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(WBIR - Blount County) Powerhouse high school football programs Maryville and Alcoa remain in the hunt for a state championship in their respective classes, but the neighboring schools are also in a national playoff for best rivalry in the United States.

USA Today announced the Alcoa and Maryville competition is nominated for the newspaper's "Best High School Football Rivalry" competition. The competition begins with a first round of online voting at this link through Monday to determine the best rivalry in each state. Alcoa versus Maryville is one of five nominees from Tennessee. See the section below in this article for full details on the USA Today contest.

RIVALRY FORGED IN MOLTEN METAL

The competition between the "Twin Cities" of Alcoa and Maryville has a lot of the same ingredients found in the recipes of other great athletic rivalries in the country. The schools are close in proximity, they both have great records of success, and the stakes of the gridiron grudge matches include the cliched "bragging rights" of neighbors.

"It's about pride," said Maryville head football coach George Quarles. "The success of both teams in the same area just a few miles away with the schools winning a combination of 25 state championships is incredible. Our kids play together in the youth programs and play on the same teams. Then they'll end up playing one playing for Alcoa and one for Maryville."

"I've been in other rivalries in other parts of the state, but this one's different because it's talked about year-round," said Alcoa head coach Gary Rankin. "You'll hear about it at Christmas, at Spring Break, during the summer, and it's very intense. It is also a healthy and clean rivalry with everyone having a lot of respect for each other."

The game between the Alcoa Tornadoes and Maryville Rebels would still be a big time rivalry without the state championships, the alumni on NFL rosters, and the nationally televised games on ESPN. What elevates the Alcoa and Maryville game beyond other spirited competitions across the nation is the Blount County rivalry did not begin with sports.

"The most interesting thing about this rivalry is its origin had nothing to do with football," said George Williams, a historian and resident of Alcoa. "It all started in the early 20th century when Maryville leaders spent a lot of effort and time to convince the Pittsburgh Reduction Company to build a big new aluminum plant in an area that was then known as North Maryville."

The Maryville leadership was successful in their attempt to sell the company on building in the area. The bitterness began because instead of building here and becoming a part of Marvyille, the Aluminum Company of America announced it would acquire the land north of Maryville, build a brand new town from scratch on its own, and name the new city Alcoa.

"The leaders from Maryville found out about this plan for a new town on a trip to Nashville," said Williams. "When they found out there was going to be a new town directly bordering Maryville and this big aluminum company they recruited was not going to be located in Maryville, they kicked all the kids out of [Maryville's] school. They kicked all kids out of school that lived on that new property that was on the north side of Pistol Creek, the dividing line between Maryville and Alcoa. Alcoa built its own school and a few years later those two schools played a football game and it has been on ever since."

The rivalry has been running since 1927. Maryville's student population is generally three times larger than that of Alcoa High School, but the games are almost always exciting and competitive.

"It doesn't matter which school is the largest. It doesn't matter who won it last year. This is Maryville and Alcoa and buddy it's on," said Williams. "It has to be at least one of the top five rivalries in the country."

Williams says as hard as the schools fight each other on game day, they also celebrate the other school's success.

"A couple of weeks before the game it's the biggest thing in town. But once it's over, we support each other. Right now everybody is planning to go to the championship to support Maryville and Alcoa to win another championship. That said, I will admit I would like Alcoa to win it one year and Maryville to lose in the playoffs because right now they [Maryville] have one more state championship than Alcoa. They have 13 and Alcoa has 12. I want to see the schools even on the number of state championships."

USA TODAY CONTEST DETAILS

The second annual Best High School Football Rivalry competition is underway, and a pair of East Tennessee powerhouses are contenders for the win, but only if you help by voting!

USA TODAY High School Sports selected five high school football rivalries in each state and Washington, D.C. after more than a month of conversations with local media and other state/school officials with high school football expertise. From there, the fans now decide which rivalry emerges from a list of 255 - more than 100 more rivalries overall than a year ago.

The rivarly between Blount County's Maryville High School and Alcoa High School made the cut. This rivalry, which started in 1927, is historically known as Clash of the Champions. Alcoa and Maryville lead Tennessee with the most state championships won.

Vote here through Monday!

This year's best rivalry competition will end Dec. 18 after three rounds of voting. The 51 state winners - each state plus D.C. - advance to one of eight regionals. The winners of the eight regions, along with two wild cards, move onto a final round of 10.

The winner receives $5,000 to be split evenly between the two schools, with other prizes going to all of the national finalists.

The "Best Of" contest series launched in November 2012 with the first best high school football rivalry competition, won by Brookfield vs. Marceline in Missouri. The teams celebrated their national title rivalry on Sept. 13 in Brookfield.

In January, Hartford (Vt.) was crowned as the People's Champion high school football team. And the monster of them all – the top high school mascot last spring – was won by the Centralia (Ill.) Orphans after 80 million total votes were cast during the competition. Last month, the best high school football coach competition crowned Philip Haywood of Belfry (Ky.) as its champion.

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