Maryville’s defense has played with a chip on its shoulder all season, but it got a little bigger during this week’s preparation for Bradley Central.
The Rebels spent Spring Break hearing all about the Bears’ high-powered offense while taking every opportunity during practice to prove they were up for the challenge.
“All week they were kind of chippy with us,” senior quarterback Cade Chambers said. “Coach (Derek) Hunt doesn’t like that kind of stuff, but the defensive coaches love it.”
“We practice how we play,” senior linebacker Seth Orren responded. “Every practice we just go as hard as we can, take coaching and learn. … We were tired of the talk (about Bradley Central), so we were ready to go out there and bust a few heads.”
After a week of beating up on its own offense, Maryville turned its attention to Bradley Central and stifled it as well en route to a 42-7 victory Friday inside Shields Stadium.
The Bears (5-2, 3-1 Region 2-6A) averaged 48.5 points per game through their first six games, but the Rebels (7-0, 3-0) made it clear a shootout wouldn’t ensue in the early going.
Maryville surrendered two first downs on Bradley Central’s first three drives — possessions that ended with two punts and an interception — before allowing a touchdown with four minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Bears mustered 101 total yards over the final 28:49 — a lackluster effort caused by the Rebels’ ability to snuff out their run-first game plan. Bradley Central logged 51 yards on 40 carries (1.3 yards per carry).
“It’s not like we’ve given up a lot of rushing yards this season, but that’s where teams have attacked us — spreading it out and then running it,” Hunt said. “Teams have had success with that early, and then we’ve made adjustments and stopped it.
“I think that’s what they were trying to do, but our front seven played really well and it limited them. They’re a really good football team, so for us to hold them to seven points speaks to how well our kids played.”
All the talk about Bradley Central’s offense gave Maryville’s offensive unit something to prove as well.
The Rebels received the opening kickoff and orchestrated a 7-play, 81-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 44-yard connection between Chambers and senior wide receiver A.J. Davis.
Maryville proceeded to find pay dirt on six of its next eight drives using a balanced attack that saw it rush for 325 yards and throw for 205.
Chambers completed eight of 13 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 121 yards and two scores on seven carries — the second straight game he has accounted for five touchdowns. Junior running back Parker McGill eclipsed the century mark in rushing for the fifth consecutive game with 156 yards on 19 carries.
“We always want people to notice our offense, but at the same time, we like being slept on,” Chambers said. “We feed off that type of energy. … We knew that if we started to run the ball successfully that they would bring their safeties down, and when they did, we took advantage of that with two deep shots.”
Senior running back and Tennessee commit Tee Hodge returned to action after being sidelined with a turf toe injury he suffered against Cleveland on Sept. 6. He rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
“I was really proud of how he played,” Hunt said. “I thought it was a perfect way to get him back into the flow of things. It’s going to take him a couple of weeks to knock the rust off, but I thought he looked pretty good tonight.”
Nothing looked better than the Maryville defense, which decided to silence all the talk it heard throughout the week.
That’s nothing new to a unit that was labeled the weak link of the Rebels in the offseason, but it has removed all doubt through the first seven games, and it seems poised to carry Maryville to a 19th consecutive region championship.
“We still have that chip on our shoulder, but at this point in the season it’s not as much about proving a point anymore as it is continuing to be in the groove of things,” said senior defensive back Drew Crowder, who recorded two interceptions. “We just have to come to practice prepared every day and don’t settle for (what we’ve accomplished) because we have a long way to go.”