In a way, it wasn’t a total shock.
De La Salle High School, Concord, Calif., won 34 in a row before losing the final game of the 1991 season.
The Spartans would roar back with a vengeance beginning the following season, initiating a winning streak that would continue for the next 12 years and encompass 151 consecutive De La Salle victories.
Independence High School, Charlotte, N.C., made a run the De La Salle mark, the Patriots vanquishing 109 consecutive opponents before falling in the second game of the 2007 season.
That leaves South Panola High School, Batesville, Miss., and four-time defending Class 4A champion Maryville, owners of the nation’s longest active winning streaks, with the best chance to catch De La Salle in the next 20 years.
Friday night at Powell, the Rebels (4-0), winners of their last 64, could take possession of the Tennessee mark all to themselves.
Shelbyville’s Bedford Training Academy, an all-black school in the days before integration, won 64 in a row beginning with the 1943 season. The Tigers would extend the streak to 82 games unbeaten, a Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association record that includes four ties.
The Rebels aren’t chasing De La Salle, though, Maryville coach George Quarles said. While a 65th consecutive victory Friday would vault Maryville ahead of Bedford for the all-time Tennessee mark, passing the Tigers isn’t it, either.
“If you tried to set a record like that, you couldn’t,” Quarles said. “It’ll be one of those things that, when it’s over, we’ll talk about it. This week, we’re just trying to get to 5-0 and beat Powell.”
When the number of games in a row your team has won rockets well past your age, there’s no other way to approach it, former South Panola coach Ricky Woods said.
“I just would never mention it and go out there and coach every game like the game before,” he said. “You have to be careful because you can take the fun out of it if you’re not careful.”
Woods coached the Tigers to 60 consecutive wins and four Class 5A Mississippi state championships before stepping down after the 2006 season. South Panola has only continued winning under new coach Lance Pogue, extending the nation’s longest active winning streak to 78 games with a win last Friday.
The first part of any streak is simple enough.
“Really and truly, you’ve got to have great players,” said Woods, now head coach at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
Just as important, Maryville senior Mark Young said, is remembering who is most responsible for any streak. The 2008 Rebels aren’t 64-0, he said. They’re 4-0.
“We stay away from the 64-0 as much as possible,” Young said. “It gets in your head. The coaches harp on that with us. Right now, we’re 4-0.”
The Maryville streak has much in common with the runs of De La Salle, Independence, South Panola and the rest. The Spartan’s warning shot of 34 in a row was a definite precursor. So, too, was South Panola’s 14-1 season the year before its current streak began, the school of 1,200 falling in that year’s state championship game.
“Then we won 60 straight,” Woods said.
South Panola was already a championship contender before his arrival, Woods said.
“They played for four and won two before I got there,” he said. “I was fortunate to inherit a good program.”
Quarles, at Maryville, is no different.
The Rebels would deliver a prelude to the run Quarles has led them on the last nine seasons. In 1997, Maryville, then coached by Tim Hammontree, went 14-1 before a loss to a powerful Pearl-Cohn team in the 4A title game. Quarles was then the team’s offensive coordinator. The next season, the Rebels won them all.
A streak of 39 in row, with Quarles now at the helm, followed from 2001 and 2003, with the current run of 64 beginning the next year.
“If you ever get a program started, it feeds itself,” Woods said. “Everybody wants to work harder. Everybody wants to lift weights harder. Most of those kids want to go out there and play their year.”
Mindset has a great deal to do with it, Quarles said.
“Confidence is a huge thing,” he said. “These guys believe they’re good.”
Stability and tradition does much of the rest, Hudson (Mich.) High School assistant coach Jeremy Beal said.
“We still have coaches on the staff that coached during the streak,” he said.
Talk of streaks really began with the Tigers. When Hudson reeled off 72 in a row in the early 1970s, passing Jefferson City, Mo., for the then-all-time mark, Sports Illustrated came to town. CBS Sports showed up to produce a television special.
Hudson’s run could have been much bigger. Michigan high school football instituted a playoff format to determine its state champions the year the Hudson streak began. Despite going 9-0 that season, the Tigers didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
“It had the potential to be up in the 80s,” Beal said.
Maryville could be chasing South Panola for the longest active streak nationally for some time. Woods left Pogue a lot to work with.
“My last year, the eighth-grade class was the best I ever had,” Woods said. “They’re tenth-graders now.”
All streaks end, though. De La Salle met its match in Bellevue, Wash., in the 2004 season opener. Cincinnati Elder stopped Independence. Someone, someday, will stop Maryville.
It’s unlikely the Rebels and South Panola will ever meet to leave one team alone at the top. The Tiger coaching staff has called seeking a game, Quarles said, as have others. With realignment looming next season, the Rebels simply will have too many region contests. Coupled with keeping rivals Alcoa, Heritage and William Blount on the schedule, there just isn’t any room.
Coaches are due much of the credit for streaks, and Quarles and his staff are certainly deserving, this season perhaps more than most. The 2008 Rebels aren’t a team bursting with Division I prospects. Senior defensive end Justin Smith is an obvious candidate, with sophomore place-kicker Zach Sharp also likely to one day play at the highest levels of college football.
Many Rebels, though, simply won’t get that far.
“It’s a group of guys that are good high school players,” Quarles said.
A group Friday that could make Maryville the best — at least in terms of consecutive wins — Tennessee high school football has ever seen.