As the finalists descend upon Chattanooga’s Finley Stadium to close out the 2021 season, six of the nine BlueCross Bowl championship games feature teams from the 615 Preps coverage area.
Let’s break down each game in the order they’ll be played (all times Central), with official predictions from managing editor Chris Brooks:
Thursday, 10 a.m.: Lipscomb Academy (11-1) vs. CPA (11-2), Division II-Class AA
The skinny: Rematches will be a big theme for all the Division II title games, and among them, this one is the only one where the regular-season loser (CPA) has to make up more than one score in the rematch. Lipscomb Academy defeated the Lions 38-0 on Oct. 22, but since then both teams have rolled to the championship game. CPA hopes to repeat, while Lipscomb Academy hasn’t lifted a gold ball since 2007.
Big weapons: Dynamic duos lead both squads, with Cade Law and Langston Patterson keying the Lions offensively and Patterson also spearheading the CPA defense. Luther Richesson has been outstanding, tossing 37 touchdown passes against four interceptions, while Alex Broome has found the end zone 39 times this season while racking up more than 2,000 total yards.
How CPA can win: A clean game. Turnovers and penalties can’t happen. The Lions can’t afford to get in long-distance conversion situations. London Humphreys and Reid Williford will have to find ways to get open and take some pressure off the Lions’ rushing attack. Keeping the Mustang offense off the field will be the best way to get this to the fourth quarter with a shot.
How Lipscomb Academy can win: Business as usual. The Mustangs haven’t taken teams lightly this year – just look at the scores of the wins they’ve had. They certainly won’t overlook CPA, as they’ve been playing for this moment ever since Trent Dilfer took over as head coach before the 2019 season.
Prediction: CPA plays much better than the first meeting but expect Lipscomb Academy to come out fast and try to run with this one like usual. It gets to the fourth quarter with some intrigue, though. Lipscomb Academy 35, CPA 24
Thursday, 2 p.m.: Nashville Christian (11-2) vs. DCA (11-1), Division II-Class A
The skinny: These two run it back from their Week 11 meeting, where the Wildcats’ defense stifled the Eagles at home to the tune of a 7-3 win for the region title. Neither team had much difficulty getting through the playoffs to the rematch. It’s been 17 years since DCA won a state title, while Nashville Christian won its only championship in 2015.
Big weapons: Nashville Christian runs through Josh Strickland (1,740 rushing yards, 33 TD), but Tyler Morris can hit the deep ball when he has to. Morris is also a defensive threat, leading the team with four interceptions this season. DCA can spread it around with Bradford Gaines (2,334 passing yards, 31 TD) tossing it to Dayton Sneed, Nathan Magalei and others, while sophomore Ashton Jones provides a backfield threat for the Wildcats. Brady Russell anchors the DCA defense.
How Nashville Christian can win: Take the shot. The turning point of the first game was when Nashville Christian elected to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the DCA 2-yard line, thinking they’d get into scoring range again. They didn’t. Chances to punch it in may be few and far between, so they’ll need to take them when they can.
How DCA can win: DCA slowed Strickland down in the first meeting (22 rushing yards) and forced three turnovers. A repeat of that will get it done, but even if the turnover margin is even, the Wildcats can win by sticking to their guns and being balanced.
Prediction: Expect another tight, low-scoring affair, although we should see more than 10 total points scored this time. Both defenses are stout. DCA 17, Nashville Christian 14
Thursday, 6 p.m.: MBA (9-3) vs. McCallie (12-0), Division II-Class AAA
The skinny: MBA gave McCallie its biggest test on Sept. 3, though the Big Red fell 34-31 in Nashville. The Blue Tornado seek their third consecutive state title, while MBA wants its first since 2014.
Big weapons: Quarterbacks on display in the nightcap on Thursday as Marcel Reed – who started in the 2019 BlueCross Bowl as a freshman against McCallie – hopes to get his first title. Reed has 2,002 total yards and 24 total touchdowns, while the Big Red defense has been locking down everyone (11.3 ppg allowed) on the current eight-game winning streak after a 1-3 start. William Riddle has thrown for 2,812 yards and 39 touchdowns for McCallie.
How MBA can win: Hold serve on offense. Keeping McCallie out of the end zone completely is a big ask, so matching scores until they can get the big turnover is key. Defense in this game might not be about how many stops you can get – it might just be about when you get them.
How McCallie can win: The pressure is on the McCallie defense. It’ll be up to that unit to decide this game.
Prediction: Both quarterbacks show why they guided their teams here, but MBA’s roll ends with the gold. MBA 34, McCallie 30
Friday 10 a.m.: East Nashville (10-4) vs. Alcoa (13-1), Class 3A
The skinny: East Nashville is in the title game for the first time, using a stout defense to get through the Class 3A playoffs. Forget their record – the Eagles’ four losses were all to 5A, 6A or Division II-Class AAA teams. Alcoa seeks its seventh consecutive state title and 20th all-time.
Big weapons: Caden Buckles has been efficient all year for Alcoa, throwing for 1,766 yards and 20 touchdowns against just three interceptions. Amarion Ford has rushed for 1,754 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Eagles, while the East Nashville defense has allowed 8.1 points per game in nine wins on the field this year, and 33 of those 73 points came in a shootout against Stratford early in the season.
How East Nashville can win: Alcoa is a tall mountain to scale at this level, but playing keep-away will be the Eagles’ best shot. Quarterback Zacc Beard and receiver Willie Wilson would do well to hook up for a deep shot or two, but East Nashville must be able to sustain drives. They absolutely cannot afford to fall behind early.
How Alcoa can win: Not being complacent. This is becoming old hat for the Tornadoes, but a hungry newcomer may provide enough of a challenge to force Alcoa to play its best game.
Prediction: Most think this is a blowout, and it might be. But it’s interesting long enough to make people think about it for a while. Alcoa 45, East Nashville 20
Friday 6 p.m.: Page (13-1) vs. Powell (12-2), Class 5A
The skinny: Page is in the BlueCross Bowl for the first time, while Powell makes its third-ever appearance, seeking its first gold ball. The Panthers rolled Knoxville West in the semifinal round, while Page needed a frantic fourth-quarter rally to topple Henry County to reach the final.
Big weapons: Another quarterback duel on tap with Powell’s Jordyn Potts and Page’s Jake McNamara taking center stage, while Walter Nolen figures to factor in on both sides of the ball for Powell. When both teams run, Jarvis Stockton carries the load for Powell, while Ethan Cunningham is Page’s main ground option.
How Page can win: Keep the momentum from last week’s fourth quarter. Page won’t get it done playing like it did the first three quarters against Henry County, but if fourth-quarter Page starts the game, there could be a lot of fireworks and possibly a gold ball in the Patriots’ future.
How Powell can win: Get after McNamara. That means Nolen has to impact the game defensively – and he certainly knows how – whether it’s drawing double teams and freeing up other defenders or beating those blocks and making McNamara scramble. If McNamara settles in, Powell’s in trouble.
Prediction: This has the potential to be the most fun game of the weekend, as long as nobody falls too far behind, so it could be last possession wins. Class 5A’s been unpredictable all year, and this is a fitting way to finish it. Powell 41, Page 38
Saturday 6 p.m.: Summit (14-0) vs. Oakland (14-0), Class 6A
The skinny: The grand finale pits two unbeaten reigning state champions against one another. Summit wants to conquer 6A a year after doing so in 5A, while Oakland hopes to repeat its 2020 finish. Summit hasn’t played a one-possession game all year, while Oakland survived two late-game challenges from Lipscomb Academy and CPA but otherwise won by multiple scores.
Big weapons: Oakland has its top trio of Jordan James, Antonio Patterson and Isaiah Horton, while Destin Wade, Keaten Wade and Brady Pierce lead a stellar senior group for Summit.
How Summit can win: Patience. The big plays that the Spartans are accustomed to might not be there initially, so Summit can’t afford to force plays. That’s where Oakland’s defense is dangerous. The Spartans are pretty good at improvising, however, so as long as the offensive line keeps Destin Wade upright, the big plays can develop. Watch Brandon King – he may be a factor in the offense in this one.
How Oakland can win: Mix things up. The Patriots would do well to throw some things at the Wades that they haven’t seen on film this year. Oakland’s coaching staff could try some different blitz packages to provide pressure and not let Destin Wade get comfortable. One thing’s for certain – they can’t miss tackles, because that’s where those big plays can develop. Eric Taylor has made big plays on defense all year, and he’ll have to do so again.
Prediction: Horton catches a late game-winner to cap a classic. Oakland 31, Summit 28