Another Chris Jordan?
And a Philip Juhlin!
The best Maryville running back since who?
These are the kinds of things they’re saying about Maryville Middle School’s football team this season.
The Bulldogs enter Thursday’s Smoky Mountain Athletic Conference championship game at Maryville College an unbeaten 9-0. Running back Shawn Prevo, quarterback Isaac Edmiston and receiver Cody Carroll highlight an awfully versatile Maryville offense. Linebacker Drew Curtis paces a stout defense. Place-kicker Cody Ryding completes a team with all the bases covered.
Kickoff is Thursday afternoon, Oct. 1, at 5.
It’s been a dream season, Maryville coach Jay Malone said.
“In 18 years, this is one of the most balanced teams I’ve ever had,” he said. “They just come to work everyday.”
It’s also been a season to remember for the team looking to break up Maryville’s unbeaten run this afternoon.
“Oh, man!” Carpenters coach Andy Tippitt said. “We’ve never gotten to experience anything like that. It’s a good feeling.”
Carpenters (7-1) has a one-of-a-kind talent in eighth-grader Marty Rogers in reaching the Smoky Mountain Athletic championship game for the first time. The Cougars quarterback broke all the school’s records for passing a year ago. For an encore, the Carpenters leader took down all the rushing marks this fall.
He didn’t just break those rushing records, either. It isn’t official yet, but the do-it-all Rogers may just be the first-ever area middle school player to rush for 1,000 yards in an eight-game season.
“I know of a couple of times where he’s had 150 (yards) plus (in a game),” Malone said.
The Bulldogs won the regular season meeting going away, powering up with a big second half for a 34-8 win. Tippitt and Malone both advised their teams on Tuesday to be wary of that score.
It was Week 3. Both teams have improved and developed some depth since then. Both have seasoned coaches who take nothing for granted.
“We had film session (Tuesday), then practice,” Malone said. “What bothers me about Carpenters is they are a different team. That was early in the season and their quarterback scares me running the ball. He reads the defense well and all he needs is a little seam. He’s got really quick feet.”
The task confronting the Cougars remains much the same: Find a way to slow Prevo.
The Bulldog eighth-grader is a tremendous talent, having rushed for 500-plus yards and 14 scores this season. Drawing comparisons to both former Maryville High standouts Adrian “Tank” Baker and Carl Stewart - a high school Carl Stewart - Prevo is a punishing runner, Union Grove Middle coach Michael Baumann said.
“They put him at nose guard (on defense) a few times,” he said. “When he gets loose, we’re not going to catch him.”
Prevo’s ability to deliver on both offense and defense is a big part of this year’s success, Malone said. With Curtis and Prevo in the middle of the Bulldog defense at the linebacker spots, Maryville is a tough to team to run on.
“Not much get’s past those two,” Malone said.
The Cougars are one of the few teams to enjoy some success against the Bulldog ground game this season, focusing much of their attention on Prevo to keep the game close through two quarters. However, Maryville’s ability to switch to the passing game, Tippitt said, is an option few middle school teams enjoy.
Edmiston has put up some crazy numbers in leading the Bulldogs to the threshold of an unbeaten season. The Maryville eighth-grader has completed 44 of his 58 passes for 860 yards and 12 touchdowns - with only two interceptions. Edmiston compares favorably with Juhlin, who put up sterling statistics himself as a Bulldog before moving on to Maryville High.
Juhlin was better with his feet at this point, Malone said. Edmiston can fling it, and, at 6-foot-2, his height is super.
“I’m anxious to see how Isaac finishes up because I’m looking at Philip’s stats right now,” Malone said. “Philip was a little better runner. Isaac is about 6-2, and he sees the field really well.
“I always said I wish I could get a quarterback as tall as Isaac, and I got one.”
One of the reasons Edmiston has proved so effective this season is having Carroll around to run under his passes.
Before going on to an All-State career at Maryville High led to a Division I scholarship with the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Jordan set a Maryville Middle record with seven touchdown catches during the 2004 season. Carroll retired the mark a week ago.
With statistics from Monday’s, 47-16 playoff rout of Sevier County thrown in, Carroll has latched onto 18 of Edmiston’s passes for nine touchdowns and 400-plus yards.
“He reminds me of Chris Jordan,” Malone said. “They’re built the same.”
Rogers and running back Michael Harris - 400-plus yards rushing on the year - can equalize quite a bit for Carpenters. Tippitt isn’t looking for a shootout this afternoon, though.
The Cougars have shut out five of their eight opponents this season. Something more in keeping with the Cougars 12-6 playoff victory over Union Grove on Monday would be more to his liking, Tippitt said.
“They’re hitters,” Tippitt said. “It’s a tough bunch.”
The Wildcats struck first on the game’s opening possession on a touchdown toss from quarterback Peyton Wall to wide out Hunter Davis. Carpenters equalized on the ensuing series before assuming the lead for what would prove the final margin early in the second quarter. The rest was a low-scoring, hitters game, Tippitt said, something he wouldn’t mind seeing replicated with the Bulldogs.
“The line we put out there is a pretty big, physical bunch of kids,” Tippitt said.
The Cougars are nothing if not big hitters. Down linemen Ben Walker and Clark Jones, Tippitt said, really charge.
“We don’t even conduct practice to (Jones’) side of the defense,” he said.
Harris and teammate Brandon Ameller are two of a kind - linebackers who run to the ball fast and hit even faster.
If this one is close late, Ryding could easily be the one to decide things. The Bulldog kicker has not only made good on 24 of 25 extra points this season, he’s also been perfect on a pair of field goals. No one in the history of Maryville Middle football - or its Maryville Junior High predecessor - has ever done that.
Can Maryville cap what has been an amazing year and complete its sixth unbeaten season?
Can Carpenters spring the upset and become the middle school version of the Eli Manning-led New York Giants of two years ago?
“We’re the underdog,” Tippitt said. “Nobody thinks we can win.”