Can Dobyns-Bennett beat Maryville?
It’s the question the Indians football team has been asked all season.
In the Class 6A state quarterfinals for the second straight year after the TSSAA declared the Indians a winner by forfeit over McMinn County, Dobyns-Bennett (10-2) now goes on the road to face the defending state champion Rebels (12-0). Kickoff is set for Friday at 7 p.m.
While some have said the Rebels haven’t been as explosive as years past, the fact is they have beaten the tar out of most opponents. Alcoa, the Rebels’ bitter rival, is the only team to keep the margin within one score. Overall, Maryville has won games by an average margin of 34-6.
The Rebels certainly have the respect of Dobyns-Bennett coach Joey Christian.
“Looks like the same old Maryville team to me, just with different kids,” Christian said. “What they do is what they do. You’ve got to beat them. They’re not going to lose it.”
The Rebels have shown tremendous balance, rushing for 2,156 yards and passing for 1,719 yards. Running back Parker McGill has 1,219 yards and 19 touchdowns, while quarterback Carson Jones is next with 341 yards and four touchdowns. Noah Vaughn is also effective with 233 yards and four touchdowns.
Jones is extremely accurate, completing 126 of 167 passes for 1,639 yards with 19 touchdowns and one interception. They have tough matchups at wide receiver with D.J. Burks hauling in 27 catches for 363 yards and four touchdowns and 6-foot-4 Michael Fortenberry with 20 catches for 362 yards and six touchdowns.
There is length across the offensive line with everyone 6-foot or taller. Center Cal Grubbs is 6-3 and 255 pounds and right tackle Adrian Gumm stands at 6-4, 230.
“Their offensive line, they have those long arms and they will press you out,” Christian said. “You might hold the battle where they don’t move the line of scrimmage, but when the running back comes by you and you get off that block, the back will fall forward and gain six yards. That’s what happens the longer you are in football.”
One positive from the McMinn forfeit was it gave Indians’ defensive end Jackson Martin a week to recover from the injuries of the long season. Martin has 62 tackles and a team-best 17 quarterback hurries.
Nate Whitley, a tall linebacker at 6-3, leads the team with 81 tackles. He accounted for the Indians’ lone score against Alcoa. He stripped the ball for a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.
Overall, the Indians gained some confidence by playing Alcoa tough in a 20-7 loss — where a couple of big plays proved to be the difference. But the D-B defense is ready for the Maryville challenge with safety Isaac Ratliff totaling 58 tackles on the season and defensive end Levi Evans adding 46 tackles, four sacks and six pass breakups.
Phillip Armitage has come on strong with 44 tackles, including a team-best 11 for a loss. Other leaders include Chase Jenkins with 35 tackles and Blake Collier with 30.
A key will be getting the Rebels off the field. They have gone 10 of 19 on fourth-down conversions and scored 37 of 41 times in the red zone.
“The fact they’re over 50 percent on fourth-down conversions, that’s phenomenal,” Christian said. “We’ve got to be able to get off the field on third and fourth downs and not let them continue drives to give our offense a chance.”
D-B OFFENSE VS. MARYVILLE DEFENSE
Same as on the offensive side of the ball, the length on the Maryville defense presents problems.
Defensive end Hagan Webb is 6-foot-3, while the two outside linebackers — Lou Birchfield and Brock Garner — are both 6-foot-1. Receivers Nick Dagel and DJ Burks double as safeties on defense, making it extremely difficult to connect on the long passes.
“They’re a tough matchup and they play so hard,” Christian said. “It’s just like when we played Alcoa. You have to do everything 100 percent right. If you do it right and we’ve done it right many times this year, we can have some success moving the football against them.”
Dobyns-Bennett senior quarterback Zane Whitson has completed 93 of 163 passes for 1,575 yards with 15 touchdowns and two interceptions. Braden Marshall, himself a tough matchup at 6-foot-4, is the Indians’ leading receiver with 28 catches for 606 yards. Slot receiver Hayden Sherer has 14 catches for 267 yards, while tight end Gage Hensley has eight catches for 154 yards.
But, the Indians will try most to establish the run behind the senior line of Ethan Murray, Aiden Neale, Caleb Burleson, Zack Ferguson and Caden McNabb.
Tylar Tesnear has 1,377 rushing yards, including 105 yards against Alcoa. Armitage, who led the team in rushing against Bearden and Hardin Valley, has 532 rushing yards.
Christian doesn’t expect his team to be intimidated. Despite everything thrown at them — the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring, tough back-to-back losses to Science Hill and Alcoa, plus the McMinn County game being up in the air until Monday — the senior-laden bunch has shown an ability to handle adversity.
“Kids in today’s world are more resilient than any time,” Christian said. “These guys roll with the punches so to speak. Things change and they were like, ‘Hey, we were here Monday to practice for McMinn County.’ We find out Friday we’re going to play Maryville on Friday and it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s turn the page and get ready for Maryville.’ It’s what you expect with an experienced team we have with the 30-plus seniors.”