Scots reach midterm exam badly in need of win

Maryville College junior Sam Newton pipes the Scots onto Honaker Field for a game earlier this season.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Maryville College junior Sam Newton pipes the Scots onto Honaker Field for a game earlier this season.

Redshirt senior quarterback Tim Conner has had to withstand a heavy rush this season.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Redshirt senior quarterback Tim Conner has had to withstand a heavy rush this season.

Freshman Melvin Burston saw his first action at quarterback last Saturday.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Freshman Melvin Burston saw his first action at quarterback last Saturday.

The numbers are sobering.

Through four games, the Maryville College football team has yet to produce a 100-yard rusher. That’s 100 yards over the four games combined. Sophomore Chad Brooks leads with 85 yards on 38 carries.

Fifth-year redshirt senior Tim Conner has thrown twice as many interceptions (4) as touchdowns (2) this season. Punter R.J. Sandmeyer has a 400-yard cushion on the offense in terms of total yardage.

The Scots held a players-only team meeting after last week’s loss to Ferrum dropped Maryville to 0-4 on the season. Afterward, Maryville coach Tony Ierulli met with the Scots.

Methodist University (1-3, 0-1 USA South Athletic Conference) is next on the schedule on Saturday at Honaker Field. With Maryville also 0-1 in league play, the winner remains in the thick of the conference chase. More important, Ierulli said, is what does Saturday mean to each Scot.

Kickoff is 1:30 p.m.

Ierulli was a linebacker and team captain on one of Maryville’s best-ever teams in the late 1970s. Like the current Scots, he was also in uniform during times when Maryville struggled.

“All I remember is looking in the eyes of my teammates,” Ierulli said. “Our guys have got to get to that point where they don’t want to let their teammates down, that foxhole mentality. I can remember looking over (as a player) and seeing a friend to each side.

“I think we’re going to play well (Saturday). I think our guys are going to give their very best. One team is going to be 1-1 in the conference. The other is going to be 0-2.”

Maryville’s troubles this season are largely a factor of its youth and largely so along the offensive line. The Scots saw five sophomores, no juniors and a single senior man the front lines last week. The trend toward youth there is not by design.

“Every year, we bring in 10 or 12 offensive linemen,” Ierulli said, “and, for whatever reason, they’ve decided not to stay at the school. We’ve got very good depth at all the other positions. The most difficult position for freshmen to play is on the offensive line. The transition from high school to college, from a physical aspect, they’re just not ready.”

The turnover along the offensive line has led to a lot of turnover at quarterback as well. Injury has cost Maryville a succession of starters, Conner’s fifth season as illustrative as any of what it’s cost the Scots.

The Tavares, Fla., native was the backup two years ago when former Scot and starter Derek Hunt was forced to give up football after suffering his fifth concussion dating back to high school. Hunt was lost after the 2009 opener. Conner went on to post a banner season, throwing for 1,800 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Maryville looked set at quarterback for 2010 until a fluke shoulder injury in preseason forced Conner to miss the year without taking a single snap. A medical redshirt granted, he’s returned to a team that not only has a young line providing protection, but Maryville is also absent all-time leading rusher Romel Hightower, who graduated after last season.

No running game really fires up a pass rush. A pocket passer by trade, Conner threw 21 passes last Saturday. He was hit on 20 of those throws and suffered three sacks.

“It’s been a struggle,” Ierulli said.

To present the Monarchs with more of a moving target, Ierulli has been giving Conner’s understudy plenty of reps during practice this week. Freshman Melvin Burston saw his first action of the season against Ferrum, displaying flashes of a mobile passer with the speed to tuck the ball and go.

“He’s extremely athletic and throws the ball well,” Ierulli said. “We thought he needed to be on the field somewhere. His best thing is he can make something happen when nothing’s there.”

Ierulli had intended to bring Burston along sooner. The 6-foot-2 flyer from Palmetto High School in Bradenton, Fla., suffered an ankle injury during fall camp, forcing Ierulli to delay his debut.

“I just came in and worked hard and was willing to do whatever it took to get on the field,” Burston said.

The young Scot played receiver his sophomore and junior seasons in high school, but a live arm made him a better option at quarterback as a senior. Burston’s throws in practice this week have been crisp, especially so when rolling to throw, and, if Maryville is to right its ship this season, senior receivers Wesley Idlette and Ryan Roach must become a much bigger part of the offense.

Idlette, an All-American and school-record holder from Chattanooga, has 23 catches on the season for 183 yards and two touchdowns.

“It was good to see Melvin out there,” Ierulli said. “He can give us some different options. Melvin can add an extra dimension to our offense that we need.”

During a midweek goal-line scrimmage, the offense punched through the defense for scores on three consecutive snaps.

Ierulli’s talk with the Scots after the Ferrum loss struck a chord.

“What he said hit home,” Burston said.

Alarming statistics to date withstanding, the only way for the Scots to break out of their current troubles, Ierulli said, is to remember the “Fighting” part of their nickname the school dropped several seasons ago.

“When you’re 0-4, there are two ways you can go,” Ierulli said. “We’re at a point right now where everyone has got to be accountable.”

Like most Scots, Maryville’s academic reputation had a lot to do with his college selection, Burston said. The one-to-one available with Maryville professors was a big selling point.

“I’m a person in class,” he said. “Teachers know my name.”

Maryville professors and president Tom Bogart are also fervent fans of the Scots. They’ll get to know Burston really well if he can help the Scots break through on Saturday.

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