The jamborees are over, and the 2011 high school football season opens Friday with William Blount looking for a little vengeance at Sevier County and Heritage at a new foe in Jefferson County.
Seven-time defending state champion Alcoa will have its hands full with Cleveland and nationally-ranked quarterback Chad Voytik in the opening game of the inaugural Airport Motor Mile Kickoff Classic on Saturday afternoon at Maryville Shields Stadium. The defending 6A champion Rebels follow against two-time defending Division II Class A champion Webb to bring the opening week of football season to a close.
Friday’s games kickoff at 7:30 p.m. The Tornadoes open the kickoff classic at 5 p.m., with the Rebels following immediately after.
All four Blount County schools have a good reason to be optimistic as the curtain rises, but only the Governors have the chance to avenge a loss from a year ago that still stings.
Sevier County brought an explosive, athletic team to William Blount’s Mike White Field in last year’s opener. The Bears got going early and put 42 points on the board before the Governors could find the end zone for the first time early in the fourth quarter. It didn’t get a whole lot closer, Sevier County cruising to a 42-14 victory.
There’s a significant shift for 2011, with the Governors taking the more experienced, balanced team into the meeting. Senior Greg Cook rates as one of the best running back prospects to come through Blount County in some time and possesses genuine, game-breaking speed. He hasn’t put up the big numbers to this point, but it’s there.
Junior quarterback Hunter Saunders may be a converted receiver, but his showing during passing scrimmages this summer leaves no doubt he can get it done. When he tucks the ball and takes off, he can get there pretty quickly.
We’re not kidding when we say this is the fastest William Blount team the school has fielded in some time. Senior Brooks Cunningham, juniors Lane Bloom and Tim Green are lights out in the open field.
Powering it all is an offensive line that’s really, really big.
The opening loss to Sevier County a year ago, during which the Bears rang up 361 yards of offense, limiting the Governors to 111, much of it coming on Bloom’s 63-yard, fourth-quarter run, was decisive. Thing is, many of the Bears who amassed that yardage are gone. The Governors return the bulk of last year’s speed and a lot of bad feelings.
The Tornadoes, Mountaineers, Rebels and Governors played to an entertaining dress rehearsal at the Maryville Orthopaedic Clinic Football Jamboree last Friday at Alcoa’s Goddard Field. It’s never a good idea to make too much of the jamboree, good or bad. This Friday and Saturday, we get our first real peek at the 2011 season, and, from all accounts, it should be a good one.
Here’s a look back at the jamboree.
William Blount 14, Maryville 7
Saunders made his Governors’ quarterback debut in impressive fashion, marching his team 70 yards down the field to open up the scoring.
“This is Hunter’s first year playing quarterback, and he needed to get some experience,” William Blount coach David Gregory said. “He did a good job.”
Saunders connected on two passes for 34 yards and added 20 rushing yards on the opening drive before Cook pounded in a 2-yard touchdown run.
Maryville Coach George Quarles took a more conservative approach to the jamboree, keeping many of his playmakers on the sideline. Senior quarterback Patton Robinette, who is committed to North Carolina, was not one of the three signal callers Quarles used during the contest, and senior linebacker Jacob West was in street clothes while watching the game.
“We needed to work on some of our younger guys, and, with the first game a week away, we didn’t feel it was worth the risk to play some of those guys,” Quarles said.
On Maryville’s second play from scrimmage sophomore running back Shawn Prevo exploded off right tackle for 37 yards on his only touch of the evening. A few plays later junior quarterback Nick Myers connected with D.T. Bailey for a 10-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-all.
The Governors opened their next drive with rushes of 15 yards by Cunningham and 13 by Cook. Cook would once again finish the drive, this time with a 2-yard rush up the middle to create a 14-7 Governors advantage.
“Offensively, I think we executed very well,” Gregory said. “We did a good job getting the ball in the hands of our athletes.”
Maryville would rely on the ground attack on its next possession, opening the drive with a 25-yard rush by quarterback John Garrett. Three plays later, sophomore quarterback Isaac Edmiston would scamper up the middle for 15 yards, putting the Rebels in the red zone. Bloom, at linebacker, intercepted an errant Garret pass in the end zone to seal the lead.
“I was a little disappointed in our defense,” Quarles said. “We didn’t tackle well or get off blocks, but you have to give William Blount credit. They did a good job of making some plays.”
Alcoa 21, Heritage 7
Admittedly, the jamboree is only a quarter, albeit an extended, 15-minute quarter, but, if it counted, Vanderbilt Hambrick’s yards per carry average would be at 25.3 through one game.
The Alcoa senior carried three times for 76 yards, including a 68-yard scoring run, before the Tornadoes lifted the starters after the second series with the Mountaineers. The undeclared Hambrick averaged better than 15 yards per rush over exactly 100 carries in amassing a 1,000-yard season in last year’s championship run.
It turned out to be a big quarter for the backs and quarterbacks all around, with Heritage senior Chase Cline carrying 14 times for 82 yards and a 9-yard score in only a quarter of play.
Alcoa quarterback D.J. Oggs scampered in from 20 yards to open the scoring on the quarter’s first drive. After the Mountaineers were limited to three plays on the following series, two plays into the ensuing Alcoa series, Hambrick set sail down the home sideline for a 14-0 advantage with the period less than five minutes old.
The starters were done for the Tornadoes at the point, with Alcoa reserves accounting for the final score. Junior tailback JaRod Crenshaw capped a half-field scoring drive in four plays with an 11-yard burst up the middle for a 21-0 Alcoa lead with six minutes left. It was Cline time at that point, and the Mountaineer workhorse put his team on his back and took them the distance.
Cline amassed nine of his 14 carries on the 70-yard march to get Heritage on the board. On first-and-goal at the 9, he punched through. The Mountaineers would reach first-and-goal at the Alcoa 7 on the ensuing series with 1.2 seconds remaining. There, Heritage got a scare when starting quarterback Jake Olvey, absorbed a jolting hit from Tornado junior Branden Strissel, resulted in a fumble to end the drive.