Tee Hodge doesn’t say much, but the senior running took silence to another level as Maryville prepared for a semifinal rematch against Oakland.
The Tennessee commit watched from the sidelines last season, his right leg in a cast, as the Rebels were shutout for the first time since 2000.
Hodge, like every other senior on Maryville’s roster, took that 38-point loss — its worst margin of defeat in 61 years — personally.
It showed as he dragged Oakland defenders Friday, none more important than the two he blasted through en route to a 6-yard touchdown that sealed Maryville’s 12-0 victory over Oakland and punched its ticket to the Class 6A BlueCross Bowl for the 24th time in program history.
“Tee was as good as I’ve ever seen him,” Maryville coach Derek Hunt told The Daily Times. “He was a little different earlier in the week, and we were worried that something was wrong with him, but our seniors were telling us that he was just ready to play.
“Tee cares about his teammates and last year he wasn’t out there. He was excited to play in this one, and I’m glad he’s on our team because he was awesome.”
Maryville (14-0) and Ravenwood (13-1) will play for a state championship for the third time in six years at 7 p.m. CT Saturday inside Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
Hodge rushed for a season-high 177 yards on 27 carries to help the Rebels get back to Cookeville, but he had to wait to make his presence known.
Maryville won the coin toss and chose to defer for the second time since Hunt took over the program in 2017, an ode to a defense that led it to the threshold of another state title berth.
The Rebels surrendered a pair of first downs before senior defensive lineman Ethan Ensley sacked Patriot quarterback Kody Sparks to force a punt. He followed that with another sack, this one for a safety with 38 seconds left in the first half, that marked the first of several game-defining stops for a defense that has racked them up throughout the season.
Senior defensive back Jackson Jett made an open-field tackle on Ole Miss commit De’Arre McDonald to set up a fourth-and-6 from the Maryville 8-yard line that Oakland failed to convert to start the fourth quarter.
A quarterback sneak by senior quarterback Cade Chambers on fourth-and-1 came up short on the ensuing drive to keep the Patriots alive, but senior safety Drew Crowder dashed that hope with interceptions on back-to-back possessions.
It was the first time the Patriots were shut out since Sept. 28, 2012. The Rebels limited them to 109 total yards and eight first downs.
“When they stopped us on fourth down and we came out on defense, there were no nerves or anything,” Crowder said. “We just said, ‘Let’s do our thing.’ We’ve been able to hold teams all year, why not them too.”
Another stifling defensive performance and Hodge’s bruising runs behind an offensive line that dominated an Oakland defense that boasts multiple Division-I prospects culminated in redemption the Rebels waited a year for.
That, however, was only a step toward the actual goal.
The 17th state championship in program history is only a win away.
“This team deserves the opportunity to play for a state championship, and I’m really excited for our kids because its important to me that we represent our school and our community well,” Hunt said. “They did that tonight, and they’re going to have an opportunity to do it again next week.”