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KINGSPORT — Conner Franklin made up for lost time as Science Hill did it again.
Franklin, who missed last week’s District 1-AAA soccer championship due to illness, scored the game’s only goal to lead the Hilltoppers over Dobyns-Bennett 1-0 in Thursday’s Region 1-AAA soccer championship at Indian-Highland Park.
“After sitting out last week and my third time playing D-B as a senior, it’s really satisfying,” Franklin said. “I remember when I was a sophomore playing here and we beat them 1-0. One of our seniors scored. It’s really fulfilling to be that person now that I’m a senior.”
It was the third straight year which the Indians have won the district only to see Science Hill come back and win the region on their home field.
“I think that speaks to the rivalry we have and how evenly matched we are,” SH senior goalkeeper Andrew Kenneson said. “In my opinion, soccer is the best of the Science Hill-D-B rivalry. Every year, it’s equal. Three years in a row, they win district, we win regionals. I hope we see them again in the state.”
Science Hill improved to 16-5-1, while the Indians, ranked No. 24 in the latest ESPN national poll, fell to 17-2-3. The Hilltoppers will play host to Hardin Valley in Saturday’s sectional, a rematch of last year’s state championship game. D-B will go on the road to Bearden.
Hilltoppers head coach Brandon Kind said his team has a comfort level playing on D-B’s home field.
“We love playing here,” Kind said. “Every game takes so much out of both teams since we’re both going so hard. It’s usually a game of inches and we got one more than they did. We expect to see them in the state tournament doing good things.”
The Indians’ defense slacked off just enough to set up the opportunity for Franklin. He weaved his way past the Indians’ Austin Pate and hit a boot from the right corner of the box past goalkeeper Preston Mercer in the 28th minute.
“I just saw it,” Franklin said. “We had been stabbing the whole game like all teams do. I just took the opportunity when they stabbed and put it in the box. I just looked at him and placed it right in the corner.”
Dobyns-Bennett had 15-10 shot advantage and doubled the Hilltoppers in shots on goal. However, Science Hill had Kenneson on its side.
Kenneson, the “Topper Stopper,” finished with eight saves. He showed his versatility with the last three saves. He stopped a penalty kick, a header, and another header off a set play.
“You have to be awake all the time because they’re dangerous,” Kenneson said. “They have guys who can shoot from range, and guys who score in the air. You have to always play your best to play D-B.”
The team was at its best with both Frankin and senior defender Perry Murdaugh back after missing last week. In addition, Kind frequently substituted to keep his players fresh.
“It was nice to have everybody here and healthy,” Kind said. “It’s really 1 through 25 whether they’re on the field or not. We have everybody contributing, and making each other better every day. But, those two are big-time seniors and they played big-time today.”
On the other end of the field, Dobyns-Bennett coach Chris Woods blamed himself for the loss, especially in the closing minutes when his team was fighting amongst themselves as well as trying to take down the ’Toppers.
“The intensity our guys bring, when things don’t go well, it can turn bad,” Woods said. “It definitely did. We don’t turn inside on our ranks. We have to be unified.
“Towards the end, we didn’t have any rhytym because I started messing with stuff. That was completely my fault because we were creating plenty of chances. I just need to keep hands off.”
Kind couldn’t ignore the hands-on play by Kenneson in what has become a normal day at the office. He also liked his team’s response after losing to D-B a week ago.
“We’re very lucky to have a goalkeeper like that,” Kind said. “Andrew’s character is what makes him who he is. It’s contagious and spreads through the team. Through everything this year, this team has never stopped believing. Today, it really reached a pinnacle.”