A common line of coach speak, referring either to one’s own team or the opposition, is “we don’t know which team will show up.”
Greenback (8-2) can take that one step further tonight Friday, Nov. 8, wondering if the opposition will show up at all.
The Cherokees, Region 2 champs, are scheduled to face Unaka, the fourth-seeded team from Region 1, in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs at 7 p.m.. It would be the fourth straight meeting of the two schools in round one, but in 2016 the Rangers refused to make the nearly three-hour trip to Greenback and forfeited.
That action led to a two-year playoff ban imposed by TSSAA. As luck would have it, the Rangers finished fourth Region 1 both years, giving Greenback first-round byes.
This year Unaka is in a similar position. Region 1 is a rarity in TSSAA divisions, having only four teams. Unaka was winless in its three region games but still gets a playoff shot.
The regular season did end well for the Elizabethton team. It defeated Sunbright 30-12 to enter the playoffs on a high note.
This compares to a tough 2016 regular season ending when Midway — a team Greenback had defeated easily during the regular season — trounced Unaka 71-0 in the season finale.
Unaka chose to forego the 2016 playoffs. The team has not fared any better the past two seasons while under the TSSAA ban.
Greenback coach Greg Ryan said having a bye week brought positives and negatives. Wounded players had time to heal, and the team had extra preparation time, but going without live action can throw off timing and build rust.
This year, Unaka (2-8) is scheduled to arrive and will be greeted by a healthy group of Cherokees. The most banged-up members of the tribe had shortened outings in the season-finale 66-0 romp over Oakdale and are healing nicely.
Holden Willis had a painful deep-thigh bruise received in the Midway game on a touchdown reception. Duke Stinnett and Derrell Bailey Jr. had shoulder issues from that game. While still taking therapy, all will be at or near 100 percent by game time, Ryan said.
Ryan said Unaka has some talented skill players, but added, “Like a lot of smaller Class A schools, where they struggle is in the offensive and defensive line.”
The athlete that drew most of Ryan’s attention in film study was sophomore receiver Devin Ramsey.
“(Ramsey) is their go-to player,” Ryan said. “They run him on jet sweeps, reverses, screens and other short-passing schemes.”
Ryan said quarterback Landon Ramsey manages the offense well. The freshman hasn’t shown strong long-range passing abilities but does a good job of getting the ball out to Devin Ramsey or to leading rusher and captain Logan Benway.
Unaka lines up in what Ryan labeled “old-school” football, with two tight ends and two backs behind the quarterback, but the offense will show wrinkles.
“They seem to run six or seven trick plays a game,” Ryan said. “Their coach does a good job of trying to be creative.”
Ryan did not belabor discussion of Unaka defensive formations and strategies.
“Our offense is fairly unique so we never know how a defense is going to line up until it’s game time,” Ryan said. “We’ve seen just about everything so we prepare for everything.”
The veteran coach is likewise not worried that his team might overlook Unaka.
‘We have 12 seniors and a lot of players with experience,” Ryan said. “Everybody understands that you are one game away from continuing, but you’re also one game away from going to the house. So all our focus is on the next game, nothing beyond.”