By Trey Williams
Science Hill’s football team will host another potential Tennessee recruit on Friday when Smyrna visits Kermit Tipton Stadium for a second-round Class 6A playoff game.
A week after dynamic Coffee County sophomore quarterback Alontae Taylor received an offer from Butch Jones when he and his teammates dropped by UT en route to Steve Spurrier Field, the Hilltoppers will have to contend with 6-foot-2, 200-pound free safety Ikenna Okeke. Among those that have offered the senior are Tennessee, Notre Dame, Penn State, Stanford, Texas A&M and Missouri.
Smyrna, which opened the playoffs with a 44-27 home win against Jefferson County, defeated Taylor and Coffee County, 38-3, on Sept. 4. Science Hill was never threatened by Coffee County, but did allow four Taylor touchdowns in a 52-26 win.
“They (Smyrna Bulldogs) are one of the better defenses to come out of Middle Tennessee, them and Oakland,” said Science Hill assistant Matt Eads, who was an all-conference quarterback at Cumberland University in nearby Lebanon. “From everybody I’ve talked to down there, they said those are the two best defenses they faced this year. They’re athletic.”
At least Stacy Carter’s Hilltoppers (9-2) won’t have to try to corral anyone as fast as Taylor, who surely has 4.4 speed and appears to need only 2-3 strides to accelerate completely.
“He took two steps and was at top speed … and he ran over us about four or five times,” Eads said.
Smyrna’s defense and Science Hill’s offense should create quite a clash if Science Hill plays with the intensity it did on Friday. The Hilltoppers up-tempo offensive onslaught generated 625 yards.
Senior Justin Bedard completed 17 of 23 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns and ran 13 times for 78 yards and two TDs. Junior King Russell also rushed for two TDs while piling up 168 yards on 20 carries.
Inconsistent performances against Dobyns-Bennett and Bearden in the final two regular-season games served as inspiration.
“After the last two weeks all the athletes, myself included, we felt like we didn’t play our best football,” Bedard said. “So tonight we kind of took it out on them. … King ran great and the offensive line had their best game of the season.”
It was the most impressive performance as a ‘Topper by Russell, who transferred from Dobyns-Bennett in August. And it was the second straight game he averaged at least five yards per carry.
“It’s my first season here,” Russell said, “and I’m starting to get more used to the offense and know where my holes are gonna be when I get the ball.”
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Russell has run more physically the past two games. He pushed the pile a couple of times at D-B and ran over several would-be Coffee County tacklers.
“They’ve been telling me to keep my shoulders square and I’m more of a bigger back than scat-back,” Russell said.
The running game helped open passing options for Bedard.
Tyrek Perkins caught four passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. Fellow senior Elijah Mathes and junior Colby Martin also caught four passes apiece, tallying 101 and 66 yards, respectively. And junior tight end Nakiya Smith caught two touchdown passes – one apiece from Bedard and sophomore quarterback Jaylan Adams – on the same play-action bootleg.
Mathes’ twisting 37-yard reception to the Coffee County 15-yard line was a crowd-pleaser. He could continue playing at Kermit Tipton Stadium next season, as he was offered by East Tennessee State on Thursday.
Mathes is high on ETSU assistant Mike Rader, who played receiver at ETSU and Science Hill, where he also started for Bernie Young’s state baseball champions in 1998.
Mathes also has offers from Austin Peay and West Virginia Wesleyan, where ex-Hilltopper Dylan Miles is a freshman offensive lineman.
Science Hill lineman Quintin Alibocas committed to Chattanooga last week, one day after watching the third-ranked Mocs defeat former ‘Topper Mikey White’s Western Carolina Catamounts, 41-13. White, a true freshman, had two tackles.
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Alibocas spent time with Chattanooga freshman offensive lineman Malcolm White during the visit. Among those after Alibocas were Murray State and Tennessee State.
“I think it was Chattanooga all the way,” Alibocas said. “After being in their atmosphere Saturday I completely enjoyed the game and saw what they can do. And the people are great. The coaches are fantastic. They treated me so well. …
“I did get to spend a lot of time with Malcolm on the sideline talking. He was telling me it’s a great school. He’s persuaded me to come there for a while, since I got offered back in spring.”
Bedard could end up in the Southern Conference, too. Carter said a preferred walk-on invitation from tradition-rich Furman has followed multiple Ivy League offers for Bedard, and Carter anticipates the versatile, physical 6-foot-1, 215-pounder continuing to gain steam on the recruiting trail.
Of course, the same can be said for Coffee County’s quarterback. Taylor, who’d committed to Vanderbilt prior to UT’s offer on Friday, has two more years to be hounded by ambitious college coaches.
Science Hill junior linebacker Bryson Tolley impressed Taylor. Tolley leads the ‘Toppers with 136 tackles this season, more than double the total of any teammate.
“That boy got a lot of power,” Taylor said. “I gotta give it to him.”
Defensive lineman Chad Gage led Science Hill with 12 tackles. Brett Marcus made 11 stops and blocked a PAT kick. Marcus blocked a field goal on Oct. 23 at Bearden.
Carter, now in his sixth season at Science Hill, evened his playoff record with the ‘Toppers at 5-5 on Friday. Science Hill hadn’t won a playoff game since beating Soddy Daisy, 14-13, in 2001 before Carter moved to Johnson City. He’s 52-18 at Science Hill, having gone 38-9 since opening with a 14-9 stretch.