Season of discovery

Unknowns like Bristol help key in Rebel title chase

Maryville senior Lee Bristol returns an interception against Heritage for a touchdown earlier this season. The emergence of Bristol and other unknowns this season is a big part of the reason the top-ranked Rebels (13-1) will meet White Station (12-2) in the Class 6A state championship game Saturday at Tennessee Tech.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Maryville senior Lee Bristol returns an interception against Heritage for a touchdown earlier this season. The emergence of Bristol and other unknowns this season is a big part of the reason the top-ranked Rebels (13-1) will meet White Station (12-2) in the Class 6A state championship game Saturday at Tennessee Tech.

Philip Juhlin knew Maryville had a chance to be good long before the Rebels played their first game. Buddy Jones put to rest any concerns in that regard one night in front of a local movie theatre.

Jones and teammate Tevin Owsley were running late to meet other members of the team for a show. They parked in hurry, the car Jones was driving slightly askew in the parking space.

The movie was about to start. Everybody was watching. Rather than get back and try again, “He moved the car!” Juhlin said. “I promise. He moved the car!”

“It was just a Taurus,” Jones said.

The Rebel senior’s sturdy legs are a big part of the reason top-ranked Maryville is back in the state championship game in the first year of Class 6A football. The Rebels (13-1) meet first-time state finalist White Station (12-2) in final game of the 2009 BlueCross Bowl on Saturday.

Kickoff is 8 p.m. EST.

WBCR radio, AM 1470, will have the broadcast.

The game will be televised locally on WVLT-2 (MyVLT).

While playing for their first state football title, the Spartans are no strangers to championships on the hardwood. Playmaking receiver Julian Burton, whose touchdown catch with 25 seconds remaining secured White Station a 31-27 semifinal win over Brentwood last week, was the point guard on the Spartans state championship basketball team last season.

“They line him up at different spots,” Maryville coach George Quarles said. “He’s very, very fast. You kind of hold your breath every time he catches the ball.”

At the controls of the White Station offense is one of the season’s great stories. Anthony Hayes, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior, was set to begin the season at tight end before Spartan coach Devin Rutherford saw him throw in practice one day.

“He was playing catch with a guy and I said, ‘Do it again; do it again,’” Rutherford said, “and the rest is history.”

On Monday, Hayes, who’s accounted for 36 Spartan touchdowns this season, was named Mr. Football Back of the Year for Class AAA.

“That’s pretty good coaching,” Quarles said.

White Station, headlined defensively by linebacker and Texas Tech commitment Fred Harvey, constitutes a formidable opponent for a Maryville team looking to return to its throne after a year’s absence. Players like Jones and Juhlin, who’s thrown for 2,800 yards and 28 touchdowns in directing the Rebels back state, will have a lot to do with it if the Rebels claim their eighth state crown this decade.

Juhlin, completing 70 percent of his throws, has been intercepted only three times.

Seniors Kody Harris and Dane McCoy are also due their share of applause. Harris has had the same effect on the defense at safety as Juhlin has with the offense.

Just the same, it’s the unknowns prior to the season where a great part of the story lies, and there’s no better place to start than record-setting defensive back Lee Bristol.

The speedy cornerback was part of the rotation a year ago, but there was little to indicate Bristol would uncork a season where he would amass a school-record nine interceptions. During one stretch, Bristol had at least one interception in five consecutive games, returning two of them for touchdowns. He would add a third later in the season.

It’s the game where crafty Bristol didn’t have a pick, though, where his worth was greatest felt, Quarles said.

Farragut’s Admirals were giving the Rebels more than wanted in a Week 8 clash that all but decided the District 4AA championship. It was 24-7 Admirals with just over a minute until halftime.

At the half, the Rebel coaching staff assigned Bristol the task of cooling off Farragut speedster Lee Van Dyne. The Admiral receiver didn’t catch another pass the rest of the night as Maryville rallied for a 35-32 win. In a quarterfinal rematch five weeks later, Van Dyne was even less of a factor, the Rebels rolling big the second time to a very convincing, 35-14 win.

“When we made the switch, it had a phenomenal effect,” Quarles said.

Bristol’s contributions are far from alone.

Juhlin had no proven receivers to throw to entering the season. The top four pass catchers all graduated after 2008’s runner-up showing. Juniors Stian Romberg, Desmund Horne and Clarence Langley have come on to become legitimate, game-breaking deep threats.

The offensive line returned only Owsley and fellow senior Dylan Beets. While that’s a lot to start with, it takes five. Brayden Phillips, Brandon Guy and Joseph Watson have each come forward to make sure Juhlin, Jones and sophomore running back Jacob West haven’t gone wanting for protection.

“On the offensive line, you’ve got three sophomores who’ve made a big difference,” Quarles said.

Seniors Angus McGill, Kaleb Moore and Drew Hood have stepped forward to help McCoy hold the line of scrimmage on defense.

A season-opening, 41-24 loss to arch-rival Alcoa helped bring all of it into focus.

“At the time, we didn’t know how to practice,” Jones said.

A 38-17 pasting of West the following week was proof the 2009 Rebels were a quick study.

“One of the main things we’re good at is getting better week by week,” Bristol said.

“Experience helps a lot,” Harris said, “getting a few games under your belt.”

Hayes didn’t miss a beat after making the move from tight end to quarterback, entering Saturday’s title game with 19 passing touchdowns, 17 rushing scores and better than 3,700 yards of total offense.

“Every game I felt more comfortable,” he said.

“We knew we didn’t want Burton at quarterback,” Harvey said. “He’s our playmaker. We wanted him somewhere where we could get him the ball.”

Just who those go-to players are for the Rebels has grown with every game, and diversity can be a very good thing.

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