Blount Press Row

Sean Sends It Through

Maryville Junior High kicker one-ups Palardy in SMAC title game thriller

Along with his title-winning field goal, Rebel kicker Sean Snelgrove put two kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks on Saturday. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Editor
Blount Press Row

Michael Palardy wasn’t the only place-kicker to have a big day Saturday.

Maryville Junior High quarterback Dylan Hopkins reaches the end zone for a Rebel touchdown.

Sean Snelgrove stood in under a heavy rush and split the uprights from 28 yards, the Maryville Junior High eighth-grader’s field goal in overtime lifting the Rebels to 17-14 win over Alcoa Middle in the Smoky Mountain Athletic Conference championship game at Maryville High’s Shields Stadium.

Snelgrove’s game-winner came minutes before Palardy’s successful 19-yard offering lifted Tennessee to a 23-21 upset of No. 11-ranked South Carolina in Knoxville.

“I knew he (Snelgrove) could be to our advantage,” Maryville Junior High coach Jay Malone said. “Plus, we knew he could kick it. When we got to overtime, we had that one play left.”

Saturday marked the second meeting between the Rebels and Tornadoes this season, both down-to-the-wire thrillers. Alcoa took the regular-season meeting at Alcoa High’s Goddard Field.

The Rebels stormed the field and buried Snelgrove beneath an avalanche of happy teammates after the kick. A second overtime looked likely when Alcoa’s Tykee Ogle-Kellogg broke through the line and came within inches of his second block on the afternoon. The Tornado standout blocked an extra point after a Maryville score on the game’s first possession.

“The first thing I noticed was it went right under his (Kellogg’s) arm,” Snelgrove said. “Of course, I heard everybody screaming.”

Snelgrove, a transfer from Maryville Christian School and a soccer player by trade, had never played football before this season. Malone met Snelgrove for the first time when the latter came to inquire about the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes program this summer.

“I said, ‘Have you ever kicked a football?’” Malone said. “He said he hadn’t.”

Undeterred, Malone had Maryville Junior High assistant coach T.J. Emory, a former All-American punter at Maryville College, work extensively with Snelgrove to hone his technique.

“A lot of it is natural talent,” Emory said, “and how hard he works. He’s just a hard-working, humble young man.

“As big as the field goal was, bigger were those two touchbacks.”

Snelgrove, kicking off from the 40, put two kickoffs into the end zone.

Maryville's Isaiah Cobb fights off a Tornado tackler.

Snelgrove stayed loose at the kicking net in the second half as defenses for both teams raised the stakes.

“I thought about it,” he said. “It thought, ‘This could really come down to me making it.’”

Rebel linebacker Isaiah Cobb put Maryville in position for Snelgrove’s winning boot when he picked off an Alcoa pass on fourth down on the first series in overtime. Three Maryville plays on the next possession moved the Rebels to fourth-and-2, at which point Malone decided not to risk another overtime.

Another high-scoring shootout like the regular-season meeting looked in the offing in the early minutes. The Rebels took the opening kickoff and raced 67 yards in four plays for a 6-0 lead.

Receiver Christian Markham came up big time and again for the Rebels.

The big play on the drive had been a beautiful, 56-yard toss from Maryville quarterback Dylan Hopkins to wide out Christian Markham, the latter racing the ball down to first-and-goal at the Alcoa 8-yard line. Cobb swept into the end zone around left end on the next play.

The Tornado defense stiffened from there, Alcoa getting big plays from Tristan Woody and Landon Ray up front, Kellogg behind them, to hold the Rebels scoreless for much of the remainder of the half.

With the half waning, Alcoa put together an epic, nine-play, 99-yard drive to take the lead.

Mixing the run and the pass, Tornado quarterback Walker Russell and running back K’Vaughn Tyson keyed the march. Russell had the biggest play on the possession on the very first snap. Looking to move the ball off the goal line, the Alcoa seventh-grader turned a routine sneak into a 20-yard gain after escaping a pack of Rebels.

K'Vaughn Tyson gets to the corner.

Eight plays later, Russell snuck the ball across from the Maryville 1-yard line, Kellogg running for the conversion and an 8-6 Tornado advantage with three minutes until halftime.

Hopkins, one of the best middle school prospects at quarterback in some time, wasted no time getting the lead back. Again, it took only four plays, this time covering 63 yards. After another pass to Markham, this time for 29 yards, Hopkins zipped to the end zone from 11 yards. Running for the 2-point conversion as well, the Rebel signal caller lifted Maryville to a 14-8 lead. Markham made that the halftime score with an interception as time expired.

Tornado seventh-grader Walker Russell lets it fly from the pocket.

Tornado cornerback Cameron Woody intercepted a Hopkins pass on the final play of the third, returning the pick 25 yards. A penalty tacked on to the end of the play moved the ball to Rebel 11. Russell threaded a short pass to Kellogg for an 8-yard score three plays later to tie it at 14-all.

A 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete.

Defense carried the rest of the day to overtime. A Kellogg pick halted the ensuing Maryville drive deep into Tornado territory. Braden Porter returned the favor for the Rebels on the ensuing series, his interception stopping a Tornado march at the Maryville 17.

Lucas McKeehan’s sack on the first play of the next series never let the Rebel offense get started. On fourth down, Tristan Woody blocked a Maryville punt to put Alcoa in first-and-10 at the Rebel 31 with 40 seconds remaining in regulation.

A Josh Rouse sack and a fourth-and-20 interception by Hopkins with 17 seconds left effectively sent the title game to overtime.

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