Senior wide receiver A.J. Davis spent most of the fourth quarter requesting songs from the Maryville band and dancing to Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby.”
He probably could have started celebrating a quarter earlier.
The Rebels dominated from the opening whistle, forcing a three-and-out that netted minus-3 yards and followed it with the first of three rushing touchdowns by senior running back and Tennessee commit Tee Hodge en route to a 42-0 victory over Science Hill on Friday in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.
“They’re going to enjoy themselves tonight because we want them to have fun,” Maryville coach Derek Hunt said. “If they’re not having fun playing in the playoffs and getting to play football for Maryville High School, we’re missing the point.
“We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and at some point it can eat us up. At that point, when you win a game it’s a relief instead of having fun and enjoying it. We don’t ever want to be miserable and slaves to the pressure.”
Region 2-6A No. 1 seed Maryville (11-0) always has the expectation of a state championship hovering over it, and it will continue its journey for the 17th Gold Ball in program history when it hosts Region 1 No. 2 seed Farragut — a 56-21 winner over Bradley Central — in the second round.
A swarm of Rebels tackling Science Hill running back Chris Thomas for a loss of four on the second play from scrimmage set the tone for an easy first-round victory.
Maryville limited No. 4 seed Science Hill (4-7) to two first downs in the first half and found pay dirt on all five of its offensive possessions before the intermission.
“We make it a point of emphasis to start the game as strong as we can,” senior linebacker Seth Orren said. “We know if we get a stop, our offense is going to come out strong, too.”
The starters spent the second half on the sideline and watched freshman running back Noah Vaughn rip a 20-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and the second-team defense preserve the Rebels’ fourth shutout of the season.
Maryville picked off Science Hill quarterback Connor Batchelder twice and held him to 58 yards on 7 of 12 passing. Thirty-two of those yards came on one completion to senior wide receiver Solomon Dunn.
Batchelder entered the playoffs averaging 223 passing yards per game, but constant pressure that resulted in three sacks prevented him from getting into a rhythm.
The Hilltoppers ran 30 plays and logged 52 yards.
“(When the defensive line plays like that), it makes it a lot easier on us, that’s for sure,” Orren said. “They’ve been doing that all year, and I was telling Ethan (Ensley) that their offensive line can either double them or come block us, and if it’s a one-on-one, I’m trusting our defensive line 10-out-of-10 times.”
The Rebel offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage as well, paving the way for eight ball carriers to rush for 254 yards on 42 carries.
Hodge led the way with 70 yards while Vaughn and junior Parker McGill added 57 and 53, respectively.
“(The offensive line is) a fantastic group, and they’re the most selfless guys we have on the team,” Hunt said. “We’re very fortunate to have those guys. They work really hard, and (offensive line coaches) Brandon Waters and Jason Hicks they are always trying to find ways to make those guys better.”
Everything clicked Friday, providing Maryville plenty of time to celebrate.
Now it has to find a way to keep the party alive for four more weeks.
“We all know our goal,” Orren said. “We all piggyback off each other’s energy, and there’s nothing like a little Rebel energy, especially whenever we’re making plays.”