HIXSON, Tenn. (WRCB) -- It's one more time with feeling.
Hixson beat East Ridge a month ago en route to locking up the District 6-AA regular season championship, but that win means nothing come Friday night when the two local rivals meet again in the opening round of the TSSAA Class 4A postseason in the Friday Night Football Game of the Week.
The second-seeded Wildcats (7-3) will be making their second straight postseason appearance under second-year coach Jason Fitzgerald. Last season's first playoff berth since 2005 also came against a local foe in a 31-6 opening round loss at Notre Dame.
This year, the stakes are higher.
Hixson was expected to be playing in November this year after being tabbed as the preseason favorite in 6-AA. The Wildcats backed up the hype by going 5-1 in league play, with only a 14-12 loss to Brainerd in last week's season finale keeping them from an unblemished district schedule and their first eight-win season in four decades.
A 19-14 home win over East Ridge on Oct. 4 was part of a five-game winning streak that was fueled by running backs Isaiah Robinson and Kedrick Bradley. Both have crossed the 1,000-yard rushing plateau this season as the focal points of the Wildcats' offense.
Bradley racked up 131 yards in the first meeting with the Pioneers (5-5), while Robinson added 118 and a touchdown. Gil Brown's quarterback sneak in the third quarter proved to be the game-winner as the Wildcats' defense stopped East Ridge on fourth down twice in the final period.
East Ridge rallied after the loss to win two of its final three games and return to the postseason after a one-year hiatus. The Pioneers had qualified for three straight 4A brackets before Mike Martin stepped down following the 2011 season, though they lost in the opening round each time.
East Ridge went 3-7 last year as Tracy Malone tried to revamp and rebrand the program. So far his efforts have paid off, but the Pioneers' work is not yet finished.
There's no question Jo Jo Tillery will be the go-to guy for East Ridge. The dual-threat quarterback accounted for 170 of the Pioneers' 204 total yards in the Week 7 loss.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET Friday night at Hixson Community Stadium. Paul Shahen and Jordan Tippit will provide live coverage starting at 11:10 p.m. ET.
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