History is waiting to be written. One more win, and Greeneville can sign its name at the end of the chapter.
Last year the Greene Devils became the first team in Northeast Tennessee history to win a high school football title under a true statewide playoff. Now they are attempting to join Tennessee High and Dobyns-Bennett as area schools with back-to-back football championships of any kind.
Standing in Greeneville’s way is Nashville Maplewood, which will play the Greene Devils for the TSSAA Class 4A state championship today. Kickoff for the BlueCross Bowl is set for 4:30 p.m. (EST) at Tennessee Tech University’s Tucker Stadium in Cookeville.
The Greene Devils, who have won 12 straight games and 27 of their last 28, enter with a mark of 13-1. Maplewood is 11-3, having won seven in a row.
These teams met in last year’s semifinals, and Greeneville won 17-7. That’s the only close game in the playoffs over the last two years for the Greeneville, whose average margin of victory other than that game is 41 points.
Certainly the Panthers remember that season-ending loss.
“I’m sure their coach has used the revenge factor,” said Greeneville head coach Caine Ballard. “He was talking at media day, and said they’ve looked forward to this game since last year.”
Greeneville made it to the state finals in 2009, suffering a heartbreaking loss to Giles County. However, the Greene Devils rebounded with a 15-0 season last year, embarrassing Memphis Trezevant 60-12 in the title game.
Many of Greeneville’s current players were on the field for both of those games, so experience is an advantage.
“The seniors have won 50 games in four years,” said Ballard. “They know what to expect. If we play our game, take care of the ball, and win field position, we should be OK.”
The back-to-back title list is short for Northeast Tennessee — Tennessee High (1971-72) and Dobyns-Bennett (1959-60 and 1947-49) — but Greeneville will likely get there if it can contain Panthers’ running back Ladarius Vanlier.
The 5-foot-6, 160-pound senior has rushed for 2,219 yards and scored 24 touchdowns this season. He had 16 carries for 233 yards and three scores in his team’s 28-7 win over Covington in last week’s semifinals.
“They certainly feature him, and I can’t say I blame them,” said Ballard. “He’s tiny, but he’s a football player. He makes things happen. We’ve got to build a wall and try to contain him.”
As a change of pace, Maplewood offers 6-1, 210-pound running back Denzel Jones, who rushed for 108 yards and three scores in the quarterfinals.
Clearing holes for those backs is a solid line, which is anchored by 6-2, 270-pound senior center Jamar Fletcher.
The Panthers don’t put the ball in the air very much as quarterback Alvin Stokes (6-0, 175, Sr.) is only averaging four attempts and 33 yards passing per game. He also averages just three carries and 22 yards rushing per contest.
Defensively, the Panthers have been very tough. In the last six games, they’ve allowed only 5.5 points per game. Safety Randall Smith (5-8, 165, Sr.) and linebacker Navonte Parks (5-11, 175, Sr.) have each been credited with more than 120 total tackles this season. Jones at defensive end has 10 sacks, and Fletcher stuffs the middle at tackle.
“They are big up front and at linebacker and in the secondary,” said Ballard. “They are all fast and run to the ball well. We’ve prepared for that by playing Alcoa, Fulton and teams like that. We know what to expect.
“These are probably the two best teams in Class 4A. They haven’t changed a lot from last year and we haven’t changed a lot, either. We know what to expect from each other.”
Greeneville is led offensively by quarterback Tanner Stewart, who has rushed for 1,258 yards and 21 touchdowns while throwing for 803 yards and nine scores.
Running back Taylor Shuffler has 1,306 yards rushing with 24 touchdowns. Hayes Culbreth is the top receiver with 22 catches for 344 yards and five scores.
Jamel Hall has been used more in the backfield late in the season, and has 529 yards on 58 carries and 10 touchdowns.
Defensively, Class AA Mr. Football lineman Terrell Rollins leads the way. The 6-0, 275-pound senior tackle gets plenty of help from Hall, a 6-0, 255-pound senior who was also a Mr. Football finalist.
Place-kicker Ben Ogle has 75 extra points and six field goals, and is a threat to create a touchback on every kickoff.
Notes: Greeneville will leave the school Saturday and get a send-off from fans as they travel through downtown at 10:30 a.m. …
Tickets for the game are $12. This ticket is good for admission to all three games played today. …
Greeneville has scored 633 points on the season, good enough for ninth on the all-time list. Seventh place is within reach. Greeneville would need 37 points.
The Greene Devils set the all-time state record last year with 748 points.