Bearden High School entered its opening Class 6A playoff game with the defense that was billed as one of the best in the area, but it was Maryville’s defense that rose to the occasion Friday on Jim Renfro Field.
The Rebels forced four turnovers and a pair of fourth down stops to keep the Bulldogs off the scoreboard en route to a 28-0 victory, the first playoff win under head coach Derek Hunt after winning 79 postseason games under George Quarles over the last 18 years.
“Our defensive kids came to play tonight. What an outstanding game,” Hunt said. “… We’ve been a little bend, but don’t break at times this year, and it’s hard in high school football to sustain drives because there are so many big plays, but when we don’t give up big plays it makes teams execute.”
Maryville will host Farragut, which beat Cleveland 42-28, in the second round of the playoffs inside Shields Stadium on Friday at 7 p.m.
Bearden had its chances to give the Rebels a tougher time advancing, but its offense stalled every time it crossed into Maryville territory.
An interception by senior defensive back Will Orren put an end to the Bulldogs only sustained drive of the first half and allowed Maryville to take a 14-0 lead with one minute, 34 seconds left in the first half following a 21-yard touchdown run by senior running back Isaiah Cobb.
The second half was more of the same, with Bearden opening the third quarter with back-to-back turnover on downs, followed by a three-and-out and another interception by Orren off a pass by sophomore quarterback Collin Ironside. The Bulldogs also lost two fumbles late in the game with the outcome already decided.
Maryville capitalized on its stops, scoring 21 of their 28 points on drives that followed either a takeaway or turnover on downs.
“Our goal is always to shutout our opponent,” Orren said. “We were having a lot of fun out there and we were doing what we are supposed to do. … (Our offense) has been carrying a lot of the load all season, and for us to get our opportunity to return the favor, it felt good.”
The Rebels’ defense shined, but Bearden’s defense kept Maryville in check for most of the night, limiting one of the most explosive offenses in the state to 365 yards.
“They’ve carried us a lot of times this season, even when things weren’t clicking,” Bearden head coach Morgan Shinlever said. “The defense kept giving us chances tonight, we just needed to make something happen on the offensive side. Our defense played well enough to win this game.”
Senior quarterback Dylan Hopkins accounted for the majority of Maryville’s offense, passing for 185 yards on 10-of-14 passing. His favorite target was senior wide receiver Byron Brown, who hauled in five catches for 144 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown.
Junior running back DJ Cox was the only player to gain any traction versus the Rebels, rushing for 87 yards and nothing another 39 through the air.
A loss, however, puts an end to a Bearden season that resulted in a playoff berth for the third consecutive season after it won back-to-back games over Hardin Valley and Morristown West at the end of the regular season.
It is an accomplishment given how far this senior class has come. As freshmen back in 2014, they went 1-9, including a 62-0 district loss to the Rebels. They walked off with tears in their eyes Friday, but they held their own against one of the best programs in the state.
“I think this catapults us forward,” Shinlever said. “The foundation that has been laid by these seniors that we lose tonight has definitely been recognized by the underclassmen. If we keep that consistency with the leadership that we had and it carries on to the next grade level, it’s going to pay off.”
Meanwhile, strong defensive performances like Friday’s to go along with an offense that is a threat to score every time it touches the ball has Maryville thinking about yet another deep postseason run.
“We’ve built up a lot of momentum. The defense is exicted, and the offense continues to move the ball and put points up on the board, so we feel that as a team, we’re peaking,” Orren said. “We’re in the postseason doing the right thing at the right time and it worked out well tonight.”