Most high school football teams in the state of Tennessee set goals to start their season with the intention of winning a State Championship.
However, in order to do that, a team must make the playoffs first, which is typically the first goal for most schools. A playoff birth gives a team extra practices, more time to develop younger players and a chance to play for something meaningful.
For the Hancock County football team though, making the playoffs isn’t a priority. That’s because Region 1-1A contains just four teams; Hancock County, Cloudland, Jellico and Unaka. Since four teams go to the playoffs from each region, every team in Region 1-1A knows they’re in the postseason before the regular season even begins.
In spite of a 3-7 record, the Indians are hosting a Coalfield as the number two seed Friday night.
“We’re definitely happy to be at home,” coach Brandon Gibbs said. “We’re in the playoffs before the season even began, but it is definitely nice to be the one or two seed, so that we can get that home game. Making the playoffs honestly isn’t one of our main goals. Our main goal is to win as many games as possible.”
The season started strong for the Indians, who won two of their first three games, including a two-overtime victory over region opponent Unaka. However, things turned after the Unaka game as Hancock County dropped six of their last seven games of the season. They enter Friday nights contest on a three-game losing streak.
Part of the reason for the struggle has been due to injuries to key players for the Indians. Hancock County lost not one, not two, but three quarterbacks throughout the season with injuries. The Indians backup and third string quarterbacks were both injured last week against West Greene.
If the Indians are wanting to pull off an upset on Friday night, they’ll have to do it with some younger players, making those extra practices they get for making the playoffs all the more important.
“We’re kind of reeling right now (because of injuries),” Gibbs said. “We’re having to teach some guys who have never played quarterback before and move positions around. It has been kind of a learning experience for us in practice this week.”
Despite finishing the season with a 7-3 record, Coalfield is the three seed out of Region 2, making them the road team for Friday’s game. The Yellow Jackets started the season hot, winning six of their first seven games. But Coalfield lost two of their last three games, putting them in the three spot.
Coalfield finished their regular season last week on Thursday night as they forced seven turnovers on their way to a 22-14 win over Oneida. One of those turnovers was a pick-six that proved to be the winning score.
“They like to run their quarterback a lot,” Gibbs said. “They’ll run him off tackle, counter plays, quarterback sweep so we definitely have to stop the run game. Their strength is their offensive and defensive lines. We’ll have our hands full for sure with them.”
Last time the two teams faced off was also in the first round of the playoffs. In 2017, Coalfield breezed past the Indians 59-6.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. between the Indians and Yellow Jackets on Friday night. The winner will take on the winner of Unaka and Greenback in the second round.
“We want to control the things we can control,” Gibbs said. “Our goal on offense is zero turnovers and zero pre snap penalties. We need to take care of the football and execute. On defense, we need to stop their run game, and then we need to be perfect on special teams. That’s what we need from them.”