Oakland has been the unquestioned torchbearer in Class 6A the past two seasons, but its short reign pales in comparison to the standard Maryville set in the two decades prior.
It is a tradition that the Rebels have used as motivation as they attempt to dethrone the Patriots and get back to the Class 6A BlueCross Bowl for the first time since 2019. Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CDT) Friday in Ray Hughes Stadium in Murfreesboro.
“The biggest fear is that you don’t ever want it to become, ‘Well, we got to Oakland, it was a great year,’” Maryville coach Derek Hunt told The Daily Times. “I feel like teams used to do that against us — where they’d get to Maryville and mail it in. We don’t ever want to be that way. Our standard is to try and win them all, and we’re not always going to be able to do that, but I think our seniors are definitely motivated.
“We would love nothing more than for this group to experience a state championship game because they deserve it. They have not listened to the critics this year. They could have pointed fingers and not been coachable, but they stayed true and showed great integrity.”
The latest chapter in the battle for supremacy will be much different than the past two.
Jordan James, Antonio Patterson and Isaiah Horton combined for 320 of Oakland’s 329 total yards in last year’s 24-14 semifinal victory over Maryville, but the dynamic trio now plays at Oregon, Florida International and Miami, respectively.
The Patriots (12-1) may not have the same wealth of Division-I talent, but they make up for it with their depth. Five different runners have more than 450 yards and all of whom average at least 7 yards per carry.
Senior running back Cory Puckett leads the pack with 732 yards and 13 touchdowns on 69 carries. Senior quarterback Kade Hewitt has 630 yards and 15 touchdowns on a team-high 90 carries while also completing 82 of his 131 passes for 1,314 yards and 11 scores.
Maryville (9-3) also lost multiple Division-I prospects in Carson Jones, Markel Fortenberry and DJ Burks, and the version it entered the season as has changed after a series of injuries, most notably the loss of senior running back Noah Vaughn, who broke his leg against Knoxville West on Oct. 21.
Junior running back Gage LaDue has stepped in and rushed for 774 yards during the Rebels’ current four-game winning streak.
“We’ve kind of reinvented ourself the last few weeks to try and find a way to win games,” Hunt said. “I’m just so proud of our kids because they’ve worked so hard to get the chance to play against a great Oakland team.”
Maryville endured three losses during the regular season — its most since 2000 — and was written off as a legitimate championship contender.
The Rebels have reentered the conversation over the past month, finding a way to play their best football amid all the adversity.
Still, Maryville enters this semifinal bout as clear underdogs. That is nothing new this season, but it is embracing the opportunity to prove people wrong on its way to Chattanooga.
“It’s everywhere, whether it be in the media or on social media,” Maryville senior center Cal Grubbs said. “People are still doubting us, but we’ve made it this far. What’s stopping us from going all the way?
“Our belief level is super high, and there is no reason it shouldn’t be. We maintain that by always practicing super hard, and the past four weeks we’ve played really well.”