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Tribe braces for Class 6A clash with Maryville

Jeff Birchfield • Nov 22, 2019 at 12:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Dobyns-Bennett and Maryville, the two winningest programs in Tennessee high school football history, collide Friday at 7 p.m. in the TSSAA Class 6A quarterfinals at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.

The schools have combined for over 1,600 all-time victories and 22 TSSAA-recognized state championships. Maryville, a 16-time state champion, owns 809 wins; the Indians have 796. The Rebels have reached the state semifinals every year since 1999.

The current teams have plenty to celebrate as well. The Rebels (12-0) are coming off back-to-back 42-0 playoff wins over Science Hill and Farragut. The Indians (10-2) have reached double-digit wins for the first time since 2012.

“I love playing those guys. The first time we’ve played them at home since 2012,” Tribe coach Joey Christian said. “It’s good to have it at J. Fred and to go against good programs. Come the third round of the playoffs, you’re always going to get somebody good. Up here, you’re probably going to play Maryville in the third round every year.”

RUNNING REBELS AND MORE

Maryville has outscored opponents 499-95 and racked up 5,103 yards of total offense, 2,879 of those coming on the ground.

Tennessee commit Tee Hodge leads the potent rushing attack. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder, who battled turf toe earlier in the season, has rushed 84 times for 635 yards and 11 touchdowns. Parker McGill stepped up in his absence, getting 157 carries for 1,146 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“Hodge has great speed, great vision and great balance,” Christian said. “He’s a total back and there’s a reason he’s committed to an SEC school. No. 24 (McGill) does a great job as well and has shown that by rushing for nearly 1,200 yards.”

They run behind an offensive line led by senior center Seth Hair (6-1, 285) and guards Tommy Ledford (6-6, 300) and Trevor Abdella (6-0, 275). Seniors Mason Hobby (6-4, 190) and Fisher Coalson (6-3, 210) are tackles.

Quarterback Cade Chambers has kept the ball 53 times for 309 yards and four TDs and thrown for 1,713 yards and 27 touchdowns. Maryville has two capable quarterbacks. Carson Jones has thrown for 449 yards and nine touchdowns.

A.J. Davis (5-11, 195) is the leading receiver with 43 catches for 685 yards and 10 touchdowns. Ashton Maples (6-4, 185) has 27 receptions for 607 yards and 10 TDs. Tight end Brady Sloan has 343 receiving yards and five TDs.

“In 6A football, we see a lot of good teams with good players and good coaches,” Christian said. “With them, you know their line is going to come off hard with great technique and their quarterback is a Mr. Football semifinalist who makes great decisions with the football.

“They have the two good running backs and they have four different guys they throw the ball to who are tough to defend as well.”

D-B has been tough on the defensive side all season. Leading the charge are Braxton Kulbacki (90 tackles, six sacks) and Nate Whitley (90 tackles, 10 for a loss). Jackson Martin and Jet Harris have 74 tackles apiece. Martin’s total includes 12 for a loss and nine sacks, and Harris also has four pass breakups and three caused fumbles.

Josh Romero, the aggressive Sam linebacker, has 45 tackles and four pass breakups. Defensive tackles Fonzo Booker, Jesse Greer and Ricky Wagner have a combined 107 tackles. Isaac Ratliff has 59 tackles from his safety spot. Other defensive backfield leaders are Thomas Church, Cam Williamson and Trent Cody.

“We’ve relied on them and they’ve been good enough football players to allow us to change coverages from time to time,” Christian said. “That’s allowed us to keep some teams off balance. To be good on the back end, the guys up front have been able to get pressure and make the quarterback uncomfortable.”

CAN THE INDIANS SCORE?

Maryville has shut out four of its past five opponents; Heritage managed two touchdowns in a 66-14 defeat during that stretch. Meanwhile, D-B is averaging 33 points per game.

Tribe quarterback Zane Whitson has been deadly efficient, throwing 23 touchdowns against just one interception. He is 126-of-207 passing for 1,828 yards and also has rushed 64 times for 338 yards and five scores.

“I think Zane can be a big prospect for some college moving forward,” Christian said. “We’ve been tickled to death with the way he’s played. We have to have another good game from Zane on Friday.”

He’s been good at calling the right plays, too. The Indians has shown their balance by rushing for 2,182 yards.

Phillip “Thunder” Armitage leads the way with 874 yards on the ground and Tyler “Lightning” Tesnear has 769. They’re also good receivers out of the backfield, combining to score 25 touchdowns.

Most impressive is how they’ve adapted to injuries on the offensive line throughout the season. The latest starting lineup has Caleb Burleson at center, Aiden Neale and Seth Hale at the guard positions and Kyler Banks and Blake Collier at tackle.

To call Maryville’s defense aggressive is an understatement. Linebacker Mason Shelton (6-3, 225) has 100 tackles, 13 for a loss, with four sacks. Mike linebacker Seth Orren has 68 tackles, defensive end Lou Burchfield 67 and Sam linebacker Matthew Brooks 60. Ethan Ensley, a lighter defensive tackle at 6-1, 210 pounds, leads the team with 26 tackles for a loss and 7½ sacks.

With Zach Braden (6-0, 220) and Colton Peek (6-2, 210) also on the defensive line, the Rebels aren’t as big up front as some of the teams D-B has faced. But they are quick off the ball.

“They get off the ball extremely well,” Christian said. “I’m impressed with their defensive line. Ethan Ensley had eight tackles in the first half against Johnson City. Lou Burchfield is a great athlete, and their three linebackers do such a good job in pass coverage and defending the run.”

Jackson Jett and Will Myers are lock-down corners and DJ Burks and Drew Crowder are solid as safeties.

COMMON OPPONENTS

Maryville is 6-0 this season against common opponents, which includes two victories over Farragut.

D-B is 4-2, with those losses coming against Alcoa and Science Hill.

The Indians have racked up two victories over Bearden and one each over Farragut and William Blount.

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