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Ward’s 3-TD performance ignites Maryville Junior High championship game rout
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Maryville Junior High quarterback Luke Walker picks up a block from Travonis Hodge en route to a first half touchdown in the East Tennessee Football Conference championship game on Saturday at Maryville High’s Shields Stadium. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Editor
Blount Press Row

By halftime, they’d done just about everything but return a kickoff for a touchdown.

Sean Ward races to the end zone for one of his three championship game touchdowns.

Sean Ward races to the end zone for one of his three championship game touchdowns.

And wouldn’t you know …

Sean Ward cut right, cut left, slipped a couple of tackles and raced 81 yards to the house with the second half kickoff, capping a big day for the Maryville Junior High eighth-grader, and the Rebels defeated Sevierville Middle, 45-8, in the East Tennessee Football Conference championship game on Saturday at Maryville High School.

The kickoff returned for a touchdown was Ward’s third score of the afternoon.

“I saw (Rebel teammate) David (Travis) make a block at about the 30, and it cleared out,” said Ward, who also had scoring catches of 34 and 13 yards, respectively.

Receiver Ashton Maples (two), quarterback Luke Walker and running back William Myers also had touchdowns for Maryville, with place-kicker Jake Clearman adding a 27-yard field goal seconds before the halftime break.

Clearman’s one to watch in coming years. The Rebel eighth-grader has a cannon for a left leg.

Defensively, the Rebels were dominant throughout, a front seven paced by down linemen Ethan Ensley and Tommy Ledford and linebackers Cole Roberts and Seth Orren limiting the Bears to three first downs in the first half as Maryville rolled to a 31-0 lead.

Ashton Maples stiff-arms a would-be Bear tackler.

Ashton Maples stiff-arms a would-be Bear tackler.

“This would definitely be one of the top five teams we’ve had,” Maryville coach Jay Malone said, “in a long time. At receiver (Ward, Maples, Drew Crowder and Ensley, at tight end), this might be the best group we’ve ever had all at once. All four were incredible at catching the ball, and they can all make plays.”

None more so than Ward, whose kickoff return touchdown was his third this season, to go with a punt returned for a score.

“He’s the fastest guy on the team,” Malone said. “He ran track last spring, and he was the fastest guy on the track … and that was against eighth-graders.”

Bears’ quarterback Camden Burden broke up the shutout with a 31-yard run against Rebel reserves with seconds to play in the third.

Size, speed, athleticism, this is some group of Rebels headed to the high school. Quite a few of them will push for playing time as freshmen. Saturday, they didn’t waste any time showing why.

Maples opened the scoring with a touchdown catch from Walker with three minutes to play in the first. Both would be back for more, Maples right away.

On the ensuing Bears’ possession, Maples, on at defensive back, recovered a Burden lateral at the Sevierville 34-yard line. Walker put the Rebels in the end zone on the next play, Ward and Crowder combining on a gem of a quick-screen toss to the boundary.

Jake Clearman connects on a 27-yard field goal out of Drew Crowder's hold.

Jake Clearman connects on a 27-yard field goal out of Drew Crowder’s hold.

After the catch, Ward cut beautifully behind Crowder’s block downfield to zip to the end zone for a 14-0 Maryville lead with a minute to play in the quarter. Orren put a Rebel rout on fast forward on the next two Sevierville possessions.

With the Bears in first-and-10 near midfield, Orren first intercepted Burden to put the Rebels in first-and-10 at the Bears’ 31.

A Sevierville fake punt on fourth-and-14 preceded Orren’s pick, the Bears’ Jacob Lewis making the catch for the first down.

The momentum shift, coupled with how fast Maryville struck, proved telling, especially with what Orren would add one Sevierville possession later.

Walker kept around right end on the first play after the pick to run 31 yards for a 21-0 Rebel lead with seven minutes in the half. On the ensuing possession, Sevierville marched again to midfield, where the Bears confronted a must-go fourth-and-4. Orren poured through for the sack on fourth down down to end the drive.

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The East Tennessee Football Conference champion Rebels.

The next really big thing at Maryville High School when he gets there could easily prove running back Travonis Hodge. The tall, quick-cutting speedster ran 30 yards to move Maryville to the Sevierville 13 two plays after the Orren sack. There, Walker rolled to his right and found Ward for the score and a 28-0 lead, and the Rebels never looked back.

Ward’s second half starter blew the Maryville lead open to 38-0, with the Myers score putting the Rebels three points to the good of the mercy rule. Maples put a 31-yard touchdown in the books to conclude the Maryville scoring with seconds to play in the third.

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