Sevier County seniors leave legacy
While the rain picked up Friday night behind Shields Stadium, Steve Brewer walked back and forth with a football in hand.
The Sevier County coach later found some cover in the doorway of the visiting locker room, greeting each of his players as they left. He wished good health on injured junior Kody Paul and reminded transfer Dorian Banks, “This is your family, now.” When an emotional quarterback Luke Manning, who finished his senior season with 32 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards, reached him Brewer reminded the senior this wasn’t the end.
“Heck of a two years,” Brewer said. “You’re not done playing yet.”
But for Manning and the other Smoky Bear seniors, Friday’s 56-14 loss to Maryville in the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Class 6A quarterfinals was the end of their high school saga.
And what a trip it was.
Sevier County is 40-9 over the last four years with two trips to the state quarterfinals. The Bears were 5-4 in the postseason, only failing to win at least one playoff game back in 2010 when they lost to Farragut. In the last two years, with Manning at the helm, Sevier County lost just four times to two teams.
“I’ll tell you what, these seniors can be proud,” Brewer said. “What they’ve been able to accomplish, I think it’s uncharted territory for Sevier County High School. Like I said, you have that kind of record over five years and that’s winning a lot of good football games. The teams that have beaten us are good, quality football programs.
“But we’ve got to keep playing until we can reach that standard. Right now, Maryville’s the standard and that’s what we’ve got to learn to play at.”
Twice this year the Rebels proved to be too much. But it’s playing this type of competition on this kind of stage that the coach said will help Sevier County get better. Senior receiver Jacob Whaley, who caught a touchdown pass on Friday night, said he could see progress from a 55-6 loss to Maryville back in September.
“We’re getting closer and closer every year,” Whaley said. “They just need to keep working hard in the offseason. I think playing them in the season is helping us in the way that we prepare for them.”
Whaley said it was turnovers — six of them — that ended up being the Bears undoing. There were flashes here and there of what Sevier County could be. The Bears produced two straight touchdown drives and a Logan Brett sack of Maryville quarterback John Garrett that forced the Rebels only punt of the night in the first half.
But for all the success and progress these Bears represent, Maryville continues to be another step up. Rebels coach George Quarles couldn’t quite put into words how his team, year after year, produces the consistent success everyone in Tennessee seeks.
“I know other places have great kids, too, but our kids are really dedicated to it,” Quarles said. “They focused all week in practice. They come out ready to compete. I think they enjoy playing with each other. Got a good coaching staff, they coach those guys really hard.
“I don’t know what it is and I don’t want to ask too many questions. I just want to kind of go with it.”
Figuring out how to get there is now on the next group of Sevier County stars. They’ll get their chance when Sevier County returns to Shields Stadium in week five next year, a date Maryville coach George Quarles recited almost instantly.
“I think you make a little bit of progress every time you play a good football team like Maryville. This is three times we’ve played them in three years and we’ll play them next year. We’ve just got to continue to strive to that standard. That’s what we’re after. That’s what we’ve got to do. We’re not there yet but we’re going to keep playing until we get closer.”