The Smoky Mountain Athletic Conference championship could prove a close-run thing this season.
Member teams made their 2010 debut at the Blount County Middle School Jamboree last Saturday morning at Heritage High School.
The defending champion Maryville Middle Bulldogs got an interception returned for a touchdown from standout eighth-grader Dylan Shinsky to edge rival Alcoa, 8-0, in a quarter of play. The Bulldogs delivered a record-setting season a year ago, becoming the first team in school history to finish 10-0 en route to the conference crown.
Many of the stars of that team, including record-setting receiver Cody Carroll, running back Shawn Prevo and quarterback Isaac Edmiston, are now at the high school. Saturday, the Bulldogs did anything but show their ready to relinquish the crown.
Shinsky’s interception came after Bulldog teammate Bryce Miller pressured Alcoa quarterback Mitchell McClurg into a hurried, errant throw. Miller, Shinsky and fellow eighth-graders Paul Bristol and Brent Sloan were teammates on the Tennessee seventh-grade all-star team that rolled over its Kentucky counterparts, 33-13, in the inaugural showcase for up-and-coming talent earlier this summer.
The Alcoa Middle Tornadoes, along with the Heritage Mustangs, Carpenters Cougars and Union Grove Wildcats, are looking to challenge the Bulldogs for the title this year. Eagleton’s Royals compete in the Tennessee Middle School Athletic Association for postseason play.
Hard-running back Brenden Teeter very nearly pulled Alcoa even late in Saturday’s quarter with the Bulldogs, escaping around the left end with nothing but sideline in front of him. Maryville’s Brian Tillery made a lunging, touchdown-saving tackle at the sideline to keep the Tornadoes in the Alcoa end of the field, effectively sealing the win.
Tornado eighth-grader Jacob Evans was a Tennessee all-star teammate of Sloan, Bristol, Shinsky and Miller. Alcoa coach Tim Russell hopes the offensive line of Justin Kerr, Alex McBrayer, Jonathan Decker and Andrew Pierce alongside Evans can lead the Tornadoes back to the championship game later this season.
“It should be really close,” Russell said. “We’ve got a lot of really good kids. Our strength is our offensive line.”
Union Grove’s Wildcats looked solid up front as well on Saturday, but it was a player of slightly smaller stature that cleared the way for feature back Brandon Tipton to reach the end zone in a 6-0 win over Eagleton. Tipton sliced in from the 1-yard line over right guard behind a nifty block from backfield mate Dustin Carver.
Quarterback Michael Bryant ran the Wildcats’ shotgun offense smoothly, with Devin Fair and Tipton accounting for much of running game that looks like it’ll be heard from this season. Perhaps ominous for Wildcat opponents this fall, offense may not be what Union Grove is best at this fall, head coach Michael Baumann said.
“I think we’ll be a little better on defense this year,” he said, “and we’ve got some speed.”
The Royals looked bigger than any of Blount County’s six middle schools along the offensive line. Left guard Chris Lim is a player whose name you might want to remember.
“He makes some devastating blocks for us,” Eagleton coach Jeff Sherman said. “He’s big and strong and fast. He may be the third or fourth fastest guy on our team.”
Running back John Michael Vilchez and receiver Isaac Overbay are likely to score quite a few touchdowns behind Lim & Co. this season.
Saturday’s final quarter saw the Mustangs edge the Cougars, 8-0, in a scrimmage decided late, and one player in particular really stole the show.
With time winding down, the Mustangs’ Jess Burchfield tore downfield on a punishing run to move the ball inside the Carpenters’ 5-yard line. A collision involving Burchfield and a would-be Cougar tackler back upfield was nothing short of epic. Moments later, Mustang quarterback Spencer Rothrey rolled to his right and flipped a short toss to Devon Gardner for the score.
Burchfield wouldn’t go away empty handed for his efforts. Rothrey found him for the two-point conversion, but only after Burchfield collected a tipped ball at the line, juggling it all the while as his momentum carried him into the end zone.
Cougars’ quarterback Jake Long looks a playmaker who’ll have Carpenters in the title chase this season. The Cougars reached the Smoky Mountain Athletic Conference championship game for the first time in school history a year ago. With Reed Daniels, Ryan Mims and Cody Roberts displaying on Saturday Long will have no shortage of targets at his disposal, Carpenters may be planning a return trip.