The Maryville defense that has taken the field of late isn’t the same Maryville defense that gave up 34 points to Alcoa in Week 4
This isn’t the same defense that gave up big plays at Fulton in Week 6.
In the last 10 quarters of football, the Rebels have allowed just seven points — which came in the second quarter of a 42-7 rout of visiting Cleveland. The Blue Raiders scored 38 in a loss to Maryville last season.
And Ooltewah had scored 34 in a loss to Maryville a season ago. But last Friday, nothing. The Owls didn’t score a point.
Much of that defensive fix has come from the buy-in level of the players’ mentality of late, said Maryville coach Derek Hunt. The loss to Alcoa taught them much about themselves.
As did the entirety of the top half of their 2018 schedule.
“For us, what I’ve learned the last two years is: it’s been hard for our kids to get up for as many big games as we play in,” said Hunt. “I almost feel bad for some of these SEC teams. They’re playing in huge games every week. And, at Maryville, there have been years when we only had one or two big games. The past two years, we’ve had so many. Every non-region game was against a No. 1 team in the state (this season). And in region, we’re playing some really good teams.
“I think when you lose one, you’re able to sit back and take a look at what you can get better at and what you’re doing it for. I think that after our bye week this year (in Week 5), we were able to put some pieces together, personnel wise, and our coaches have done a great job of — I like to call it ‘grinding the ax’ – getting in there and working. Just really getting after them in practice, and our kids have responded so well.”
Leadership was a problem earlier in the season for Maryville, too, partly because of a smaller-than-normal senior total of 18. The Rebels typically have 25 or more seniors on any given roster.
Hunt challenged those 18 over the team’s bye week, and he said they’ve responded in a major way because of they’re willingness to be led. Hunt even went as far as saying that last week, Week 9, was probably the team’s best week of practice since he’s been at Maryville. It showed on a Friday in a 42-0 win over Ooltewah.
“This (senior class) maybe went 3-3 their freshman year and got blown out in two or three games, which traditionally doesn’t happen at Maryville,” said Hunt. “And we were kind of worried about this (senior) class. And you look at them now, and we have nine of the 18 starting for us.
“That’s a huge step in showing where they’ve come from.”
The impact on defense that senior lineman Blaize Welch and junior linebacker Mason Shelton have made so far this season can’t be overstated. Welch has 15 tackles for loss and even picked off a pass against Cleveland.
“Blaize has taken that job by the horn, and he doesn’t really come off the field very much anymore,” said Hunt. “He makes a lot of plays with his hands. He’s really good at getting off blocks, and he’s a big body in the middle.”
Shelton leads the team in tackles with 80 and has nine tackles for loss and an interception. Shelton transferred to Maryville a couple of years ago, prior to the 2017 season, when his father retired and the family moved from Chicago.
Shelton made a move from reserve safety last season to, this season, playing strong side linebacker. The change could place Shelton is a bright light very soon.
“I’ll be shocked if he’s not playing college football at a very high level when it’s all said and done,” said Hunt. “He passes the eye test. He’s like 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. He can run so well. We put him at outside linebacker against Catholic.
“His first game very playing linebacker, he gets 20 tackles. When I watched the game tape after that game, I knew we’d found something special in Mason Shelton.”
The Fulton-Maryville series, that began in 2015 as a two-year “Pilot’s Battle of Champions” television showcase but lived past that commitment in a non-televised capacity, will continue in 2019. Fulton coach Rob Black and Maryville coach Hunt confirmed the news.
Maryville is 4-0 in the last four meetings, having beaten Fulton in a hard-fought, 35-20 victory in Week 6.
Next year’s contest will be in Week 7 (Oct. 4, 2019).
“Alcoa and Fulton are our (non-region) guarantees,” Hunt said. “With Fulton, that’s really turned into a nice deal for both of us. Not just from a gate standpoint but from a competitive standpoint.”
Maryville also played Catholic and Oakland this season. No word on if those series will continue.
GRACE CHRISTIAN STILL PLAYOFF-MINDED
This season hasn’t produced as many victories as teaching moments for the Grace Christian football program, one that has had 16 new starters and that lost 19 seniors off last year’s team.
But all isn’t lost. The season hasn’t totally slipped from the fingers of the players.
They can still make the TSSAA postseason.
Six teams from the Division II-AA East Region will make the postseason while one will not. While Grace Christian currently occupies the sixth slot from the East Region, it has winnable games upcoming with Silverdale (5-3, 2-2) and Chattanooga Christian (5-3, 3-1).
Winning those two games could move Grace (3-5, 1-3) into a 3-seed, which means the Rams would go from playing either Notre Dame (which beat Grace 35-7 last week) to playing at Franklin Road Academy (5-3).
To do this, Grace Christian coach Rusty Bradley is trying to get his players to focus on playing to please a Higher Power rather than any media preseason expectations that were placed upon them.
“I think the biggest thing with us is the expectations that outside people placed on us. The standard we’ve placed on ourselves is to: love God, love each other and give God our best. That’s what our focus has been every week,” said Bradley. “There have been times when we haven’t given God our best for a full game, where maybe once things didn’t start going our way, throwing in the towel.
“That’s where I’ve challenged our guys to persevere and push through. We’ve been put in the same position each week, because I don’t think we’ve learned what we’re supposed to learn yet. Honestly, last week, I think it clicked with our guys. We scored late in the game against Notre Dame to cut it to 35-7. And after we scored that touchdown, I heard one official say to another how he impressed he was that our kids were still playing as hard as they were. When I heard that, that’s the proudest moment I’ve had with this team this year. I think good things are ahead.”
OTHER KEY GAMES in Class 6A and Division II-A, Division II-AA
Bearden at Hardin Valley: The winner stays in the hunt for the Region 1-6A title with Farragut.
Bradley Central at William Blount: The Governors’ playoff chances all rest on this game. Winning won’t be easy. The Bears are 6-2.
CAK at Webb: The host Spartans can solidify their spot at the No. 2 seed from the Division II-AA East Region with a win.