Xavier Malone connected with Coryean Davis deep in Maryville territory as Fulton attempted to mount a comeback.
The senior wide receiver inched toward the end zone, but as he crossed inside the five-yard line and fought for extra yardage, the ball popped loose and Maryville recovered.
On the ensuing play, senior running back Isaiah Cobb broke a 96-yard run, getting tackled at the two before finishing the job on the next play.
That series of plays was a microcosm of Friday’s matchup between the Rebels and Falcons. Fulton turned the ball over five times and Maryville controlled the line of scrimmage and ran free, leading to a 41-12 victory for the Rebels inside Shields Stadium.
“We had some timely plays on defense that were huge,” Maryville head coach Derek Hunt said. “We took a step in the right direction on defense. We bent a little bit, but we made plays and gave ourselves a chance on offense.”
The Rebels’ success was sustained by its work in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, Maryville (4-1) resided in Fulton’s backfield for most of the night, limiting the Falcons’ dynamic rushing attack to just 2.59 yards per carry (75 yards on 29 attempts) while keeping Malone uncomfortable in the pocket.
The result was a season-low in points for Fulton (4-1). Along with five turnovers, the Falcons also converted on just two of their 10 third downs.
“The key when you play a Maryville is you can’t have turnovers,” Fulton head coach Rob Black said. “Xavier was under a lot of pressure tonight. We have to get a little more push up front, and they had a lot to do with that, but we have to get better at that and we have to take care of the football better.”
Hunt said he felt this would be a “running back and offensive line-type game,” and where Fulton lacked in that department, Maryville excelled, rushing 296 yards and six touchdowns on 44 carries (6.73 yards per carry).
Cobb provided most of that total, tallying 186 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, while also adding 34 yards on two catches.
“My mentality was focused on capitalizing and making the most of every opportunity,” Cobb said. “Seeing all that green is always a good feeling as a running back.”
Malone completed 23 of his 36 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown in his return from a one-game suspension after being involved in a scuffle between Fulton and Austin-East on Sept. 8, but he was also responsible for three turnovers — two interceptions and a fumble. Davis was his favorite target, hauling in 10 catches for 79 yards and a touchdown.
For the third consecutive year, the Falcons walked off Jim Renfro Field shouldering a multiple-possession loss to the Rebels, but each time they have used it as a stepping stone.
“This game is going to make us better,” Black said. “We don’t come over here just to get better, we come to try and win. That didn’t happen tonight, but we’ll be better because of it.”
Maryville shares that same sentiment, not only about Friday’s game, but also the other three non-region games it played during a gauntlet stretch that included a pair of victories over Catholic and Alcoa and a loss to Oakland, albeit without starting quarterback Dylan Hopkins.
Now its on to a region slate that is treacherous in its own right, with matchups against Bradley Central, Ooltewah, Cleveland and county foes Heritage and William Blount.
“We couldn’t be prouder of where we are at through the first five games,” Hunt said. “We’ve played extremely tough these five games. We’re going to battle, and if we get in a dog fight, our kids aren’t going to quit, win or lose.
“We still haven’t seen the best version of ourselves yet, and that is good news.”