By TREY WILLIAMS
Daniel Boone and David Crockett’s football teams enter the playoffs in different gears. In fact, some would say Crockett is entering in reverse.
But all teams will have a clean slate when the postseason begins Friday.
The Trailblazers (5-1, 6-4) won their fifth straight game with a 45-20 victory at Cherokee to wrap up the No. 2 seed in Region 1-5A. Boone will host Knox Halls (4-2, 7-3) on Friday.
A missed extra point was the difference in Crockett’s 28-27 loss to Morristown East. It was the third straight defeat for the Pioneers (3-3, 7-3), who ended up with the No. 3 seed and will visit defending state champion Knox Central (4-2, 8-2) on Friday.
Boone got another outstanding game from junior running back Brennan Blair at Cherokee. He rushed for more than 200 yards for the third straight game and went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Not bad for a guy that was playing receiver until senior standout Charlie Cole went down with an arm injury in the second game of the season.
Cole’s injury and a stringent non-conference schedule that included Greeneville, Dobyns-Bennett and Elizabethton were key in Boone beginning the season 1-4. So was a season-ending injury to the top offensive lineman, Chandler Masters, last summer and a thumb injury that cost premier linebacker Devon White the first month of the season.
“Starting out 1-4, after the Dobyns-Bennett game we had a little meeting about how the schedule has got to make us better,” Boone coach Jermey Jenkins said. “And we really reaped the benefits of playing that schedule. I thought our kids were focused from that point on and have really done a good job of paying attention to detail and stuff like that. I think the big thing is the offensive line got solidified and we really got better up front, and then Brennan kind of taking over the running back for us and getting that taken care of. And we’ve gotten really good, consistent quarterback play as well (from Jackson Jenkins and Kaleb Worley).
“And then defensively, I thought, getting Devon back – really a mainstay for us over there – kind of settled us down. But really the line of scrimmage is where we’ve gotten better at on both sides of the ball. That’s kind of been the difference the last four or five weeks.”
Aaron Ford moved to left guard after Masters’ injury. Masters’ brother Matthew is the center and Peyton Ford is the right guard. Jake Sipos and Josh Bowman are the tackles, and Ashton Church could spell any of the linemen.
“Those linemen are unbelievable,” Blair said. “They’ll get so much better in the offseason, too. It’s crazy we don’t even have our best lineman, Chandler Masters. He’ll hit you in the face every play. That’s just great news for this team come regular season next year.
“Also, those boys at wide receiver – Philip Page is a force. He’ll blow right by you. Also, Preston Miller (at) safety – he’s a dawg.”
Blair has 120 carries for 1,015 yards and 10 TDs. He had 27 carries for 215 yards and three TDs against Cherokee.
“I just just wanna thank God for what’s happened and I hope His path just keeps taking its course, because what I’ve done is put it in His hands,” Blair said. “Trust your faith. It’s been a really big move to the backfield, but it’s worked out for us.”
Boone’s lines should be tested by Halls, which has size on the defensive interior, including 6-foot-2, 245-pound senior Avery Robertson.
“I think the biggest challenge for us is that their offensive line is really physical and big,” Jenkins said. “I’ve not seen an offensive line as big as this group.”
The Red Devils also have a solid running back-defensive back in senior Jake Parris. He scored five touchdowns in a rout of Seymour last week and has scored 12 TDs in the past three games.
“He’s about 6-1 or 6-2, 195 pounds and really runs downhill hard,” Jenkins said. “He’s a bigger version of the Elizabethton back, (Cade) Maupin. He’s the same type of back. He’s shifty and really runs well between the tackles. But if he breaks the line of scrimmage – he took one about 60 against South-Doyle, and South-Doyle can run pretty good.”
Hard-hitting Hagen Edwards leads Boone with 62 tackles. Daniel Lusk has a team-high four interceptions and Phillip Page is the leading receiver (42 catches, 385 yards, four TDs).
Crockett quarterback Cade Larkins passed for three TDs and ran for another in a 28-27 loss to Morristown East, which set up a return to Knox Central, where the Pioneers lost in their first quarterfinals appearance last season.
Larkins is approaching 10,900 career passing yards and needs 248 to set the state record. He would need considerably less if not for all the dropped passes last week.
“Cade threw 13 incompletions and we had seven drops,” Crockett coach Hayden Chandley said. “It was probably the best game he’s had all year. The numbers won’t say that, but definitely the best he’s thrown the football all year long.”
For the first time in a while, perhaps since it played at Knox Central last season, Crockett will be the underdog. It’s a role that Chandley hopes his players will relish, as they seem to have lacked some intensity much of the past three games.
“We talked to the kids about how we’re back to the role that we’re used to and basically spent all of last year in,” he said. “I feel like our kids have really taken that as a challenge. … If we go down and play with maximum effort,” Chandley said, “and take care of the football and just play like our hair’s on fire, we’re gonna have a chance to win.”
Crockett turned the ball over four times against Knox Central in the 23-12 loss last year, but the game was still in doubt midway through the fourth quarter.
Junior linebacker Kaleb Fortner made eight tackles in the state championship game victory last season. Quarterback Dakota Fawver is a returning starter as well.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Chandley said, “and hopefully the kids will play loose.”
Senior Donta Hackler leads Crockett with 72 catches for 1,035 yards and 11 TDs, and also has a team-high three interceptions. Prince Kollie has 64 catches for 1,032 yards and nine TDs. Kollie, a junior, also leads the Pioneers with 72 tackles.