Titletown tilt

Quarles, Rankin a matchup of championship caliber

Maryville coach George Quarles has compiled an almost stupefying record entering his 11th season at the Rebel helm. Ten wins this season would make him the all-time winningest coach in the school’s history.

Maryville coach George Quarles has compiled an almost stupefying record entering his 11th season at the Rebel helm. Ten wins this season would make him the all-time winningest coach in the school’s history.

Alcoa coach Gary Rankin directs the Tornadoes during a 7-on-7 perimeter passing camp this summer. Rankin and Maryville’s George Quarles enter Friday’s clash at Alcoa with seven state championships each to their credit.

Alcoa coach Gary Rankin directs the Tornadoes during a 7-on-7 perimeter passing camp this summer. Rankin and Maryville’s George Quarles enter Friday’s clash at Alcoa with seven state championships each to their credit.

Alcoa senior Justin Marsh (74) helped the Tornadoes amass nearly 400 yards rushing in the season opener with Bell County, Ky., last week.

Alcoa senior Justin Marsh (74) helped the Tornadoes amass nearly 400 yards rushing in the season opener with Bell County, Ky., last week.

Maryville senior Philip Juhlin enters 2009 as one of the state’s top quarterbacks.

Maryville senior Philip Juhlin enters 2009 as one of the state’s top quarterbacks.

Some of them are quite colorful.

There’s: “When George Quarles jumps into the water he doesn’t get wet, the water gets Georged.”

Or: “If you have five dollars and George Quarles has five dollars, George Quarles has more money than you.”

Interesting.

Better still: “George Quarles can sneeze with his eyes open.”

That’s just a sampling of the Internet message board traffic Maryville High School football coach George Quarles has generated since taking the Rebel helm 10 years ago. The Maryville skipper is 137-10 over that span, a run that includes a state-record 74-game winning streak and seven Class 4A championships.

Only two coaches in Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association history can rival Quarles when it comes to the titles. One of them, Alcoa’s Gary Rankin, will be on the other sideline Friday night when the Tornadoes and Rebels stage the 81st edition of one of the state’s most storied games.

Kickoff at Alcoa’s Goddard Field is 7:30 p.m.

Gates open at 4:30.

Blount Today Sports Radio, WLHR 97.9 FM, will have the broadcast.

Alcoa won a record fifth consecutive Class 2A championship last December at Middle Tennessee State University, with Rankin the coach of the Tornadoes for the last three. Add four state crowns won while head coach at Murfreesboro powerhouse Riverdale, and Rankin and Quarles stood dead even at seven apiece.

Many, including Rankin, expected Quarles to go one up when the Rebels played for the 4A title the next day. When Hillsboro snapped Maryville’s nearly five-year long run, 10-7, Rankin said he was posed a question as he exited the stadium.

“They said, ‘I bet you’re glad Maryville lost, huh?’” Rankin said. “I said, ‘No, I wasn’t because I was pulling for them.’

“I got a shocked look from some of them. I’ve got great respect for a lot of their coaches. Bottom line is the only team I want to beat Maryville is Alcoa.”

Quarles is of much the same mind when it comes to extending the Rebels win streak over the Tornadoes to nine.

“Gary’s a good guy,” he said. “I think he and I share a lot of the same philosophies. We want our kids to be successful after football in life.

“He and his staff challenge us. They scheme us really well. They challenge us as a coaching staff, and that’s tough to try to solve.”

The matchup of two of the state’s winningest coaches is one of the reasons Alcoa administrators are expecting an overflow crowd in excess of 10,000 on Friday. Another is two teams whose dynamics this season are striking similar in many respects.

Maryville lost 16 starters to graduation following last year’s runner-up showing. Five Rebels -- running back Jacob West, linemen Brandon Guy, Joseph Watson and Brayden Phillips and linebacker Nathan Miranda -- will get their first start in the big game as sophomores. As many as seven sophomores will play, Quarles said.

“You just don’t know,” he said.

Maryville, however, possesses a powerful equalizer in quarterback Philip Juhlin. The Rebel senior has looked super accurate this summer throwing the ball. His speed when he tucks the ball and keeps on the option is blistering.

“He’s very versatile,” Quarles said. “He can make plays running it. He can make good decisions.

“He needs to play well. He knows that, and I think he will. He doesn’t have to do everything by himself, but he needs to play well.”

Juhlin’s Alcoa counterpart, junior Austin Tallant, had an impressive debut in last week’s trouncing of Bell County, Ky. Finish 5-of-8 passing for 114 yards and two scores with no interceptions, Tallant directed the Tornadoes to a 42-14 rout of the defending Kentucky Class 4A champion.

Tallant’s numbers become all the more impressive when considering he also started on defense in the secondary and returned kicks. It was a gutsy performance, Rankin said, both literally and figuratively.

“We’ve got a quarterback throwing up in the huddle,” Rankin said, “and I guarantee Juhlin won’t be throwing up in the huddle.”

With Juhlin playing only offense, the Rebels have an edge there.

“We can’t worry about that because that’s what we have to do to have a chance,” Rankin said. “Austin never came off the field when the game was in question.”

Tallant and Juhlin matchup in many respects. Which lends itself to another question to be answered Friday: Who will catch their passes?

Tornado flyer Steven Isom proved he can go get the deep ball last week. Another passing score in the romp came by way of a hook-and-lateral trick play from tight end Tyler Robinson to running back Jaron Toney.

“A couple of years ago they called it against us,” Quarles said.

Absent their top four receivers from a year ago, the Rebels have retooled on the outside in the persons of juniors Desmond Horne, Clarence Langley and Stian Romberg. At nearly 6-5, Romberg’s height could pose a significant challenge for a rebuilt Alcoa secondary.

While passing and some degree of trickery is likely to play a part in Friday’s outcome, it’s more probable the game will be decided where the rubber meets the road.

Toney, offensive most valuable player of last year’s state championship game, hit the ground running for his senior season in 2009, racking up 177 yards and three rushing scores on 16 carries in the Bell County win.

“It’s your last chance at Maryville,” he said. “It’s just real exciting when you know there are going to be 10,000 people in the stands. It’s going to be a college-like atmosphere.”

Toney and junior fullback Taharin Tyson were a potent one-two punch against the Bobcats, with the latter amassing 52 yards on eight carries. Jet-quick sophomore Vanderbilt Hambrick tacked on another 78 yards on six rushes spelling Toney.

The Tornadoes must win the battle up front for a repeat performance on Friday, something many fans pay little mind to, Tornado senior offensive lineman Justin Marsh said.

“They don’t see how on every single play, we’re blocking somebody,” he said. “Every single play there’s something to do.”

The running game is a push in some respects. Maryville senior Buddy Jones is fit, fast and thickly muscled for his final season as a Rebel. West, while only a sophomore, has looked scary good at times as his backfield mate.

A concern for Quarles when it comes to his running game is how well the Rebels can adjust at linebacker. All three starters from a year ago were lost to graduation. Injuries there during preseason have pressed Jones into service as run-stopper at middle linebacker. Using him there too much is something Quarles said he would like to avoid.

“If not, Buddy will have to play it,” he said. “If anybody can play both sides, it’s Buddy. He gives us some speed out there on defense that we don’t have on the inside.”

The Tornadoes and Rebels have battled to a pair of close finishes in Rankin’s three seasons at the helm, with Maryville taking all three - 17-14 in 2006, 41-14 in ‘07 and 20-13 a year ago. If it’s close again, the Rebels possess a decided advantage in the kicking game.

Junior place-kicker Zach Sharp drilled a 44-yard field through the uprights at the jamboree two weeks back that would have been good from 50 - with room to spare. Paired with punter Greg Colquitt, it gives the Rebels a big plus.

A blend of youth and experience on both sides, a capacity-plus crowd - the pieces are place.

“The kids are going to be fired up, excited,” Quarles said. “You hope they’re not starry-eyed.”

Yeah, that sneezing with your eyes open stuff must take a lot of practice.

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