Scots hope clash with Eagles stepping stone to title

Maryville College coach Tony Ierulli and the Scots celebrate a big victory at Honaker Field last season.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Maryville College coach Tony Ierulli and the Scots celebrate a big victory at Honaker Field last season.

Sophomore Travis Felder vaults over the line against LaGrange.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Sophomore Travis Felder vaults over the line against LaGrange.

Next year, Alabama.

The odds of a Maryville College victory Thursday night in Cookeville are playing out along those lines as the Scots renew acquaintances with Tennessee Tech after a 63-year break.

The Golden Eagles are bigger. They’re faster. Division I-AA schools like Tech have 67 athletic scholarships to offer. Small schools like Maryville are prohibited from offering athletic scholarships of any kind by Division III bylaws.

Kickoff at Tech’s Tucker Stadium is 7 p.m. CST.

“We’ll see better players at every position than we’ll see all year,” Maryville coach Tony Ierulli said. “You only get the best out of yourself in life when you’re going against better competition. I’ve had people ask me, ‘What are you doing?’ I think the lessons we learn at Tennessee Tech can only help us the rest of the season.”

Maryville and Tech last met when the Eagles came to town for the final game of the 1948 season. The Scots were virtual kings of the state in the late 1940s. Only the year before, one of Maryville’s top players had been a guy named King Berrong. The 1947 Scots had almost swept the state, knocking off much bigger East Tennessee State, 31-6, and Middle Tennessee State, 13-6, that season. Tech escaped Maryville’s grasp, 13-7, that year in Cookeville.

In the fall of ‘48, Tech came to then-Wilson Field in Maryville for the rematch. Lombe Honaker, for whom the home of the Scots would later be named, was still the coach at Maryville. The King had graduated, but his younger brother, Leon, was still at Maryville. The Scots also had a super-fast wingback named Allen Law, who’d set a state record with eight touchdowns in a game while a player at nearby Maryville High.

Former Southeastern Conference commissioner and BCS godfather Roy Kramer played tackle for the 1948 Scots. Fullback Herschell Merriman was one of the best runners in the country.

It all came to naught, though. Tech rolled, 21-zip.

A lot has changed at Maryville since then. They don’t have a Barnwarming Queen anymore. Grace Ellen Cross was sure something, though. Girl of the Year Margaret Louise Rock and Boy of the Year Charles Huffman represented the school well.

The biggest change in the last 60 years, at least in terms of football, was the creation of Division III in 1960s. That’s when schools the size of Maryville quit messing with scholarship-armed programs like Tech, Carson-Newman and the University of Tennessee. That does not, however, mean they fear them.

The reasons for renewing the series with Tech are twofold, Ierulli said.

Maryville and Tech still pursue many of the same players. The Scots have aspirations of a USA South Athletic Conference championship at season’s end. To do so will require wins at both conference heavyweight’s North Carolina Wesleyan and Christopher Newport University.

“If we’re fortunate enough to have a good record by Week 8, going against a team like Tech is really going to help our guys,” Ierulli said. “The one thing I know is our players will give their very best.”

The Golden Eagles will toughen Maryville like no Division III team ever could, Maryville senior Bud Christy said.

“It’s definitely the best competition we’re going to see,” the All-American defensive back said, “so it’s definitely going to help make us better. I look forward to it. There are going to be some good receivers down there.

“I was excited when I first heard (Tech had been scheduled). I just know it’s going to make us better.”

The Scots know they’re outmanned, but fearing Tech simply isn’t in the playbook, senior Chad Barnes said. When the 2011 schedule was first announced, “I was excited,” the All-American defensive tackle said. “I like to measure myself up against people who’ve been there and played in big games.”

The Golden Eagles have dubbed their one-back, spread passing attack the “Fastest 60 minutes in Football.” Conventional wisdom says the best defense against such a team is a ball-control offense of your own. There, evidenced by a 35-7 loss to Division III Huntingdon College in the season opener last Saturday at Honaker Field, the Scots have a problem.

The Hawks limited a retooled Maryville ground game to 11 yards rushing on 31 attempts. Scots quarterback Tim Conner absorbed six sacks. With four new starters on the offensive line, some struggles running the ball were to be expected. If the Scots are forced to throw against the Eagles, Conner and receivers Wesley Idlette and Ryan Roach could find the going pretty tough.

“We’ve got to be able to move the ball 4 or 5 yards at a time and control the clock,” Ierulli said. “That’s what I’m hoping for us to do.”

Idlette, a talented All-American who’ll soon own all of Maryville’s receiving records, often draws double and triple coverage even against Division III competition. Conner and the Scots made Huntingdon pay for that approach, Roach coming away with seven catches for 131 yards in the loss. Tech, who’s had Idlette’s picture up on its web site for some time now, isn’t expected to defend Maryville any differently.

“I’m sure when someone wonders, ‘How do you stop Maryville?’ they say you’ve got to stop Wesley,” Ierulli said. “We’ve got to be productive on the other side of the formation because Wesley is going to draw a lot of attention.”

Idlette sees it as a chance for the Scots to discover a lot about themselves as team.

“We get to see what our potential is going against a great opponent,” he said.

Yes, the Eagles are bigger and faster, but, like the Fighting Scots from which Maryville draws its nickname, it isn’t always about who’s got the best players, Barnes said.

“Sitting here paying $40,000 a year to play football,” he said, “you’d better have your heart in it. There’s not a fear factor for a lot of us. We’re just going to go out there and play.”

And with that, Roll Tide.

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