Maryville High School has already been through the ringer.
The Rebels entered the 2017 season with a daunting non-region slate of games against four of the top programs in the state. Through the first three games of that stretch, they have made a statement, winning against Catholic and Alcoa while suffering a three-point loss at Oakland without their starting quarterback Dylan Hopkins.
Maryville has a chance to put its stamp on this gauntlet when it hosts Fulton on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“I’d like to think that it has helped us, but only time will tell — you don’t want to say it has and then get to the end of the year and sputter out,” Maryville head coach Derek Hunt said. “I think our kids have played really well in spurts and we’ve learned a lot.
“The reality of it is that our region is really tough, too. When you have Bradley Central, Ooltewah, Cleveland and two county schools (Heritage and William Blount), it’s not like it’s going to be a cake walk and we’re going to have to be ready to go.”
The Falcons (4-0) will not be a cake walk either, even though the Rebels (3-1) have handled them with ease over the past two years.
Two years ago — the two programs first meeting since 1986 — Maryville won 49-18 in the Pilot Battle of Champions. Last season, it was the same story, with the Rebels leaving Bob Black Field with a 45-29 victory.
“The first time we played them a couple of years ago, it was an opportunity game,” Fulton head coach Rob Black said. “We wanted to see where we stacked up and there was a lot of hype to it. Now I think we’re to the point where we have a football game on Friday and it happens to be against Maryville.
“We’re going to prepare for them like we do everybody else every week and we’re going to go out there and see what happens.”
A bye last week granted the Rebels two weeks to prepare for the Falcons, who remained perfect with a 40-0 drubbing of Karns last Friday, while also giving them some time to rest after
“Realistically, we could have used a bye week after we played Catholic in the first game just because we were so banged up,” Hunt said. “Fortunately we haven’t had many huge injuries since that game, but this bye week was huge because it gave our guys some time to heal some of those bumps and bruises and allowed us to build some more depth.”
That off week, though, comes with a caveat as Fulton junior quarterback Xavier Malone returns from a one-game suspension after he was involved in a scuffle during the Falcons’ 20-14 victory over Austin-East on September 8.
Last week against Karns, Fulton was also without its backup quarterback, leaving running back Dorian Williamson as the man behind center. He went 8-for-16 with 101 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 86 yards and a score on 13 carries.
“Getting Xavier back will be a huge plus for us, for sure, but to see us face some adversity with him out and do it effectively gives us another feather in our cap.” Black said.
“When we played them two years ago, (Xavier) was a freshman, and he just didn’t play or look like a freshman,” Hunt said. “He just keeps getting better. … You have to be on your game to play these guys in the secondary because they’re athletic at every position.”
Malone will give Fulton a chance to show why it is looked at as one of the best programs in Class 5A and a favorite to win a state championship.
Maryville understands all of that is true, but it is excited for the final obstacle in this non-region gauntlet.
“It makes you cringe watching them on film because they are so good,” Hunt said. “If you blink and miss a tackle, they score. We’re excited for the test because we think it is going to make us a whole lot better and it is going to continue preparing us to make a postseason run.
“That’s our goal; we want to make a run and have a chance to win as many games as we can in the postseason. But before we can do that, we need to take care of business Friday and the rest of the season.”