Hilltoppers, Cyclones set to write latest chapter in storied football rivalry


By Trey Williams

Left: Tyler Moon was a breakout star for the Hilltoppers last season, setting a new school record for touchdowns in a single season. Right: Science Hill quarterback Jaysahn Swartz is following in the footsteps of his father Jay Jay, who played quarterback for the Hilltoppers in the early 1990s.

Getting over the Moon might look like rocket science for Science Hill’s football program, but it could be elementary, Watson.

With record-setting touchdown maker Tyler Moon now at Maryville College, senior receiver Emmett Watson appears primed to frequently find the end zone during a 2023 season that kicks off Friday against Elizabethton at Kermit Tipton Stadium.

Moon scored 31 TDs last season, breaking a school record that Gary “Shorty” Adams set with 28 in 1988.

Watson doesn’t figure to approach either number, of course. There’s speedy teammate Steven Famoyin also playing receiver and the Hilltoppers have a number of capable skill players.

But Watson looked like the lead dog while making two TD catches in a two-quarter blowout (34-0) of David Crockett in the Northeast Tennessee Football Jamboree on Thursday at East Tennessee State’s William B. Greene Jr. Stadium.

Science Hill speedster Emmett Watson is primed to make an impact in his final game against Elizabethton.

Watson got behind the defense to snag a long throw from Jaysahn Swartz on a 36-yard TD pass and ran more than 40 yards after the catch on his other scoring reception. Watson was the first name Moon mentioned last year when asked what teammates were faster than him.

Indeed, Watson won conference titles in the 100, 200 and 400 meters this past spring. Indiana has offered him in track and field.

“(Watson) is a 47.8 something in the 400 (meters),” Science Hill coach Stacy Carter said. “That’s fast. He only lost the state in the 400 by that far (perhaps a couple of feet). And a guy that runs the 400 is gonna be just as fast in the fourth quarter as he was in the first.”

The receiving skills of Watson are still catching up with his speed.

“He’s getting better,” Carter said. “It’s only the third year he’s ever played football. He’s a good kid too – a wonderful kid. So is Steven.”

Swartz, now a senior, had his moments while leading the ‘Toppers to an 8-5 season that included a Region 1-6A title and quarterfinals berth.

If he’s improved as much as Carter appears to believe, the Hilltoppers could improve on an eight-win season while claiming another regional title in a league that doesn’t wow you on paper.

Swartz’s father Jay Jay started at quarterback at Science Hill in 1992 and started as a senior on the Hilltoppers’ 1993-94 state championship basketball team.

He was part of the great football rivalry that has seen Science Hill compile a 55-37-5 record since the teams first met in 1925.

Indeed, Science Hill fans and coach Mike Turner weren’t sure Swartz didn’t score on a sneak in a 21-14 loss at Elizabethton in 1992, a setback that wasn’t complete until Toby Patton’s potential game-tying TD was called back for roughing the punter.

The series has produced countless epic clashes and memorable individual performances.

Steve Spurrier is still the gold standard for quarterbacks at Science Hill.

Shawn Witten enjoyed playing against Science Hill as much as he enjoys coaching against the ‘Toppers. As a sophomore, he scored four touchdowns, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble in the Cyclones’ 33-29 win at Elizabethton in ’96. The game featured eight lead changes, the final one coming on Witten’s 21-yard TD pass from Steve Hyder with 7:18 remaining.

The following year wasn’t nearly as enjoyable for Witten.

He made his first start at quarterback against Science Hill, and Antonio Love returned one of his passes 70 yards for a TD in the Hilltoppers’ 25-10 triumph at Memorial Stadium. Future Tennessee Volunteer and NFL player Aubrayo Franklin had 11 tackles and recovered a fumble while his future Tennessee teammate Jason Witten, then a sophomore, had four catches for 47 yards.

Shawn Witten went out on top in ‘98. He scored four TDs for the second time in three seasons against Science Hill.

In a 49-12 romp, the Hilltoppers’ largest margin of defeat against Elizabethton since a 46-6 setback in 1945.

Witten scored on a 3-yard run, a 43-yard interception return and on a 24-yard pass from Andy Curtis on a play during which he’d switched to receiver. He added a 34-yard interception return for a TD.

“My grandfather (Dave Rider) always had us so well prepared,” Witten said. “His game plans were masterpieces. He’d work around the clock to find things on film and the players fed off of his effort.”

Quarterback Gary Carter spoiled Rider’s series debut in 1976. Carter threw two TD passes in the fourth quarter as Science Hill rallied from a 14-0 deficit to win 15-14 at Elizabethton. Bruce Young converted a PAT conversion run and Anthony McInturff decided the outcome with a PAT kick.

It was the third straight win in the series for outgoing head coach Bob “Snake” Evans, who finished with a 6-4 record against the Cyclones.

His successor, Tommy Hundley, led the ‘Toppers to a 25-14 defeat of Elizabethton the following year. Sophomore Steve Fields scored three TDs, including a 40-yard interception return, in the 25-14 win.

Fields’ 51-yard TD run gave Science Hill a 7-0 victory in Johnson City in ‘79.

Rodney Adams rushed for three TDs and 107 yards in the Hilltoppers’ 28-15 victory in 1984. He credited guards Clint Carter and Jeff Stott for springing him on many fullback traps.

Tampa Bay Bandits coach Steve Spurrier was in attendance that night to see his nephew Johnny play quarterback. Johnny had been 12-of-16 passing for 116 yards in the 1983 game – a 13-10 Science Hill win.

Six years before he quarterbacked East Tennessee State to an upset of No. 1 Georgia Southern, Matt Wilhjelm was 21-for-30 for 280 yards and three TDs in his first start for Science Hill – a 29-28 defeat of the Cyclones in 1995.

Brad Fields had 10 catches for 127 yards and a TD. Adolph Brown blocked a 29-yard field goal attempt with seven seconds remaining.

Other series highlights:

Van Williams (Buffalo Bills) and Ralph Rollins combined to rush for 316 yards and four TDs on 22 carries in the Hilltoppers’ 36-19 victory in 1975. Rollins also caught a TD pass from Billy Wise, who went on to start at tight end at Ole Miss.

Jason Witten caught two TD passes as Elizabethton spoiled John Bowles’ first series appearance with a 56-20 romp in Memorial Stadium in ’99.

Brandon Anderson piled up 17 tackles in Science Hill’s 37-14 win in 2000 and safety Micah Holifield tallied three interceptions in the Hilltoppers’ 21-7 victory in 2006.

Science Hill’s Solomon Duanah carried 20 times for 141 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-7 win in 2007. It was the late Scott Smith’s first win at Science Hill and Witten’s first loss at Elizabethton.

Science Hill snapped a four-game losing streak to the Cyclones with a 17-7 victory last year in Elizabethton. The most discussed play of last year’s game was Science Hill center Kellen Hensley’s illegal hit on punt returner Cade Russell. It knocked Russell from the game and Hensley was ejected.

Carter, now in his 14th season, defeated Witten in each of the teams’ first eight meetings after Carter arrived in Johnson City from Sullivan South.

“It’s a great rivalry,” Carter said. “It means a lot to the players and coaches – and it means a lot to those who came before ‘em.”


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