2 heavyweights go at it

For the past couple of years, those of us who cover region 3-4A for various media sources have heard the "this may be the year that Maryville isn't as strong" talk, and we've all seen that the Red Rebels seem to find a way to just reload and continue on without missing a beat.

Maryville has proved that good football players, led by outstanding coaches, add up to a winning combination year after year.

Over the recent run of championship seasons by Maryville, several teams have felt like they had what it took to break the Red Rebel streak, but all have come up short. This week another challenger steps up to the plate looking to break the Maryville stronghold on the Class 4A gold ball. The Lions of Red Bank will take its best shot, looking to prove that it can roar loud enough to move on to the semifinals.

Much has been made about the difference in the strengths of regions 3-4A and 4-4A. In most years, 3-4A has proved to be the stronger of the regions, and in most of those years, by a wide margin. This year, however, seemed to be a down year for 3-4A, so that may not be as valid an argument as in the past as to judging the strength of each team.

What we do know is that Maryville is 12-0 and outside of their border rivalry game with Alcoa, the Rebels were never challenged until week 1 of the playoffs. They are locked and loaded once again at playoff time.

That said, having seen Red Bank, I believe that they have the athletes to challenge the Red Rebels this time around, and especially given that this game will take place at Tom Weathers Field at Red Bank Community Stadium. Am I ready to call and upset? No. Until somebody proves that they can beat Maryville on the field, they are still the favorites. Could an upset happen? It could, if Maryville turns the ball over like they did in round one against Brainerd. Red Bank has been very proficient at turning opponent mistakes in to points all year long.

In preparing to work the radio broadcast of the first round game between Powell and Red Bank, the first thing that jumped out at me when looking at the Lion's season was the way their defense dominated. During the regular season Red Bank shut out 5 of its ten opponents and had given up just 4.8 points per game. In its two playoff games so far they have shut out Powell 37-0 and then got by Knoxville West 28-8, which only bolstered those defensive numbers. Any way you look at it, Red Bank's defense is outstanding.

Speed is what makes the Lion defensive unit so special. The entire unit can run, and the front 7 runs as well as any that I've seen over the last several years. The Lions employ a 5 man front, led by nose tackle Miguel Sanchez. At 5'11" and 240, Sanchez won't be the biggest defensive lineman the Rebels have seen, but he will be among the quickest the Rebs have faced, and he has a nose for the football. Sanchez registered 7 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in the 10 regular season games.

Another defensive tackle, Anthony Lewis, registered 17 tackles for loss on the year. At 6'3" and 232, Lewis is big and strong enough to cause problems for most offensive linemen. You can bet that Coach George Quarles and the rest of the offensive staff at Maryville have taken notice of those two on film.

The leading tackler for Red Bank is linebacker Tracy Sims. At 5'10" and 223, the senior packs quite a punch for head coach Tim Daniel's defense. Sims registered 84 total tackles in the regular season, including 12 for loss.

Sims' running mate at linebacker, senior Coury Landers, was second to Sims in tackles with 64 for the year. Defensive end Zach Hollis has a nose for the football, recovering a team high 5 fumbles.

By averaging 38 points per game in 2006, the Lion offense has certainly done its part in getting the team to its current 12-0 record. That offense starts with a very efficient quarterback in junior Jake Ledbetter.

Not the biggest or fastest quarterback the Rebels will have seen this year, all Ledbetter does is get his offense in the right situation and he has a knack of finding the open receiver and getting the ball to him. The 5'10" and 176 pound southpaw broke a 20 year old school record with his 26 regular season touchdown passes, while completing 65% of his throws (121-185) for 1,818 yards. He threw only 6 interceptions.

The running game is led by senior Dee Staton, listed at 5'8" and 144. Obviously not a power runner at that size, Staton found the hole often enough to rush for 1,082 yards, averaging 6.7 yards per carry and finding the end zone 14 times. When in an I formation, Staton runs behind Sims, who doubles as the Lion fullback.

Against Powell in round one, the Lions ran mostly from the shotgun formation, sending 4 wide more often than not. When Ledbetter looks to throw he has 4 outstanding receivers to look for.

Tim Benford (6'1" 177) was Ledbetter's favorite receiver in 2006. The two of them hooked up 41 times, good for 552 yards and 7 touchdowns. Jeremy Caldwell was next with 24 catches for 519 yards and 8 TDs.

Speedster Dominique McDuffie, a 6'2" and 175 pound junior, is the Lion's best deep threat. McDuffie averaged 20 yards per catch with his 19 receptions, good for 406 yards and 5 touchdowns. As if those three pass catchers weren't enough for one team, a 4th receiver, senior Winfred Russell, caught 5 touchdown passes of his own during the regular season.

Caldwell and Benford will also double as defensive backs, joining Sims as the 3 Lions who will start both ways for Daniels' team.

Having had the opportunity to see both teams in person this year, this is a match up that I am very excited about seeing. As I said before, I'm not ready to call an upset in this one, but Red Bank certainly has the firepower on both sides of the ball to make it interesting.

If both teams bring their "A games", I would pick Maryville to win by 7-10 points. Anything less than an A game, however, and Red Bank does have the horses to win if it continues to play well.

I've heard some say that this game could very well produce the eventual TSSAA class 4A champion, and I am certainly in agreement with that statement. Both teams have worked hard to be 12-0 and in the quarterfinals and have proved themselves to be among the best in the state this year in any classification.

Whichever side comes out of this game victorious, however, won't have long to celebrate. Unless a major upset happens in the other quarterfinal game on the Eastern side of the bracket occurs, the Maryville-Red Bank winner will likely be looking straight down the barrel at another undefeated team in Morristown West. That won't be any picnic, either.

By Bill Mynatt, Radio Voice of Powell Panther Football on AM 620-WRJZ and high school football writer for The Shopper News

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