Playing in a region where three teams are ranked in the Top 10 in this week's AP Class 6A state poll is no easy task, and No. 4 Bradley Central faces it's toughest challenge of the regular season Friday with a visit to second-ranked Maryville.
"It seems I repeat myself every year about Maryville, but it's true — they are the premier high school program in the state," proclaimed veteran Bear head coach Damon Floyd.
"Their (16) state championships prove that. They are unbeaten again this year and ranked No. 2 in the state. They have built a program that consistently plays at the highest level."
The Bears come into the contest with a five-game winning streak, including a trio of Region 2-6A victories, after a season-opening heartbreaking 37-30 loss to Farragut. The unbeaten Rebels (6-0, 3-0) had their closest call of the season in a 35-24 win over those same Admirals two weeks ago.
"The thing about them (Maryville) is, first of all they are very talented. They are experienced, with 38 seniors on the roster. They are very intelligent. They are very disciplined. They are very well coached," assessed Coach Floyd, who will be coaching his 150th game as "Papa Bear."
"This is a dominant team and if we don't play well, it will be like every other game they play — a blowout.
"We need to play the best game we've played all season, in all phases of the game, from the first whistle to the last," he added.
While Bradley does have a half-dozen victories over Maryville in their 17-game series, the last Bear head coach to defeat them was Milborn Waller in 1945. Bradley won six of the first nine games and had two ties from 1928-45, but have dropped eight straight to the Rebels since.
No other region team has had success in knocking off Maryville either, as the Rebels have won 120 straight league games, dating back to 2000.
That was legendary coach George Quarles' second season in Maryville, during which they lost their first four games before putting together 11 straight wins to claim the first of his 11 state championships. His 250-16 record included a 74-game winning streak.
Coach Derek Hunt (32-3) took over the Rebels three years ago, directing them to the state title his first season before falling to eventual 2018 state champ Oakland in the semifinals last fall.
Playing at Maryville is tough on opponents as the Rebels are 151-3 defending their home turf since 2001.
Bradley and Maryville have had three common opponents this season, including Farragut, Cleveland and Bearden. The Bears are 2-1 against them with a 116-93 scoring difference, while the Rebels out scored the trio 131-52.
Both teams still have to face unbeaten McMinn County (6-0, 3-0), which has been ranked ninth in the last two state polls. Coach Bo Cagle's surprising Tribe will travel to Maryville Oct. 25 before hosting the Bears in the regular season finale Nov. 1.
Bradley is coming off a very emotional 37-35 come-from-behind victory over the archrival Blue Raiders, while Maryville had little trouble with winless Fulton 49-19 last Friday.
"We know playing Maryville coming off the Cleveland game will be tough, but that's the way the schedule fell," Coach Floyd remarked.
"We know if we don't win this game, we don't have a shot at the region championship. You can't expect Maryville to lose other region games, so the rest of us will be battling for second place and the other home playoff game, if we can't pull it off."
With the second-most prolific offense in Class 6A, the Bears have put 291 points on the scoreboard, behind only Oakland's 394 in one more game than Bradley has played.
The Bears have accumulated 2,839 yards of offense, with junior QB Javin Burke at the helm.
He has completed more than 61% of his passes for 1,187 yards and a 14-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, plus leads the team in rushing with 488 yards (9.6 ypc) and a half-dozen scores in 51 carries.
Power 5 junior prospect Tray Curry has gained 509 yards and broken the plane of the goal eight times in 38 touches (27 rushing, 11 receptions) so far this season.
Senior running back Ricky McCleary has helped out with 476 yards (6.6 ypc) on 72 touches, also finding pay dirt eight times.
Bradley's aerial attack featured eight different receivers getting involved, with junior Kanon Hall leading the pack with 23 catches for 444 yards (19.3 ypc) and five scores.
Despite missing some time with an injured ankle, senior Saylor Clark is second with 16 receptions for 271 yards (16.9) and a trio of TDs.
Senior Ashton Boyd leads the team in yards per catch at 30.5, with a half-dozen aerials for 183 yards and a score.
Floyd knows the yardage and scores won't come easy this week.
"Maryville's defense is 'what you see is what you get.' They are going to line up in the right spots every time and they are going to make you drive the length of the field," he described.
"They are big up front and their linebackers are all 220-pound kids that can run, plus the have a very good secondary. If you make a mistake, they are going to pounce on it. They don't have any weaknesses on defense.
"We've got to do the things we're good at and not try to do too much. In the past, we've tried to do some things we weren't good at and didn't execute the play and it cost us," Floyd related.
Putting on his defensive coordinator's hat, Floyd said, "It's no secret that teams have ran the ball on us with some success. We've got to play with more energy and passion defensively.
"We've got to play better 'team' defense. We've got to play with more intensity, which we lacked at times against Cleveland and Ooltewah.
"We've got to execute to stop them. They (Maryville) have a very good, dual-threat quarterback (Cade Chambers). He's 6-foot-4, very heady," he commented.
Chambers has interest from eight colleges, including Louisville and Air Force, with official offers in hand from Tennessee Tech, UT-Martin, Indiana State and Austin Peay.
"Even though their Tennessee commit running back (Tee Hodge) has been out and we don't know if he'll be back for us, their other running backs, although they aren't SEC caliber, are very good," Coach Floyd expressed.
"Plus, they also have probably the two best receivers we've seen in a game this year. Their offensive line isn't overly big, but it is the most intense O-line we've faced.
"Our offense has to help our our defense with first downs, to give our defense a break and allow us to make adjustments during the game and not have to wait until halftime," he added.
The "Black Hole Defense" is led by senior safety Tucker Still, the leading tackler in the area with 47 solo take downs, a dozen assists, three tackles for loss, a sack and a takeaway.
Linebackers Camden Creighton (26 solos) and Kam Arrowood (18 solos) have helped out with 78 combined hits, including nine behind the line of scrimmage, and a trio of turnovers.
A Top 5 battle at the foot of the Smokies, Maryville is a very tough mountain to climb, but then again mountains are Bears' natural habitat.