Where has the 2018 high school football season gone?
It seems impossible that we have had games played for 10 weeks heading into Friday’s final regular-season games around the state. The Henry County High School Patriots have rolled to an 8-1 record, including a 5-0 mark in Region 7-5A, heading into this week’s region matchup with Clarksville Northwest set for 7 p.m. at Patriot Stadium.
The Patriots will celebrate Senior Night with Patriot seniors and their families being recognized prior to the game. The Patriot seniors are Tavion Kendley, Cameron Bennett, Will Parrish, Matthew Bradham, Ethan Thompson, Samari Rack, Paxton Pierpoint, Donyah Teague, Donovan Teague, Camran Long, Alex Coffield, Mason Wood, Jacob Knott, Stuart Archer, Drew James, De’andre Burton, Mason Burks, Avery McKee, Christian Davis, Nick Metzinger, Kane Hendon, Lorenzo Trainito, Skylar Hoofman and J.T. Legace.
Patriot head coach James Counce Jr. said the team had to put behind it the emotions from the seniors heading into the final regular season home game. The Northwest Vikings are 2-7 coming into Friday’s game with a 1-4 region mark. Counce said despite their record, the Vikings have improved this season.
“You can see it on the film that their team has gotten better this year. They are playing better football even if it hasn’t led them to more wins. They have a quarterback that throws the ball pretty well and some athletic receivers. They have scored a lot of points this season. We are going to have to get ready to play,” said Counce.
Junior Gabriel Sibert is the quarterback, with Isaiah Farrior serving as a top runner and Robert Baker being a strong receiver for the Vikings.
Henry County will be hoping predicted rainy weather for Friday will be over by game time as the Patriots struggled to throw the football at Clarksville Northeast last week during a 37-13 victory over the Eagles. Parrish completed only 2 of 15 passes and did not connect with his favorite receiver, Thompson, in the game. Well, he did throw a touchdown pass to Thompson but it was waved off by an offensive pass interference penalty.
Penalties dominated the game at Northeast and most came after the Eagles became frustrated with their inability to contain the Patriots in the second half. Northeast was flagged 21 times for 250 yards with two players being ejected along with an assistant coach. All this came on a night when the Eagles knew they had to win to advance to the playoffs. Northeast had prepared for the game and obviously believed they could upend the Patriots.
Northeast pulled out all the stops by purchasing new black uniforms and sponsoring a blackout game where fans all wore black shirts. Not only did the Eagles struggle to stop the Patriots on the field, but the night turned miserable with rain falling throughout the game and the uniform numbers peeled off, forcing the Eagles to change uniforms at halftime.
The fourth quarter was a complete meltdown for Northeast, with almost every play resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. It was so bad the Eagles once had to punt on a fourth down and needed more than 50 yards for a first down.
But none of that made the actions of players, coaches and fans at that game necessary or alright. Everyone seemed to be out of control and had forgotten this was a high school football game where sportsmanship should be first and foremost.
All the flags and ejections didn’t convince the Northeast faithful that they had done anything wrong, however, as both the Leaf-Chronicle in Clarksville and The Tennessean in Nashville ran headlines on Saturday saying Henry County refused to shake hands after the game.
Putting myself into the HCHS administration’s and coaching staff’s shoes, let me consider this: I can line my team up and see if we can get through handshakes with an opposing group of players that has spent the past four quarters trying to start a fight rather than play football. Yeah, I can do that, knowing that if pushing and shoving and fighting should break out, I’m going to lose players to suspensions with the playoffs two weeks away.
So no, don’t accuse Henry County of being bad sports when they chose not to make a bad situation worse by avoiding the postgame handshake. Plus, Northeast didn’t line up anyway. They were headed to the locker room as soon as the horn sounded.
Counce attempted to talk with the Northeast coaches after the game and was turned away. But, not everything was ugly at Northeast as a small group of players approached the Patriot coaching staff as they were loading the bus to come home and told them good game and wished them good luck. So some of the Eagles get it and showed they have great character.
Another thing that stuck in my craw this week is the voting in the Associated Press Class 5A poll. First of all, my opinion of polls like this is they are popularity contests. I don’t get to see the East Tennessee teams at all during the regular season and very few of the Middle Tennessee teams outside of Clarksville. The East Tennessee reporters don’t see the Patriots play, either.
So I’m told by those who vote with me on the poll that we vote by watching results and shared notes we send to each other via email.
If we are looking at scores and results, then I don’t know how the Patriots are not the No. 1 team in Class 5A rather than No. 3 in the poll. All of the top three teams, Knoxville Fulton, Oak Ridge and HCHS are 8-1. All of those teams have a close loss to a Top 10 team from Class 6A.
The difference I see is that the Patriots have played five teams ranked in the top 10 of either the Class 6A, Class 5A or Class 4A poll at the time the Patriots played these opponents. The Patriots won four of those games, including a 14-7 victory over Beech, a 42-14 win over Clarksville and a 37-13 win over Northeast, in Class 5A games. The Patriots stopped Class 4A’s Haywood County 29-26 and fell 31-21 to Class 6A’s Germantown.
Fulton and Oak Ridge will meet for the Region 3-5A title on Friday. It will be the third game for Fulton against a Top 10 team. Fulton beat Class 3A Top 10 Austin-East 21-10, but lost to Class 6A No. 1 Maryville 35-20. To be fair, the Falcons also own an 18-9 victory over Knoxville Central which entered the Class 5A poll for the first time this week but wasn’t ranked when the two schools played.
Oak Ridge has played only one previous game with a ranked team and that was a 20-14 loss to Class 6A Farragut.
So you tell me who played the toughest schedule of that group. For what it is worth, the Patriots have my first-place vote, but we all know it will be settled on the field when the playoffs begin in two weeks.
Right now, it is time to celebrate the Patriots’ seniors and send them off with a big win over the Northwest Vikings on Friday.
Go Big Red!
TOMMY PRIDDY is a Paris native who has been sports editor at The Post-Intelligencer since 1985. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.