The Bears run by former Bears forming a tunnel celebrating the 1,000 game
by JOE CANNON Banner Assistant Sports Editor
In between practices this week Bradley Central coach Damon Floyd has had his Bears down by the creek bank looking for smooth stones.
Not really, but it will take a "David effort" as the Black-and-Gold face "Goliath-like" Maryville in the opening round of the TSSAA playoffs Friday evening.
While the Bears have struggled the second half of the season, the Red Rebels have been ranked No. 1 in every Class 6A Associated Press state poll this season, and just completed their 10th unbeaten regular season in the last 12 years.
"They are impressive," declared coach Floyd. "They are very disciplined, execute really well and they don't beat themselves with mistakes or turnovers."
"While some would say we got unlucky to have to face them in the first round, there are a lot of teams that would love to be in our position," commented coach Floyd, whose Bears are the only District 5-AAA team to make the TSSAA postseason each of the last four years.
"There are a lot of teams that would love to still be playing. A lot of teams would gladly be playing Maryville this week, rather than having their season over," he added.
Playing in Quadrant 1, Bradley and Maryville are two of just 32 statewide teams in the Class 6A brackets, with the Bears being the only team representing the Southeast Tennessee area. In fact Bradley is the only 6A team south of Blount County and east of Murfreesboro still playing football.
While the Bears were stunned by Polk County in the season opener, they came back to win four straight games, including victories over state-ranked Signal Mountain, District 6-AA champion Hixson and perennial state power Riverdale.
However, after back-to-back heartbreaking losses to district rivals and state-ranked Ooltewah and Cleveland (by a total of three points), Bradley struggled in two of its last three games, falling to McMinn County and eighth-ranked East Hamilton.
"Those two games (Ooltewah and Cleveland) took a lot out of us, and other than the first half against Soddy-Daisy we haven't been the same team we were in the first half of the season," related Coach Floyd. "We have a chance here to show we're not really the team we showed at the end of the year. This game this week is about character and looking ourselves in the mirror."
The Bears will have to face the challenge without one of their leaders as senior safety Baylor Terrell tore some ligaments in his knee during the first series of last week's game, and will require surgery to repair it.
"Not having Baylor really hurts us," the coach remarked. "He recognized formations and made our check calls on defense. You could tell he wasn't in there a couple of times last week when we gave up easy touchdowns on blown coverages."
While Bradley has put up nearly 3,400 yards of offense this season and the Bears have scored a total of 255 points, Maryville has allowed just 67 points during the 2013 campaign, including just four touchdowns in the past seven games.
The Rebels handed second-ranked (3A) Alcoa and (5A) Knoxville West, plus fourth-ranked (6A) Sevier County their only losses of the season. Maryville was also one of just two teams to defeat sixth-ranked (Division II) Knox Webb.
Coach George Quarles' 10th Rebel squad has put 447 points on the scoreboard this season, including a 55-6 victory over Sevier County, which is the No. 2 seed in Quadrant 1.
"They have a variable offense, running mostly out of a two-back formation," commented coach Floyd. "Their running back (Shawn Prevo) reminds me a lot of I'Tavias Mathers (former Blackman and current Ole Miss running back). Their quarterback (John Garrett) is also a strong runner."
Although no complete stats for this season are available, Prevo had 2,683 yards of total offense and scored 39 TDs in his first three varsity seasons. The senior holds the all-time Maryville rushing record with more than 3,700 yards, including 113 yards on just eight carries in the first quarter against Bearden a couple of weeks ago.
"They are primarily a running team, but they pass enough to keep you from loading the box on them," explained coach Floyd. "They are very efficient in everything they do offensively," added Bradley assistant coach Keith Freeman.
The Rebels are 60-4 in the TSSAA playoff since 2000, plus have played in 14 of the last 16 state title games during that span, winning 10 championships.
Since Quarles took over the program in 1999, Maryville is 203-14, with half of those losses coming in his first 17 games. His only defeats since losing the first four games of the 2000 season have come to Alcoa (2009 and 2010) and Morristown West (2001) in the regular season, Morristown East in the 2003 state semifinals, plus Whitehaven (2012), White Station (2009) and Hillsboro (2008) in state championship games.
The Rebels won 74 straight games, stretching from the beginning of the 2004 season until the 2008 state title game against Hillsboro.
Maryville has won 14 state championships altogether, including one in 1964 and three in the 1970s.
The good news for Bear fans is Bradley actually holds a 6-3-2 advantage in the series against the Rebels.
The bad news is they haven't played each other in over six decades. The last meeting was a 13-0 Maryville victory in 1947. The Rebels didn't score against Bradley until their fourth meeting in 1931, which ended in a 7-7 tie.
Read more: Cleveland Daily Banner - Bears facing Goliath challenge