By Trey Williams
Spending a week Greene with envy should reveal the Science Hill football team’s true colors when it returns to Big East Conference play at home against Bearden on Friday.
The Hilltoppers were the talk of the region after opening the season by overwhelming three quality opponents – Elizabethton (50-25), Ooltewah (62-35) and Dobyns-Bennett (35-14) – by a combined score of 147-74. But getting whipped by Greeneville (42-26) in a battle of unbeatens at Kermit Tipton Stadium on Friday has blurred some visions of grandeur.
Certainly, there’s no shame in losing to the Greene Devils (4-0). They’re ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 4A and have won two state titles with coach Caine Ballard, who’s a big enough deal to have received congratulations from East Tennessee State president Dr. Brian Noland on Steve Spurrier Field following Ballard’s postgame speech. And Greeneville has now beaten three Class 6A teams this season, having also recorded double-digit victories against Morristown West and Dobyns-Bennett.
“We’ve got a good football team,” Ballard said. “We’ve got tough kids that are incredibly invested and we work the heck out of ‘em. And they’re a close-knit group.”
Physical and focused, the Greene Devils were led by determined junior quarterback Cade Ballard and leg-churning sophomore running back/linebacker Ty Youngblood. Their sense of purpose helped provide quite a contrast to Science Hill in the first half.
The Hilltoppers’ high-powered offense stopped itself early and often. On the third play of Science Hill’s opening drive an easy catch was dropped that would’ve converted a third down. The ‘Toppers fumbled on the fourth play of their second drive and dropped an easy catch that would’ve moved the chains on the fourth play of their third drive. And on the third play of Science Hill’s fourth drive an easy catch was dropped that would’ve gained some 50 yards or more.
“We didn’t come to play the first half,” Science Hill coach Stacy Carter said. “We didn’t. So that’s my fault that we didn’t. You can’t play a team like that and not be ready to play. We learned a hard lesson.”
Sounds silly to suggest a team wouldn’t be focused for an opponent ranked No. 1 in the state. But during the Hilltoppers’ third straight sloppy possession a sixth straight win against Dobyns-Bennett the previous week came to mind. It seems like this is the first season since 1998 that Science Hill didn’t conclude the regular season against archrival Dobyns-Bennett, and many Hilltopper coaches dating back to the late Tommy Hundley have talked through the years about how hard it was to generate emotional energy the week after playing D-B.
Carter must have come up with some words of inspiration at intermission against Greeneville, and it looked like his halftime discussion might fuel a victorious rally from a 28-6 halftime deficit. On the second half’s opening drive the ‘Toppers marched 80 yards in 11 plays — all on the ground — for a 6-yard Ahmik Watterson TD run. Scintillating senior quarterback Jaylan Adams ran 76 yards for a TD on the ensuing possession to cut Greeneville’s lead to 28-20 with 4:54 remaining in the third quarter.
“Yea, they’re scary,” Caine Ballard said. “I mean I was scared to death at halftime with a 28-6 lead. Dobyns-Bennett goes up 14-nothing and they didn’t bat an eye. I know they’re tough kids. Coach Carter does an awesome job and we knew it was gonna be a four-quarter game.”
Momentum didn’t shift after Adams’ long run. Science Hill safety Shane Austin’s second interception of the game gave the ‘Toppers possession at the Greeneville 30-yard line while trailing 28-20 with 2:10 left in the third quarter.
But the Greene Devils defense rose to the occasion, stopping Adams a few inches shy of the stick on a fourth-and-one sneak from just beyond the 20. Carter said he thought Adams gained enough to move the chains on the sneak, but added that the Hilltoppers shouldn’t have cut it so close.
“We got down, we were able to respond and fight and play the way we could,” Carter said. “But it was just too little, too late. You know, good football teams – you can’t do that against (them).
“We learned a lot. But we’re just gonna have to take this right on the chin, because they wore us out and they played great.”
It was another impressive game for Adams, who’s being recruited heavily by The Citadel and is the son of Science Hill Hall of Famer/running backs coach Gary “Shorty” Adams. Jaylan, a second-year starter, rushed 22 times for 217 yards and two TDs after rushing for 182 yards and three TDs at D-B. Adams has rushed 65 times for 608 yards (9.3 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns this season, and he’s passed for 648 yards and three TDs.
“Anytime you can snap it to 11 (Adams),” Ballard said, “he can hurt your feelings.”
Watterson, a junior with the physical tools to also be a Division I prospect, ran 19 times for 121 yards and two TDs against the Greene Devils. He’s rushed for 525 yards (8.7 ypc) and seven TDs on 60 carries despite missing the second half of the Dobyns-Bennett game with a deep thigh bruise.
“They’re a heck of a football team,” said junior Greeneville quarterback Cade Ballard, who rushed 26 times for 162 yards and a TD and passed for two scores against the ‘Toppers. “They’ve got great coaches. Their head coach (Carter) – I’ve got nothing but respect for him. He’s an unbelievable guy, an unbelievable play-caller and unbelievable coach. We knew coming in they were gonna have a great and fast team, quick-strike on offense and hard-nosed on defense.”
Science Hill’s defense was led by linebackers Arthur James and Denzel Medina. James, who leads Science Hill with 46 tackles this season, had 13 against Greeneville. Medina, second on the team with 40 stops, recorded 10 tackles against Greeneville and further revealed a huge will to win with a late diving strip of Ballard downfield.
Who knows, the loss to Greeneville could be just what the doctor ordered.
“I don’t know if losing’s ever good medicine for anything,” Carter said. “But sometimes if you want to get people’s attention that’s the only way you can shake things up. So hopefully this gets their attention and we’re able to move forward from this. We definitely found out if we don’t come ready to play what can happen.
“We better be ready for Bearden. They’ve got athletes – as good a talent as about anybody.”