Destination Cookeville

Running game critical for Rebels to reach title game

Riverdale quarterback Cody West has thrown but one interception all season.

For good reason.

The Warriors just don’t put it up that much.

Riverdale knocked off Murfreesboro rival Oakland, 14-7, last week with a relentless wing-T offense that never seems to quit. Maryville coach George Quarles said a five-man defensive front is likely when the Warriors come calling for a Class 6A semifinal on Friday.

“Or a six- or seven-man front,” Quarles said, “whatever we need to do.”

Kickoff at Shields Stadium is 7 p.m., with the winner advancing to next week’s BlueCross Bowl at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville.

WBCR radio, AM 1470, will have the broadcast.

The top-ranked Rebels (12-1) have seen their share of stout, opposing offensive lines this season, those at Alcoa, Farragut, Oak Ridge and Catholic just to name a few. Riverdale, with West and sophomore backs Marcellous Odom and Adam Davenport possessing exceptional speed, can reduce a game to only a handful of possessions.

Across the offensive front, the Warriors weigh in from 275 to 325 pounds from tackle to tackle.

“They’re so big,” Quarles said, “as big as anybody we’ve played. They’re content at getting two or three yards at a time and working their way down the field.”

Increasing the degree of difficulty confronting the Rebels as they seek a berth in the 6A title game in the first year of the classification, Warriors coach Ron Aydelott is more familiar with Maryville’s dominance this decade than most.

Aydelott was coach at Hillsboro in 2001 and 2002 when the Rebels nipped the Burros, 34-27 and 29-26, respectively, for two of their seven state crowns since the turn of the millennium. Quarles and Aydelott even talked shop briefly when the latter left Hillsboro to take the Riverdale job four years ago.

While Aydelott’s new club still runs the wing-T, it’s anything but 3 yards and a cloud of dust.

The Warriors (11-2) are something different all together, Quarles said.

“They’ve got a quarterback that can throw it some,” he said. “He’s a good looking kid.”

The Rebels have quite the quarterback themselves. Senior Philip Juhlin has directed Maryville to within a game of state on the strength of 2,282 yards passing and 27 touchdowns, balanced against only three interceptions.

The Rebel leader is making the connection on 72 percent of his throws. Seniors Stian Romberg and Kody Harris and juniors Desmund Horne and Clarence Langley have more than made up for the losses Maryville sustained due to graduation a year ago, where the top four pass catchers statistically were lost.

A quick-strike passing attack can put a lot of pressure on a wing-T team. Keeping the ball away from Riverdale with the running game on Friday, Quarles said, could prove just as important.

“We’ve got to have some success running the ball,” he said. “We’ve got to run it some to keep them honest.”

As impressive as Juhlin has been in throwing the ball this season, the gazelle-like speedster can be just as dangerous with his legs. Backs Buddy Jones and Jacob West haven’t had the statistical seasons running the ball Odom and Davenport have, but they’ve proven more than capable when time of possession, not points, is what the Rebels need most.

Twice this season the Rebels have kept a powerful Farragut offense cooling its heels on the sideline as West, Jones and Juhlin put together drives of six minutes or more on the ground to salt away games. In a 35-14 win over the Admirals in last week’s quarterfinals, Maryville exhausted the final eight minutes on offense, Farragut sent away wanting for the second time this season.

The District 4AAA Admirals are the one common foe between the Rebels and Warriors, with Riverdale edging Farragut, 17-14, on a field goal in the closing seconds earlier this season in Murfreesboro.

Critical Friday, Quarles said, is Maryville making the most of its opportunities.

“When we get chance, we’ve got to score touchdowns,” he said.

While the proverbial blunt instrument when it comes to controlling a game, the wing-T can prove a difficult offense with which to stage a late-game, two-score rally. Maryville’s strength defensively this season has proven its secondary, and senior Lee Bristol, with nine interceptions on the year, could always use another pick.

“We’re just going to have to be tough,” Quarles said.

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