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Westside football ’09: changes
Rebs, state champ Irish, to face FHS, ’Dawgs

(Part One of a Two-part series)

The coach who’s won seven state titles in 10 seasons and the coach who just captured a state crown while winning 59 of his last 60 regular season games are facing the same football challenge beginning in 2009.

“George Quarles and I were kidding around the other day: ‘it looks like the N-F-C East we’re in,’” Knoxville Catholic football head coach Mark Pemberton said of the new District 4-AAA. “We play the hand that’s dealt us.”

What’s been dealt to Pemberton and his Class 3A state championship team, and to Quarles’ gridiron dynasty at Maryville, is moving up to play Farragut and Bearden, in addition to each other, thanks to TSSAA regular season and playoff format changes.

The four schools are among eight in the new District 4-AAA that also includes William Blount, Heritage, West and Lenoir City.

If they qualify for post-season, Maryville, Farragut, Bearden, WBHS and HHS would play in Class 6A playoffs, while Catholic will compete with LCHS and West for spots in the Class 5A playoffs.

Pemberton said the Irish are “excited about it, we know it’s a tremendous challenge for us. Our kids are excited about it. We know we’re moving into a new phase again, we did that a few years ago when we moved into Region 2-3A [from Division II].

“We’re going to get to play some new teams that we’ve never played before, a lot of ’em local,” Pemberton added. “We’re expecting big crowds, a lot of excitement with the move. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Like the change? “I don’t have a big problem with it, but I didn’t see what was wrong with the way it was, either,” Pemberton said. “This breathes a little fresh air into the [system], we’re playing the same teams over and over every year — a lot of times twice. It’s creating a whole different atmosphere. Sometimes change isn’t bad.”

Maryville is at KCHS’s Blaine Stadium in Week 7 (Oct. 2). “That’s a new excitement for us,” the KCHS skipper said. “That’s a place we’ve never been before, never played Maryville. Our kids are already talking about it, and our season’s just been over for a week.”

The Irish’s first scheduled game is Sept. 4 (Week 3, at Farragut). Following is home versus William Blount; at Webb; at Lenoir City; Maryville; home versus West; at Heritage, and home versus Bearden to close out the regular season Oct. 30.

Pemberton said he’s in negotiation with Rhea County and Brentwood Academy to fill his other two non-district slots.

Though Catholic adds a “state championship” label while moving up to a higher level, “We’re already the hunted, for years over here — I really think it’s going to be turned on the other shoulder,” Pemberton said. “I told somebody the other day, ‘it’ll be nice to be the hunter instead of the hunted,’” Pemberton said. “There’s a lot of quality, big-time programs in this [district].”

Quarles said, “It’s definitely going to be tougher competition … it’s a tough league all the way around. Definitely a big challenge.”

In previous years’ scrimmages against some of MHS’s new competition, “You can tell everybody gets a little bit more excited to play Maryville, and we understand that,” Quarles said.

With Maryville already a rival versus Farragut and Bearden in all other District 4-AAA sports, adding FHS and BHS to the football schedule “is going to make those other sports that much more of a rival … take those rivalries to a new level,” Quarles said. “We’re already pretty big rivals in basketball for sure, and baseball at times.

“We need to play those local teams in football. It’s better competition, they’re bigger schools. I’m looking forward to seeing how we do.”

Does Quarles like the change? “I like it, just for the fact that I thought it was silly for, like, Knox Bearden to have to go Kingsport or Johnson City for a region football game, or for Farragut to have to go to Soddy-Daisy or Ooltewah for a region football game.

“We’ve got Bearden, Farragut, Catholic on consecutive weeks, that’s going to be murderer’s row,” Quarles added.

Along with traditional rival and five-time Class 2A state champ Alcoa, Maryville also plays perennial powerhouse Oak Ridge and former Region 2-5A member McMinn County. “Three pretty tough non-region games,” Quarles said.

(Next week, read about Farragut and Bearden’s 2009 schedules and coaches reaction to the changes)


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