By Todd Lamberth:
The landscape of Division I football will look much different in Tennessee this year after many of the private schools elected to move to Division II starting in the 2017 season.
Three of those schools transitioning to Division II find themselves with some familiar opponents in their new region as they enter this new division. After years of success in Division I, Lipscomb Academy, Goodpasture, and Christ Presbyterian Academy will all join each other in the new Division II-AA Middle region.
Many of the new regions all across the state are now comprised mostly of teams from the same county or from neighboring counties, which means that teams with history are back competing as region foes. Division II-AA Middle is one of those regions as CPA, Goodpasture and Lipscomb Academy are joined by Battle Ground Academy and Franklin Road Academy.
For the coaches of the three new Division II schools in the region, the familiarity brings a lot of excitement for the teams and their fans.
“Great schools that we’re facing, but neighborhood rivalries and longtime friends,” Lipscomb Academy coach Scott Tillman said. “So we’re excited about that. Think that the stands will be packed every night.”
CPA embarks on its 25th season as a program this year, so playing some of the teams that they have played from the start has a special meaning for coach Ingle Martin.
“From the excitement standpoint, having some of these old rivalries kick back in,” Martin said. “There’s a lot of history there and so that makes it exciting and a lot of schools that are similar to us so we’re looking forward to that part of it. The commonalities make it fun.”
Coaches know that familiarity will also present challenges, as they’ll know what to expect within the region.
CPA hasn’t faced Lipscomb since a 40-0 win in the playoff quarterfinal in 2014, but have been in the same region as Goodpasture the past two years, playing twice last season with the Cougars winning a 31-28 decision the first game and CPA getting the important 30-27 win in the playoffs.
Lipscomb and Goodpasture, however, have a rivalry that goes back decades, as they play every season, despite not being region opponents. The Mustangs have met FRA each of the last two seasons, losing in 2015 before a 42-10 win last season.
“There’s advantages and disadvantages,” Tillman said of the new region. “You don’t really have an element of surprise. Everybody knows everybody really well. It really comes down to the game plan you put together and how well your team can execute that game plan.”
Goodpasture met every team in their new region last season, going 3-2 with a 21-14 loss in Week One to BGA and a playoff loss to CPA.
“You know what to expect,” Goodpasture head coach Jerry Joslin said. “The biggest thing is we know what we’re going to get.”
While Joslin knows what to expect when it comes to coaching and playing styles of his region opponents, one thing that can cause a surprise in Division II is players moving in and out of schools.
“One of the elements in the high school private division is you don’t know who is going to transfer into their school so each and every year there’s a few transfers and you go ‘where’d he come from?’ so that’s a possibility,” Joslin said.
While some things change with the move to Division II, coaches are quick to remind their players that, in the end, it’s still football.
“We’re going to continue to do what we do,” Martin said. “I don’t think our process changes any. I don’t think what we do changes any. I think you’ve still got to block, you’ve still got to tackle, you’ve still go to do fundamentals.”
The first week of region play for the new Division II-AA Middle region will be this week when Goodpasture travels to BGA and FRA hosts Lipscomb Academy.