Running the gauntlet

Rebels brace for second of three super backs

Maryville quarterback Philip Juhlin makes the handoff to running back Buddy Jones during the Rebels 38-0 shutout of Bearden last week.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Maryville quarterback Philip Juhlin makes the handoff to running back Buddy Jones during the Rebels 38-0 shutout of Bearden last week.

Rebel defenders Bobby Quinn (55), Nathan Miranda (52) and Tommy Wilkinson (54) combine on the stop of Bearden’s Dillon Wilker.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Rebel defenders Bobby Quinn (55), Nathan Miranda (52) and Tommy Wilkinson (54) combine on the stop of Bearden’s Dillon Wilker.

And just think.

Next week, DeAndre Purdy.

The district gauntlet Maryville is currently running will see the Rebels face three of the state’s top running backs on three consecutive Friday nights.

Make that two Friday nights and a Thursday.

The third-ranked Rebels are on the road at Knoxville Catholic Thursday night at 7 for a televised and much-talked about District 4AAA battle.

MyVLT will have the television broadcast, with Blount Today Sports Radio, WLHR FM 97.9, handling the radio.

The Irish are paced by hard-running senior Dorian Cozart, who’s piled up over 800 yards rushing and eight touchdowns through six games. The Catholic clash comes less than a week after the Rebels (5-1, 3-0) entertained Bearden dervish Dervin Young at Shields Stadium.

Next Friday, Maryville visits fifth-ranked Farragut, where a rebuilt Rebel defense will face arguably the best of the three in the fast and thickly-muscled Purdy.

Purdy’s got a huge line.

First things first, Maryville coach George Quarles said. This week, it’s Catholic.

“We’re just approaching the one game, the short week,” Quarles said. “We haven’t even talked about the next week. I haven’t even thought about that week, actually.

“The short week just interrupts your schedule. As football coaches, we’re creatures of habit.”

The toughest thing about the three-game stretch is the Thursday game, Quarles said. From Sunday film sessions to midweek technique days, the Rebel coaching staff is noted for being particular about things. With seven state crowns and a state-record 74-game winning streak at their backs this decade, it’s hard to argue with the results.

The Rebels limited Young, last season’s PrepXtra Sophomore of the Year, to less than 50 yards rushing in a half of play last week. The Bulldog back played only the opening series in the second half before aggravating a lingering hip injury.

“I don’t think it’s any one person,” defensive coordinator Jim Gaylor said afterward. “It’s getting in the right position and hustling to the ball. All of that just kind of came together. I’d be surprised if we didn’t have eight or nine guys making six or seven tackles.”

Rebel linebackers Nathan Miranda, Clint Cox and Jared Miller and down lineman Tommy Wilkinson distinguished themselves a week ago. Not only were they effective in plugging the running lanes to shut off Young. The productivity they provided enabled Quarles to save running backs Buddy Jones and Jacob West, who’d been pulling double duty at linebacker, for the offense.

That, as they say, was big.

Quarterback Philip Juhlin was pretty much Maryville’s lone weapon the season’s first five weeks. His accuracy and production was nothing short of super. Last week, the running game burst to life, with Jones and West pushing the Rebels past 200 yards rushing for the first time this season.

“That was a little bit surprising last week that we were able to run it as well as we did,” Quarles said.

Improved play along the offensive line, he added, is due an equal measure of credit.

“Those guys are so much better now than they were that first game,” Quarles said.

Juhlin fueled Maryville’s balance last week with 132 yards passing and touchdown throws to Stian Romberg and Desmund Horne. The speedy Horne is averaging better than 20 yards per catch entering Thursday, with the tall, rangy Romberg proving a matchup nightmare for opposing secondaries, especially so around the goal line.

“The whole team is getting better,” Juhlin said. “We’ve replaced a lot of people, but we’ve dealt with adversity and we’re coming around.”

Where Young may be a little quicker, Cozart ramps up the power, Quarles said.

“He’s pretty shifty, probably more of a complete back, more physical than Young,” he said. “They’re going to give it to him. They’ve been running it at people.”

Irish senior Tyler Williamson at quarterback makes the Irish (4-2, 2-1) doubly dangerous. Add senior wide out Spencer Mackle and Catholic coach Scott Meadows, who had no problem with putting it up as coach at William Blount two years ago, and the Irish possess a balanced and potentially explosive offense.

Bearden, Catholic and Farragut in back-to-back-to-back weeks?

It’s a tough stretch, but if endurance has anything to do with it, the Rebels are ready.

Quarles wondered at the time if four tough preseason scrimmages earlier this fall were a little bit much for such a young team. Funny thing, though.

Maryville won each of those scrimmages, including one where Juhlin dueled with one of the state’s most heralded passers in Clinton quarterback Darian Stone. During one especially taxing week, the Rebels scrimmaged three times, a sobering spree that included tune ups with Chattanooga Red Bank and Dobyns-Bennett.

Thursday’s game has major playoff implications for District 4AAA. The Rebels currently sit atop the league standing alongside Farragut’s Admirals (5-1, 3-0), who host rival Bearden (5-1, 2-1) on Friday. Only the district’s top two Class 6A finishers earn automatic qualifier bids to next month’s playoffs. The rest will join the statewide, 6A wildcard pool.

District 4AAA compatriots Catholic, Knoxville West and Lenoir City are each competing for spots in the Class 5A playoffs.

Fall break afforded the Rebels some flexibility in adjusting to the short week of practice. Blount County’s other four high schools - Alcoa, Heritage and William Blount - also on break, are off this week and will return to district play in earnest next Friday.

The unbeaten and top-ranked Tornadoes (7-0) will welcome Stone Memorial to Goddard Field for District 4AA clash on Oct. 16, with the Mountaineers (3-4) jumping back into the District 4AAA fray against at Bearden, the Governors (3-4) welcoming Lenoir City to Mike White Field.

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