Offense also clicks as Toppers advance to third round for first time since ’94
By Kelly Hodge
Photos by Bart Nave (see galleries at bart.ifp3.com)
The Science Hill football team has reached the third round of the playoffs for the first time in two decades, and now the challenge really gets interesting.
All the Hilltoppers have to do to keep their season going is beat the best program in the state on its home turf Friday night.
The ‘Toppers earned a quarterfinal date at top-ranked Maryville by rolling over Dobyns-Bennett 41-6 in a surprising Class 6A mismatch last week at Kermit Tipton Stadium.
Coach Stacy Carter knows that whipping a hated rival in the postseason is one thing – and it’s a big thing. Beating Maryville, the 14-time state champion, on the road is another matter entirely.
“They’re really good, always the same,” said Carter. “They look like clones of the previous teams. I can tell you how they’ll line up and what they’ll do … they just do it so well. That’s how you win all those championships.”
Science Hill is still chasing its first – it hasn’t even made the semifinals – but Carter isn’t about to sell his team short, especially after seeing the defense hold the high-powered Indians to six points.
“This team can do it, if we can put together a complete game,” he said. “We’re hot right now and have a lot of athletes, and Malik (McGue) can make plays. We’ve just got to attack; we can’t play conservative.
“If it’s a shootout, it’s a shootout. We’re pretty good in games like that.”
The ‘Toppers (10-1) are riding a seven-game win streak and have certainly turned around their old rivalry with D-B.
After losing 19 in a row, they’ve now won the last three. Two of the matchups were for conference championships, and the ‘Toppers had to win with a flurry of points at the end.
On Friday night, in a do-or-die game in frigid conditions, they made it look easy because of defense.
The Indians (9-3) scored first, then didn’t score again. With the five-touchdown deficit, the clock ran continuously in the fourth quarter to hasten the inevitable.
D-B rushed for just 92 yards, and 51 of those were on the opening drive. Its only first down of the second half came on a fake punt.
“I’m so proud of the defense and how they turned it on,” said Carter. “Coach (Ralph) Nelson had a great game plan, and they executed it. We’ve seen spurts of it all year, just not consistently.
“The guys on that side of the ball are young, too, and getting more seasoned. It’s like they’re playing a year up at this point.”
The offense, of course, continues to pile up the points with McGue at the controls.
One of three Mr. Football finalists in 6A, the senior quarterback threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more against D-B. McGue has now accounted for 47 TDs and over 3,500 yards of offense this season.
The Hilltoppers will need all they can muster when they visit the state’s most prolific football factory.
Maryville has been to the championship game the last 10 years, winning seven of those. Its overall record during the span is 157-5.
The Red Rebels defeated Sevier County 62-28 last week to run their win streak to 27 games, but they did have to overcome some adversity for a change.
Senior quarterback Tyler Vaught left the game with concussion-like symptoms in the second series and didn’t return. Without him, the Rebels had five turnovers – including three fumbles in the first three minutes of the third quarter.
They had led 38-0 at the half.
Vaught’s status for Friday night is uncertain, but the way Carter sees it, whoever coach George Quarles puts on the field will be outstanding. It’s part of that clone theory.
“There’s a lot that goes into Maryville football,” he said. “First, they’ve got good players – good players, good coach, good staff, good community support around them. It’s just a lot of different elements that makes the program so successful.”