlanders took both games of a home-and-home series back then, winning 28-26 the first year and 35-20 the second year.
Since then, however, Austin-East has won every game against Scott. The two teams met often as region opponents in the 2000s, playing every year from 2001 to 2008. One of the more memorable games during that stretch came in 2003, when current Scott High basketball coach Jordan Jeffers was quarterbacking the Highlanders. With Jeffers leading the way on the ground, Scott jumped to a two-touchdown lead over Austin-East. The Roadrunners eventually won the game, 39-26.
Tonight's game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Highlander Stadium. The game will be broadcast on WBNT 105.5 FM (tape delay), with Rick Keeton on the play-by-play and H.L. Keeton adding color.