The pressure to win

Even top-ranked Rebels aren't immune

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By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Winning isn’t easy.

And when you’ve done it as much as top-ranked Maryville has the last few seasons — 44 consecutive games, 97 of its last 99 — the pressure to continue to do so only grows.

Maryville coach George Quarles admits to being especially driven in directing to the Rebels back to the Class 4A state championship game this season.

Maryville (14-0) meets third-ranked Hillsboro (14-0) in a Class 4A title tilt Saturday afternoon at Middle Tennessee State University. The Burros are the Rebels third unbeaten opponent in as many weeks.

Maryville is seeking its third consecutive crown and record-tying 10th overall.

Kickoff at Floyd Stadium is 4:30 p.m. EST.

"Some years you get there when you didn’t think you could," Quarles said. "When you’re supposed to do it, sometimes, it’s a little bitter harder."

It wasn’t anything anyone said that drove him this season, Quarles said. The Rebels are 106-9 with five state crowns in the eight years since the former offensive coordinator was promoted to head coach with the 1999 season.

The pressure he felt was internal, he said. Two statement games recently brushed aside those concerns with aplomb.

The Rebels ran roughshod over then-unbeaten Red Bank, 38-14, in a Class 4A quarterfinal two weeks ago.

"As far as a dominating effort (defensively), it was the Red Bank game," linebacker Tanner Caylor said. "They had that one play (for a score), and then had nine straight three and outs."

Then-unbeaten Morristown West was overwhelmed, 44-19, in front of a sellout crowd at Shields Stadium in last week’s semifinal, a performance Quarles labeled the best the Rebels have looked on offense all season.

Both games, perhaps, take a back seat to the one that set the tone for the season, junior Broughton Green said.

"The thing that sticks out in our minds is that last drive against Alcoa," he said. "We went 98 yards and held onto the ball for six minutes."

The Tornadoes closed with 17-14 on a Randall Cobb touchdown pass to West Virginia commitment Kyrus Lanxter with time waning. With Alcoa hungry to snap a four-game losing streak to its arch rivals, the Rebels put together a 15-play march, converting twice on third down and twice on fourth down, to exhaust the remaining time. Quarterback Derek Hunt took a knee on the game’s final snap.

That drive demonstrated the Rebels had an offensive line of Louis Darras, Josh Caraway, Caleb West and Justin Huskey and Green that could measure up in the biggest of games.

"It means we’re doing our job and they can count on us," Green said.

The Rebels face a formidable and motivated foe in the Burros, who’ve fallen twice to Maryville in the championship game since the turn of the millennium. Hillsboro, which operates out of spread offense under first-year coach Scott Blade, is a fast, talented team. Running back Jacques Seward has run for 30 touchdowns this season. Quarterback Matt Arent has thrown for 28.

"He guns it," Quarles said. "It’s not lolly-popping out there.

"They’ve got some weapons that can make you pay. The running back (Seward) reminds me of (Chris) Shiverdecker at Alcoa. He can make you miss. He runs with power, very impressive back."

Caylor calls the signal on defense that has met every challenge this season. The Rebel middle linebacker paces Maryville with 136 tackles on the season, 74 of them solo, 11 for loss. Defensive end Dwight has collared 95 ball carries, dropping 12 for loss to go with 16 sacks. Linebacker Landon Hall, defensive most valuable player in last year’s BlueCross Bowl, has 106 stops, seven of them going for loss.

It’s an unlikely place, however, that illustrates just how dominant the Rebels have been defensively this season.

Defensive backs Caleb Clement, Stephen Shiver and Tyler Clendenen have combined for nine tackles for loss this fall, with Clement, a Rebel cornerback, getting upfield to make the quick stop on five occasions. That’s some serious stopping power, perhaps never better on display than two weeks ago in Chattanooga.

"I was slobbering before that game," Caylor said. "All of us were. All of us were flying around, all 11 guys.

"When you get 11 guys flying around, something’s going to happen."

Much of the credit for the Red Bank romp belongs with defensive coordinator Jim Gaylor, Quarles said.

"I’ll be honest with you," he said. "It all starts with Jimmy. Our defensive coaches do a great job of getting our guys in the right position and our linebackers are in charge of getting us lined up."

Equal acclaim, Caylor said, is to be shared with tackles Joshua Cantwell, Marcus Englehardt and Todd Hollingsworth up front.
"Cantwell, Englehardt, Todd Hollingsworth, they’ve been playing great," he said. "They keep guys off me and Cowboy (Hall)."

Lest we forget, the Rebels also have an offense. Mr. Football winner Tyler Maples blitzed the Trojans for 176 yards receiving and a pair of scores in his last home game. The Tennessee commitment enters Saturday’s championship game with 1,149 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns, both Maryville records. His career marks for catches (113), yards (2,358) and touchdowns (33) are Rebel all-time bests as well.

On an offense that includes tight end and fellow Mr. Football Aaron Douglas, like Maples, a Tennessee commitment, it’s quite a lot. Quarterbacks Derek Hunt and Brent Burnette, who alternate under center, are completing 71 and 69 percent of
their passes, respectively.

Running back Adrian "Tank" Baker has roared back from a thigh injury that slowed him earlier this season to reach Murfreesboro within 35 of 1,000 yards rushing on the year.

Not bad for a team with the pressure of expectation dogging its every step this season.

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