Whitehaven celebrates first title
By David Cobb | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
COOKEVILLE — Saturday night’s class 6A state title game between Maryville and Memphis Whitehaven ended with a 36-35 overtime victory for Whitehaven as the Tigers captured their first ever state championship.
The game lasted three hours and was a roller coaster ride of lead changes, crippling penalties, and momentum swings.
But according to Whitehaven coach Rodney Saulsberry, whose team lost 23-7 to Maryville in the 2011 championship game, the outcome was decided well before Ole Miss commitment Mark Dodson sealed it with an overtime two-point conversion run.
“This gold ball was not won today,” Saulsberry said as he nodded toward the trophy on the table in front of him. “It was won last year on that field when we saw that team (Maryville) celebrating and we knew that we could’ve won the game. It was won right then.
“We worked for it, and thank God we got it.”
As Maryville coach George Quarles wrapped up his duties in the media room Saturday night and got up to leave, Saulsberry was attempting to explain the significance of the victory to reporters.
He hesitated, looked up at a solemn-faced Quarles, halted mid-sentence, and said with unmistakable sincerity, “good job coach.”
Immediately, he resumed his discussion with reporters.
“Quarles does such a great job with his team,” Saulsberry said. “And if you desire to be a champion, you model yourself after a championship team, and that’s our goal. We want to be where they are, where we make consecutive runs to the playoffs. And one (state championship) is not enough. We’ve got to make this a program thing where we’re coming back. My hat goes off to Maryville, what a great team.”
If Whitehaven (15-0) is to return to Cookeville in 2013, it will have to replace Dodson, who finished the season with 3,295 rushing yards, which ranks second in the TSSAA record book.
The 5-foot-9 senior scored all five of Whitehaven’s touchdowns Saturday as he gashed the Rebel defense for 318 yards. The effort earned him the offensive MVP honor.
“Man it means a lot,” Dodson said. “After taking that ‘L’ last year I erased it out of my head and worked extremely hard to get back here.”
Dodson was aided by an offensive line featuring 6-foot-4, 310 pound guard Vincent Hunter that wore down an injury-saddled Maryville front seven.
“It was real sweet, man,” Dodson told The Daily Times. “We made history. This is our first state championship and my name going down in the record books. But I’ve got to give credit to my offensive line. They didn’t give up, kept fighting, kept fighting.”
Defensively, Vandberbilt commit Darius Sims earned the MVP honors for Whitehaven. He recorded 10 tackles and intercepted a Nick Myers pass in the second quarter.
If he and Dodson stick with their commitments, they’ll face each other when Ole Miss and Vanderbilt play to open the 2013 season.
“I’m really not thinking about that right now,” Sims said with a chuckle. “When it comes it comes, but Mark is a great guy, he’s and all-around back that can do anything.”
Saulsberry added: “These two young men on my left and my right,” he said while motioning to Dodson and Sims. “They’re a testament of being great character kids, as well as being great football players. So I’m just appreciative of them. And whatever college where they land, those schools are getting a treat and the sky is the limit for the what the future can be for them.”
As for the present, all three glowed when they discussed what the reaction will be like when they returned to “The Haven” with a championship trophy.
“Our community is strong,” Dodson said. “We grow together, we bond together and I tell you, when we get back, the community is going to be a straight riot.
“Most likely we’re going to have a parade.”