Rebels stand tall after first loss in five years

— SportsCenter picked it up.

It stopped everything in the room when the Worldwide Leader in Sports included Maryville’s 10-7 loss to Hillsboro in the Class 4A state championship game in its Top 10 Saturday night.

It’s like that when you win 74 in a row and finally take a loss.

The teams that built the streak the last five years played some magnificent football and included some of the school’s finest-ever players. The team destiny selected to bear that first loss should be no less celebrated, though, for they, when you really look at it, gave us the grandest performance of them all.

Streaks end.

South Panola lost.

Charlotte Independence lost.

Even California’s Concord De La Salle, owner of the longest high school football winning streak of all time — 151 straight between 1992 and 2003 — eventually lost.

A Maryville team was going to one day lose. What you hoped is the group of young men tasked with so fearsome a burden would be strong enough to bear its weight.

As I watched Rebel senior Brad Heath striding proudly and erect from Middle Tennessee State University’s Floyd Stadium, the state runner-up trophy held securely on his left shoulder, it stopped me cold. Heath is a senior. This was it for him. If destiny had selected the team his senior year to make this walk, on this stage, he’d make it, and he’d stand up straight.

“No one expected us to be here,” Heath said. “We worked as hard as we could to get here. We played our hearts out.”

You hear that kind of thing quite often in sports, but it’s really true this time.

This Maryville team did not win 74 in a row. This Maryville team was 14-1 and state runner up. We lashed them to the streak before they played their first game this season. The fact this was a new team, with its own battles to fight, mattered little.

Brent Burnette wasn’t still the quarterback. Aaron Douglas, Tyler Maples, Tank Baker, Cade Thompson, Ryan Tallent, Dwight Wood, Andrew Hodge — none of those guys were in uniform Saturday night.

Stephen Shiver, Todd Hollingsworth, Tanner Caylor, Landon Hall, Gary Tucker, Tyler Clendenen — they weren’t there either.

Chris Jordan was, though. Maryville’s electrifying senior receiver suffered a deep thigh bruise on the game’s first play — ever had one? — then returned in the second half to give whatever he had left.

Cody McCoy, Luke Cox and Jeffery Booker, none of them taller than 5-foot-8, were never really big enough to play linebacker. Don’t remember very many opposing backs running them over, though.

Marcus Engelhardt played the entire season with an injured foot.

Heart matters most in football. Always has. Always will.

To a player, the Rebels composed themselves when the final horn sounded. They congratulated Hillsboro. They left the field like champions.

Of course there were tears. In the locker room, many sobbed openly.

Wouldn’t you?

It wasn’t the loss of the streak they were feeling. They’d just lost in the state championship game. It’s supposed to hurt. If it didn’t, football is definitely the wrong thing to be messing around with.

The Rebels can’t take back Saturday night. Neither can anyone take from Maryville an incredible last five years.

In case you’re wondering, I graduated from Alcoa many years ago. I was raised to never envy another man’s success but to chase hard after my own. Anything else just doesn’t make sense.

I’m sure the “74-1” T-shirts will make the rounds in the near future. I just hope no one affiliated with Alcoa is stupid enough to do it.

It’s likely to be a slow burn for Maryville’s returning players from here to kickoff next August, so here’s a little something to pick you up. It’s a line from one of my favorite all-time songs, “The Payback,” written by the late Godfather of Soul himself, Mr. James Brown.

The beat is driving. The song is eight minutes long. When it reaches the crescendo, if you will, Brown is in a real fever.

At that moment, in a blood-curdling scream, he shouts: “I’m mad! I want revenge!”

See you guys next fall.

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Comments » 1

Melissa writes:

The best I have read from Stefan. Way to go!