Game of the week: What keeps the cows in?

Rebel defense every bit the show as high-powered offense

By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Tennessee commitment Tyler Maples is one touchdown catch away from becoming the school’s all-time leader. Quarterbacks Brent Burnette and Derek Hunt are putting up crazy numbers throwing the ball.

Running back Adrian "Tank" Baker is averaging 8.8 yards per carry.

Maryville’s top-ranked Rebels have an offense that can find the end zone for points stunning quick. Ever spend a night at the stadium just watching the defense, though?

"We’re consistent at what we do and we’re pretty good at it," Rebel defensive coordinator Jim Gaylor said. "We’ve got a few more guys making plays than in the past, getting more guys in on the tackle."

The unbeaten Rebels (8-0, 5-0 Region 3-4A) travel to Halls (4-4, 2-3) Friday in search of a region-title clinching victory.
Alcoa’s second-ranked Tornadoes (6-2, 5-0 Region 2-2A) clinched a region championship a week ago and are on the road at Oliver Springs. William Blount’s Governors (4-4, 2-3 Region 2-5A) are looking to stay in the playoff race at Bradley Central. Heritage’s Mountaineers (2-6, 0-5) are at McMinn County.

All kickoffs are 7:30 p.m.

Maples will pass older brother and former Rebel Ryan Maples for the all-time Maryville record for touchdowns receiving if the future Vol collects his 26th Friday. Burnette, a 6-foot-3 junior, has found the target on 50 of his 71 throws this season, accounting for 964 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s been intercepted twice.

Hunt, a senior, is 31-of-39 passing through eight games, throwing for 373 yards and five scores. Perhaps miscast as Maryville’s running quarterback, he’s yet to be intercepted.

Maples, juniors Stephen Shiver and Aaron Douglas constitute a trio of receivers who’ll each play Division I football in coming years. Douglas, like Maples, has committed to Tennessee. Baker, back at full speed after a thigh injury slowed him earlier this season, has a pair of Division I offers on the table.

Then there’s the job linebackers Tanner Caylor and Landon Hall and defensive end Dwight Wood are doing in setting the tempo for Maryville’s black swarm defense, the care and feeding of which Quarles said he leaves solely in the hands of Gaylor and his defensive assistants.

"They’ve got it," he said. "I know what they’re doing usually, but I’m not involved at all with their planning. I trust them. The only thing I can do is mess it up."

Maryville’s defensive numbers are skewed somewhat by the success the Rebels have enjoyed in shutting opponents down this season. Only one foe — Alcoa, which fell to the Rebels, 17-14, in Week 1 — has forced Maryville’s defensive starters to stay on the clock for the fourth quarter. In six contests, Wood, Hall and Caylor have finished for the night long before the end of three.

Only South-Doyle, Heritage and Powell have seen a running back leave the field with 100 yards rushing. Each time, the bulk of the yardage came with Maryville starters long since departed. Only two quarterbacks have thrown for 100 yards, the last Knox West senior Jake Ryan, who played to the game’s last snap against Maryville reserves two weeks ago to reach 110.

A big part of it has been the emergence of tackles Todd Hollingsworth, Taylor Steele, Marcus Engelhardt and Joshua Cantwell, Caylor said. The Rebels were without a returning starter at tackle entering 2006. A beefy front led by former Rebel and Middle Tennessee State University freshman Gary Tucker a season ago kept him well protected, Caylor said.

"They kept people off me last year," he said. "I had a great year. This year, Todd Hollingsworth, Josh Cantwell, Marcus Engelhardt, Taylor Steele have done a great job, too. I’m at 90 tackles already. Landon’s at 70."

Wood has accumulated better than 50 tackles with eight sacks, with junior Brett Wadham anchoring the other end of the line.

"I think Dwight Wood is having a phenomenal year," Gaylor said. "When you’ve got him, Tanner Caylor and Landon Hall in the front seven and Stephen Shiver and Tyler Maples in the secondary, that’s the foundation of a good defense.

"We built our defense around those guys, and our guys have bought into the concept."

Shiver and Maples are both big hitters at the safeties.

"Shiver’s got a linebacker’s mentality," Gaylor said.

At the corners, juniors Caleb Clement and Tyler Clendenen complete a defensive secondary that may have no peer. Through eight games, the Rebels have yielded only three scores through the air, two of them coming against Maryville reserves.

"The toughest thing to coach in high school is the secondary," Quarles said. "(Defensive backs coach) Wayne (Thompson) does a great job.

"Both those guys (Shiver and Maples) are pretty sure tacklers, and that’s what you have to have back there. A mistake in the secondary usually shows up a lot more. A mistake in the secondary usually goes for a touchdown."

Defensively, the Rebels still have some things to work on as the playoffs near, but they’re getting close, Gaylor said.

"I think we’re playing well as a team," he said. "I don’t think we’re great. We’re still giving up too many big plays.

"I think we took a big step against West. They’re a good offensive team."

One the Rebels held scoreless for three quarters while the offense rolled to a 49-0 lead.

William Blount at Bradley Central
The Governors must win. A loss, coupled with an Oak Ridge win over Ooltewah, would eliminate any postseason hopes for a team only two weeks ago vying for a region title.

Senior Darran Walker enters Friday needing 121 yards rushing to reach 1,000 for the season. Speed backs Mohamed Baskin and Darrin Garner form a perfect compliment, with the emergence of junior Tyler Burstrom at quarterback one of the season’s top stories countywide.

Led by linebackers Will Irwin, Cole Lail and Dominique Brown and end T.J. Walker, William Blount looks to have enough defensively against the Bears (4-4, 2-3) to reach next week’s regular season finale with Heritage with its playoff destiny in its own hands.

Alcoa at Oliver Springs
The Tornadoes have ripped through their five region opponents this season by combined score of 264-34, holding three of them — CAK, 42-0, Wartburg, 55-0, and Rockwood, 41-0 — scoreless.

Alcoa, with running back Chris Shiverdecker, quarterback Randall Cobb and receivers Kyrus Lanxter and Brian Sommer constituting the core of a fantastic offense, has visited 40 or more points on each of those opponents. Three of them — Loudon, 63-14, Wartburg, 55-0, and Sweetwater, 63-20 — have yielded better than 50.

That’s an awful lot for an 0-8 Oliver Springs team to slow. If the Tornadoes aren’t looking ahead to next week’s highly-anticipated showdown with unbeaten and eighth-ranked Booker T. Washington, this one should go Alcoa in a heap.

Heritage at McMinn County
A tough midseason stretch took a heavy injury toll on the Mountaineers, nowhere more so than the offensive backfield.

Freshman Michael Cermak delivered a 100-yard effort with a touchdown receiving in his debut in last week’s loss to Bradley Central, a game in which Heritage rallied from a 25-0 deficit in the fourth quarter before falling 25-20.

Justin Caines and Clark Kerns joined forces with Cermak to take some big chunks out of the Bear defense, with quarterback Dylan Morgan turning in one of his finest passing performances of the season.

Linebacker Chad Wood is back to solidify the Mountaineer front seven. It’ll be important against the Cherokees (5-3, 3-2). McMinn County running back Trace McDermott is one of the region’s most explosive players.

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