It wasn’t the end they envisioned, but it was still a season which the Ravenwood Raptors will never forget.
Hopes of capturing a third state football championship were dashed as the Raptors fell prey to the undefeated Maryville Rebels, 42-21, in the Blue Cross Bowl TSSAA 6A State final Saturday evening at Tennessee Tech University’s Tucker Stadium.
Rebels senior quarterback and game MVP Cade Chambers was a dual threat to Ravenwood’s defense, throwing for 172 yards and two touchdowns and running in two more to go along with 76 rushing yards. Ravenwood senior leader Brian Garcia did his best to counter, accounting for every Raptors score with two in the air and one on the ground, albeit in an uphill battle from the opening possession.
“They’re a very tough football team, very well disciplined,” Ravenwood head coach Matt Daniels told Home Page of the 6A state champs. “We tried running some different schemes at them, but they just always had a response. Congratulations to them on a tremendous season and a great win.”
Maryville dominated both sides of the ball, amassing 373 total yards to 212 for the Raptors, while also converting 20 first downs, including 9 of 12 on third down.
“We just didn’t get enough stops when we needed to on third downs, they killed us there,” admitted Daniels. “They are way too good of a football team and are going to make you pay when you give them that many second chances.”
Saturday’s championship game began eerily similar to Ravenwood’s semifinal matchup versus previously unbeaten Houston one week ago, with the normally stellar defense allowing a score on the opening drive.
Chambers—who is committed to Indiana State next fall—engineered a six-play, 80 yard drive with a 69-yard strike to A.J. Davis put the Rebels in the red zone, with standout running Tee Hodge finishing the job with a one yard run to put the Rebels on the board.
Hodge, a University of Tennessee commit, finished with 112 yards and two touchdowns on the night.
“He’s tough,” Daniels said of the Rebels’ star running back. “He’s a lot bigger than he appeared on film. Still, we liked the matchup going in, they did as well. And when we play uncharacteristic football, a team like Maryville and a great player like that is not going to let us off the hook.”
It was a lesson painfully delivered to the Raptors midway through the first quarter. After holding the Rebels to a three-and-out on their next possession, Ravenwood had a chance to chip away at the early deficit.
Instead, it went from bad to worse after a loose ball was recovered by Lou Burchfield to gave Maryville the ball inside the Raptors 10 yard line.
Chambers completed the short drive with a 1-yard run to put the Rebels ahead 14-0.
It wasn’t enough to break Ravenwood’s spirit, however. The Raptors responded on the next drive, with a big risk reaping a huge reward. Garcia scrambled on fourth and 6, avoiding defenders long enough to find Rice commit Andrew Mason in the end zone to put Ravenwood on the board.
“We were never going to give up,” Garcia—who registered his 100th career touchdown on the highlight reel play—told the Home Page. “There was never a moment in the night where we were ready to give up. We’ve played together for too long, and we played to win on every possession no matter the score.
“Credit to (Maryville), they are an incredible team and congratulations to them on an undefeated season. But we were never just going to give them that championship.”
Maryville was game for the challenge, putting the game out of reach by the first half. The Rebels took a page out of Ravenwood’s book, rolling the dice and going for it on fourth and 1, turning the play into big yardage in extending what would become a 12-play, 70-yard scoring drive. Chambers found Ashton Maples (2 receptions, 19 yards, 1 TD) in the back of the end zone to put the Rebels up 21-7 midway through two.
A 33-yard quarterback draw by Chambers towards the end of the half helped suck the competitive spirit out of the stadium, as the Raptors went into the locker room trailing 28-7 but still hopeful of turning things around.
That dream ended on the opening drive of the second half, when a lengthy Raptors drive ended on a low snap which got away from Garcia. The loose ball was scooped up Mason Shelton, the Coastal Carolina-committed linebacker who led the Rebels defense with seven tackles, two sacks and the aforementioned fumble recovery to set up the Rebels next score.
Hodge found the end zone for the second time on the night, racing in on a 26-yard run to extend the lead to 34-7. A nine-yard pass from Chambers to Davis (6 receptions, 114 yards, 1 TD) on the next drive, coupled with a two-point conversion ran the score to 42-7 and with a running clock for most of the rest of the night.
Still, the Raptors—particularly the seniors who were playing their final high school game—weren’t ready to call it quits.
Garcia threw all of his 160-pound frame into two Rebels defenders with 100 pounds each on the quarterback, charging full steam ahead and diving into the end zone with just over two minute. The only significance to come of the score was stopping the running clock, though the Raptors still trailed 42-14.
“There was no way I wasn’t getting into the end zone,” insisted Garcia, who scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the season and tenth of his high school career. “Playing with the seniors for—really as long as I’ve been here playing football, I felt like I owed it to them and to the team to leave it all on the field.”
The final score of the night came on a 21-yard strike from Garcia to Jake Briningstool (5 receptions, 65 yards, 1 TD), widely regarded as the state’s top underclassmen prospect, and who will be leaned heavily upon to live up to the high standards set by this season’s 6A state runner-ups.
“I just can’t say enough about what an honor it has been to coach this group of boys,” Daniels said of the team who fell one game short of its first state championship since 2015, which also happened to come against Maryville. “The senior leaders really set the bar high for next year’s team but we will be up to the challenge.”
As the Rebels head back to the greater Knoxille area with a perfect 15-0 mark, Ravenwood heads back to Williamson County the proud owner of a 13-2 record and a lifetime of fond memories. The lone loss from mid-August through late November came in a 28-15 defeat to crosstown rival Brentwood, which they emphatically avenged in a 34-6 win in the state quarterfinals.
“There are so many great memories of my time with this incredible team,” said Garcia, who ends his career with 7,782 yards and 102 combined touchdowns, including 91 in the air. “The revenge win over Brentwood and really every rivalry win we had will always stay with me.”
The sentiment is shared with his team and its adult leaders.
“This isn’t our final season memory,” notes Daniels. “We had a heck of a run, especially the last five or six weeks. (Saturday night) will sting for a while, but there’s a lot about this season about which to be proud.”