BY DARREN REESE
& WAYNE PHILLIPS
With the TSSAA Playoffs looming in the near future, area football teams with postseason hopes will be jockeying for seeding position with several key league games on tap.
The Blue Ridge Conference has two games on local turf involving county rivals. At Chuckey-Doak the Black Knights will take on Greeneville High, while at West Greene, the Buffs will tangle with South Greene in the old "Milk Can" rivalry.
North Greene also is involved in a key Region 1-1A game as they host the Cloudland Highlanders.
All games Friday start at 7:30 p.m.
DEVILS AT KNIGHTS
A cross-county rivalry game always stirs the emotions of the players who take the field.
But when Chuckey-Doak hosts Greeneville Friday night, it will also do the same for one of the head coaches.
Black Knights head coach Aaron Christian is set to match wits with his high school alma mater for the first time as the man in charge, and though the challenge is steep, it's one he is looking forward to.
"There are a lot of personal relationships, not only for the players, but for us coaches as well," said Christian, a 2000 Greeneville High School graduate.
"I went to school with coach (Josh) Quillen, I went to school with coach (Cody) Baugh. My senior season was coach (Caine) Ballard's first year coaching there."
"So we know those guys. When our players are watching film, they know the kids by name, not just by their number. Hopefully, that can play to our advantage. What they do isn't a mystery to us."
If the season ended today, Chuckey-Doak (5-2 overall, 2-1 District 2-2A) would be comfortably in the running for a postseason berth. But with three regular season games remaining, Christian doesn't want his team thinking about playoff possibilities.
"We have a lot of big games left, so we are trying to stay focused on what's immediately in front of us," he said. "We have Greeneville, West Greene and South Greene left, and those are all rivalry games. We just want to take them one at a time."
Chuckey-Doak is coming off a 55-25 rout of North Greene last week, a game in which the Black Knights were forced to play without starting quarterback Kris Hinkle due to injury.
Brent Knight made his first varsity start at the position and led the offense admirably, according to Christian. The coach expects Hinkle to be back this week.
"I told Brent after the game that I was proud of him,"Christian said. "We only had him throw three passes, I think, but he managed the game and made some good decisions."
Chuckey-Doak running back Bryce Malone ran for 207 yards and four touchdowns last week.
Greeneville Coach Ballard says his Greene Devils (4-3 overall, 3-0 District 2-2A) are very much aware of the weapons that the Chuckey-Doak offense possesses.
"Malone's just a great football player," Ballard said. "He can hurt you if he gets to the edge. Alexander (Nic) is a tough runner. Their quarterback (Hinkle) is doing a good job. Aaron has done a really good job with Chuckey-Doak's offense. They are impressive."
The Knights run a wing-T offense, and Ballard says its a formation the Devils will see the next two weeks as Grainger also uses that offense.
"Defensively Chuckey-Doak has changed some things up this year," Ballard said. "We've watched them in a four-front and a five-front, based on who they are playing. They're having a good year, and we expect them to play really hard against us."
Ballard said he has been pleased with the shuffle in the starting lineup, with Zack Finchum taking over at quarterback and Tanner Stewart as a key running back.
"Zack is throwing the ball well, and he can run it, too," the coach said. "Plus defenses can't key on Tanner. He gives us that big back that we need and he's accepted that role with a great attitude."
Lineman Hunter Shelton, out for the past couple of games with an ankle injury, may return this week, Ballard said, and the remainder of the squad looks healthy.
REBELS AT BUFFS
The annual "Milk Can Game" will be staged at West Greene, with the Buffs still very much in the playoff hunt and the Rebels playing primarily for pride.
"In my years of coaching I've never had a team banged up like this one," Rebel Coach Shawn Jones said of his Rebels (1-6 overall, 0-3 BRA). "We are really going to have to shuffle people around. Our quarterback (Hunter Waddell) will probably be back, but our other skill people are all questionable."
Jones said that back Tim Lightfoot is out with a sprained knee, Matt Nicademus (one of only two seniors on the team) has a cast on his hand, and receiver Manny Alcantara has not been cleared due to a possible concussion.
"We've had better weeks," Jones lamented, "but our kids, whoever we put out there, will play as hard as they can. It's the Milk Can game, so you know they want to play. West Greene did a good job last week, so we know we'll have our hands full. They're playing to get into the post-season. We're playing for pride."
CLOUDLAND AT HUSKIES
With only two games left on their regular season schedule, the North Greene Huskies control their own destiny with regards to qualifying for a postseason berth.
Coach Josh Edens and his crew host Cloudland (5-2, 3-0 Region 1-A) Friday night, and can assure themselves at least a second-place finish in the region standings with a victory. Along with that comes an automatic spot in the playoffs.
This is a game the Huskies have had their sights on for some ten months now.
"Once the mandatory break time was over following last season, our guys were in the weight room preparing for a game like this," Edens said. "Some teams wait a couple months into the year, but our guys were hungry."
"This game is huge for us. We can lock up second place in the region and we still have an outside shot at finishing tied for first. It's a home game and we are certainly looking forward to it."
North Greene (4-4, 2-1) is coming off a 55-25 loss to cross-country rival Chuckey-Doak in which they surrendered 363 rushing yards. Edens knows his team will have to get better line play this week if they want to be successful.
"This game is going to be won or lost up front," the coach said. "They run a spread offense, and that's something our defense has matched up well against this year."
"Cloudland doesn't put together a lot of 10-12 play drives. They like to break that one big play and then chip away toward the end zone. That's the key for us, not giving up those big plays."
Edens has been impressed with Cloudland's skill players and a couple of their linemen, but believes his Huskies has the advantage in athleticism.
"At this point in the season, nothing any team does is really going to be a mystery," Edens added. "Week eight, you've seen enough of a team on film to know what they are about. There are no secrets.
"We just have to go out and do what we do. If we play North Greene football then I think it will be a good night."