A chance to start over. A chance at redemption. Something all of us can relate to.
Coming off one of their worst halves of football this season, Bradley Central head coach Damon Floyd said that's what his Bears are looking for as the postseason opens for them Friday evening, in Knoxville.
"Everybody is 0-0 again. Each game is a win-or-go-home situation. Farragut is excited to be in the playoffs. We are excited to be in the playoffs.
"They've had their ups and downs and so have we, but I expect both teams to play their best games of the season to stay alive," the veteran "Papa Bear" remarked as he leads his sleuth into its 10th straight TSSAA postseason.
One of the Bradley "downs" came in the season opener against tomorrow night's opponent.
"We let that game get away. We turned the ball over four times and had to deal with way too many penalties (15 for 165 yards)," Floyd bemoaned.
In fact, five of the 10 most penalized games in Bear history have come this season with the "zebras" tossing 104 flags for 1,095 yards during the first 10 games.
"It (last week's loss) was another game we only played a half in. Other than our blowout wins (59-14 over Walker Valley and 62-14 over Heritage), the rest of our games have been like that this year," Floyd assessed.
"We'll play really good one half, sometimes the first half, sometimes the second, but then not play well the other."
In Athens last Friday, Bradley was up 27-13 at the half but then let the Tribe go on the warpath for a 44-34 victory.
The Bears went from more than 300 yards of offense and four scores in the opening half, to just 81 yards — 42 of which came on a desperation fourth-down pass for the Bears' only score in the final 24 minutes. Penalties were once again a bugaboo, going from just three flags in the first two quarters to 11 in the second half for a total of 125 yards.
Last week's second-half letdown allowed McMinn County to claim the Region 2 runner-up spot and a home playoff game this week.
The Cherokees (9-1, 5-1 Region 2) moved up from 10th to seventh in the final Associated Press Class 6A poll of the season this week, while Bradley (7-3, 4-2) slips from seventh into the No. 9 spot.
McMinn will host Bearden (4-6), a team it beat 34-14 and the Bears whipped 49-21 during the regular season, tomorrow night. Had Bradley not fumbled away (three turnovers) last week's game, the Bulldogs would be visiting Bear Stadium instead.
Having to travel to open the playoffs for the second straight year, Bradley is familiar with the Farragut facilities, having played there to open the 2017 season.
While the Admirals are just 5-5 on the campaign, they won a three-way tie breaker with Bearden and Science Hill to earn the Region 1 runner-up berth.
"When you finish second in that region, you're a quality team," proclaimed Floyd. "They are like us, they've had to deal with some injuries, but the players who are stepping in are quality players. They are very well coached. Coach (Eddie) Courtney will have them ready."
Farragut is 13-1 against the Bears since 1994 with all but one of those victories coming during Courtney's 24 years at the helm.
In the August season-opener, Bradley put up over 500 yards of offense and led by 13 points twice before the Admirals rallied for a 37-30 heartbreaking loss for the Bears.
"We can't have turnovers. They hurt us last week and they hurt us the last two times we've played Farragut (four this year and eight in 2018 in a 34-0 loss)," commented Floyd.
Farragut is led by senior QB Gavin Wilkinson, who has completed 150-of-246 (61%) for 1,923 yards with 13 TDs, to only five interceptions (two of which Bear senior Davion Horton picked off in the opener) so far this season. He threw for more than 1,700 yards and 16 scores in 2018. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound gunslinger has several colleges vying for his services.
Running back Matt White led the Admiral rushing attack with 347 yards on 66 rushes with three scores in the first three games. The 6-foot, 185-pound junior went out in the third game with an injury, not returning until last week's 39-34 win over Jefferson County. He carried the ball just twice for six yards, but caught a trio of passes for 51, including a 36-yard TD in the contest.
Alec Keathley, the team's top receiver with 658 yards on 51 receptions, including seven scores, has stepped over into a ball carrying role as well, gaining 199 yards on 17 tries, mainly out of a "Wildcat offensive setup." The 6-foot-3, 213-pound tight end/middle linebacker had a pair of scores in last week's win.
Also last Friday, the Admirals moved 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker Eli Purcell into the backfield and he responded with 77 yards on 10 carries, including a 41-yard scoring dash.
Receiver Hunter Shopvick (6-foot-2, 185) has had the most success running the ball, going 526 yards on 31 carries and scoring twice, but he too has been missing the last couple of games.
"They've tried several different players back there," Floyd said of watching the Admiral game films. "We don't know if White is completely healthy and if he will be in the game Friday or not. We'll just have to prepare for whatever they throw at us."
White went off for 175 yards on 26 carries in the first meeting with the Bears, breaking many tackles on his way to a pair of scores.
"We missed 36 tackles in that game. We missed 26 last week," bemoaned Floyd, who is also the team's defensive coordinator. "That's unacceptable. We have got to bring guys down and not let them keep going."
Bradley comes into the contest with the sixth-most prolific offense in the state, putting 430 points on the scoreboards this season, while averaging over 441 yards per game. The Bear defense has allowed an average of 23 points per game this season.
Farragut has put up 23.7 points a game on average, while surrendering 26.2. The Admirals gave second-ranked (6A) Maryville its closest game this season in a 35-24 outcome.
Floyd expects all hands to be on deck this week, except one. "Saylor (Clark) and Ricky (McCleary) should be back (from ankle injuries). Ashton Boyd (who left last week's game for concussion protocol) and Gage Anderson (who got punched in the eye during last week's battle) will be back," he stated.
The lone missing player is a senior starting lineman, who was ejected last week after getting flagged twice for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Despite his frustration with the tackling troubles and "not having put together a complete game year," the Bear mentor feels strong about the effort his sleuth will give this week.
"The one thing I can guarantee is — we ain't quitting. We are in this together as a team and we're going to keep fighting. Our backs may be against the wall, but that's just going to make us fight that much harder."