Tigers, Devils meet with title hopes on the line

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By Goose Lindsay

Does it get any better than this?

That’s what fans around Rockwood and Harriman are thinking this week as the Tigers and Blue Devils hook up in the state’s longest consecutive running rivalry with a possible District 3-A championship on the line.

“This is what it’s all about,” Harriman head coach Travis Tapp said when talking about the team’s 91st meeting on the gridiron this Friday at Rockwood’s Civitan Field. “Coach (John) Webb and I talked about this when we drew out week 10 for this game a couple of years ago. We knew there would be a chance we could play the last week of the season with a title on the line.”

“Getting to play your biggest rival in the last game of the season with a chance at a title is what you want,” Rockwood head coach John Webb added. “This is definitely something our kids and fans are looking forward to.”

Both teams enter Friday’s contest tied with Greenback and Grace Christian Academy for the top spot in District 3-A. Grace Christian and Greenback also play Friday night, which means the winner of Friday’s game must wait to see how the Rams game with the Cherokees to see who holds the head-to-head tiebreaker in the final standings.

For Rockwood to win the district title, the Tigers must win and have Grace Christian defeat Greenback.

Harriman, on the other hand, must win and have Greenback knock off the Rams to win the title.

The winner of Friday’s contest also earns an automatic berth in the TSSAA playoffs, but unlike years past, an automatic berth in the playoffs doesn’t mean as much as teams will be seeded according to TSSAA’s 16-step process in which a team’s overall record takes top priority.

“It’s a little hard for people to understand because a team can now win the district and go on the road in the first round of the playoffs,” Tapp said. “The biggest thing now about finishing first in second in your district is getting that automatic bid.”

At 5-4, Harriman could be a district champion that would play on the road. Entering Friday’s contest at Rockwood, the Blue Devils are currently ranked as the No. 6 team in Quad 1 of the TSSAA Class A playoffs. A victory over the Tigers could move Harriman to a No. 5 seed, but a 5 or 6 seed would see the Blue Devils opening the playoffs on the road.

While Harriman cannot do a lot to improve their playoff stock, the same cannot be said for the Tigers. 

Rockwood’s 6-3 overall record is currently good for a No. 3 seed in Quad 1 of the TSSAA Class AA playoffs, but the Tigers do have a chance to improve to a No. 2 seed with a victory over Harriman Friday and a Sunbright victory over Wartburg.

If the Tigers could manage a No. 2 seed, they would also get a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

A loss, however, could lead to a four-way tie for third place in the quad and Coach Webb doesn’t want to leave it in the hands of TSSAA’s computers.

“It’s different, that’s for sure,” Webb said of TSSAA’s playoff process. “We really don’t know how anything’s going to play out, but we know we’re in better shape if we win.” 

If Rockwood is to win on Friday, Webb says it’s going to take a great game from the green and gold.

“They’ve got great athletes plus they’re big, strong and physical,” he said. “Our guys are going to have to play one of their best games if they want to win. We can’t turn the football over and we can’t make silly mistakes if we want to beat Harriman Friday night.”

Tapp echoed Webb’s sentiments.

“We’re going to have to play our best game of the season without a doubt,” Tapp said. “They’re a traditional John Webb team. They’re physical and hard-nosed. They’re solid on offense, defense and special teams. They do things the right way and we’re going to have to play well if we want to win.”