(T-G Photo by Gary Johnson)
The Golden Eagles (6-4) will load the bus and head northeast for a long road trip with the final destination set for an opening round game at Knoxville Catholic (6-4) this evening at 6 CDT.
It was a goal at the start of the season to make the playoffs but after an extended road trip to Clinton last year in the opening round, the Eagles had hoped to play a little closer to home this time around.
With eight Class 5A teams advancing to the state playoffs located within 100 miles or less from Shelbyville and three other Clarksville schools just slightly over 100 miles away, one would think the opportunity to play closer at home would be possible. To Shelbyville's misfortune, that's not how the quadrants worked out and the Eagles will settle for a 200 miles-plus trip to face the talented Fighting Irish.
"We set a goal to be still be playing at the end of the regular season and here we are in the playoffs," Central coach Jason Hardy said. "We feel like we've got as good a chance as anybody and there are a lot of other teams that would still like to be playing. Year in and year out someone unexpected always makes a run and that's what's great about the playoffs. Everybody is 0-0.
"Supposedly there was a new playoff system to cut down on travel, especially in the first round, but now two years in a row we're once again going on one of the longest road trips in the opening round of the playoffs. It's hard on everybody, our team and our fans, but we're just excited to be playing and we'll try to reflect on some things we learned from taking that long trip last year."
The Eagles will make a number of stops along the way to walk around and stretch their legs as well as have a team meeting. They are scheduled to have a pregame meal once they arrive in Knoxville then head to the school to prepare for the opening kickoff.
Knoxville Catholic boasts a great football tradition and has posted a 227-119 record since 1979, winning the Class 3A state championship in 2008.
It's the 20th appearance for the Irish in the state playoffs, including 12 consecutive.
They have won 82 of their last 98 games.
The team is anchored by a pair of outstanding linemen in Kyler Kerbyson (6-foot-5, 290 pounds), a Tennessee commitment and Joey Gaston (6-5, 250), who recently committed to Navy.
Kerbyson also lead the team in tackles with 81, including 22 for loss.
The Irish has an extremely talented senior quarterback in Mike Wegzyn. who has thrown for over 1,100 yards and six touchdowns along with 332 yards on the ground with three TDs.
He missed a few games due to a concussion earlier in the season.
Catholic averages 337.9 yards per game in total offense, including 194.1 yards on the ground and 143.8 yards through the air. Defensively, Catholic allows 295.5 yards per game, including 167.2 yards on the ground and 128.3 yards through the air. Catholic averages 24.7 points per game. Opponents average 18.7 points per game.
The Irish ground attack is led by Nolan Coulter with 702 yards and seven touchdowns on 128 carries and Taylor Kennedy with 693 yards and four touchdowns on 132 carries.
Michael Bonfini has been Catholic's top receiver, hauling in 24 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns.
"This is a very talented team on both sides of the ball and they do a great job on special teams as well," Hardy said. "We're going to have to limit our mistakes, take care of the football and put some points on the board when we have scoring opportunities. We also need to get a big play on special teams as well."
The winner advances to face the winner of the Columbia/Lenoir City matchup.