Throughout the season, there has been one constant for Maplewood’s football team.
That would be tailback Ladarius Vanlier, a Mr. Football finalist and 2,000-yard rusher for the Panthers (11-3) who meet Greeneville (13-1) in the Class 4A BlueCross Bowl state finals Saturday.
The game features three of the six AA Mr. Football finalists. They include Vanlier, along with Greeneville linemen Jaron Henderson and Terrell Rollins, who won the award.
“We’re all looking forward to it,” Vanlier said. “On offense, we’re going to have to be turnover free, then we need our defense to keep playing as well as they have lately.”
In a 28-7 semifinal win over Covington last week, Vanlier rushed for 232 yards and raised his total to 2,208 for the season with 24 touchdowns.
Vanlier and Co. have breezed through four playoff foes and have a seven-game winning streak. The streak began on Oct. 7 in a 21-20 win over CPA, the Lions’ only regular season loss.
Last year, Greeneville ended Maplewood’s season with a 17-7 semifinal victory.
“There won’t be any secrets between us,” Maplewood coach Arcentae Broome said. “All we need to do is look at last year’s game film.”
Broome feels like the beefed up schedule his team played will be a big help.
“We’ve played a lot of really good teams, like Riverdale Brentwood Academy, Pearl-Cohn [which represent the three Maplewood losses] along with our district schedule, which is one of the toughest in the state,” Broome said.
There are plenty of weapons on defense as well.
The unit is coached by veteran defensive coordinator Dorris Armstrong, along with defensive backs coach Brian Holt.
The spotlight falls on defensive backs Kenny Robertson, who has three interceptions in the playoffs, and Cortez Adams, who returned an intercepted pass last week against Covington for a touchdown. Also, linebackers Damario Lewis and Troy Fair, along with defensive tackle Jamar Fletcher, have shined in the playoffs.
But it’s the lightning-fast Vanlier who takes center stage on offense.
Vanlier lists Austin Peay, Tennessee State, Ole Miss, Arkansas State and MTSU as schools that he’s interested in or have shown the most interest in him.
But for the time being, he is totally focused on one thing — a state championship. The Panthers came close when they lost in the finals twice — in 1975, then in 2007 when the Chris Simpson-led team fell to Maryville.
“Winning state would be unbelievable for school, our fans and our community,” Vanlier said. “We’re going to try our best to accomplish that goal.”