Close games have been the theme for Science Hill and Morristown West.
Over the last four years, the Hilltoppers have won by seven and three points while the Trojans have also won by seven and three points, including last year’s 22-19 nail-biter. Both teams enter this year’s game undefeated.
“It’s another quality program,” said Science Hill head coach Stacy Carter. “We beat Greeneville and Elizabethton, so if we beat Morristown West we will have beaten three quality opponents.
“I think it’s important for us. Morristown West has been one of the best programs from here to Knoxville over the last 15 years.”
The Hilltoppers (3-0) will play host to the Trojans (3-0) tonight at Tipton Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30.
Included in the mix for Big Eight Conference teams this evening is Daniel Boone traveling to play Happy Valley, David Crockett visiting Cocke County, and Dobyns-Bennett making the journey to Sevier County.
As for smaller-school teams, included on the schedule is Elizabethton playing host to Tuscola, N.C., Unicoi County hitting the road to battle Hampton, and Unaka visiting West Greene. Also, Greeneville is the home team against Franklin County in a game scheduled for kickoff at 7 o’clock.
Science Hill’s defense will have a major challenge in trying to contain West’s standout tailback Malachi Horton. In just three games, Horton has racked up 756 yards rushing.
Horton rushed for 216 yards against Knox Fulton, 283 against Greeneville and 257 versus Cherokee. He has totaled six touchdowns, and had 342 all-purpose yards against the Greene Devils.
“He broke a long one off against us last year,” said Carter. “He’s a good running back, and he’s fast. That offensive line creates big holes, and they’ve got a tackle, No. 69 (Andy Bacon) who is a tremendous offensive lineman.
“It’s just that physical I-formation West team you’ve seen. They look tough.”
However, on the other side of the ball West’s defense has given up some points this season. The Trojans have allowed at least 25 every game.
Science Hill has a statistical monster of its own in quarterback Reed Hayes. The senior has totaled 852 yards in three games, 658 through the air and 194 on the ground. Hayes has accounted for 10 touchdowns, seven through the air with zero interceptions.
“It’s outstanding,” said Carter. “He’s getting better each week. He learned a lot against Elizabethton. His learning curve went way up. I’m anxious to see how good he can be.”
Science Hill also has a big-play threat in receiver Malik McGue, who has seven catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
Daniel Boone (3-0) at Happy Valley (1-2) — If the Warriors want to make a game of it, they will have to take full advantage of their possessions.
Moving the football hasn’t been a strong point for Happy Valley, especially on the ground. The Warriors’ leading rusher, Phillip Garland, has just 93 total yards in three games.
The reason each possession will be valuable for the Warriors is because Daniel Boone is usually pretty stingy with time of possession. Running back Cliff Sanders has rushed for 307 yards while quarterback Jake Littleton has thrown for 400 yards and four scores.
David Crockett (1-1) at Cocke County (1-2) — It’s a game the Pioneers may have a shot at winning, so it’s important confidence-wise.
Cocke County won its opener, but then got hammered by Gatlinburg-Pittman and Seymour.
Crockett got dusted for 67 points last year, but the Pioneers had won five in a row in this series prior to 2011.
Dobyns-Bennett (3-0) at Sevier County (3-0) — Probably the most important thing for the Indians will be focusing on their execution and not getting all caught up in revenge.
Human nature may not allow that to happen, however, as the Indians will have a hard time forgetting how they blew a 28-0 third-quarter lead in last year’s playoffs against the Smoky Bears. Sevier wound up winning 35-28 in overtime.
D-B had won 11 of 12 games in this rivalry before the playoff loss, including a 42-41 regular season decision last year.
Tuscola, N.C. (0-3) at Elizabethton (1-2) — Last year the Cyclones ran away with a 35-0 victory, and Tuscola’s 0-3 start this year indicates another strong favorite role for Elizabethton.
However, Tuscola has played a tough schedule and was competitive in all three losses. Included in that mix was a 35-21 loss to traditionally powerful Asheville, N.C.
The Cyclones are led by running back Ethan Thomas. The sophomore has gained 466 yards in three games.
Unicoi County (2-1) at Hampton (1-1) — This has been one of those unpredictable rivalries through the years, and this year’s version also has its share of question marks.
The Blue Devils jumped out of the gates with a pair of wins before losing to Johnson County in a hard-fought game. Hampton is coming off a blowout win over Cosby, but the Bulldogs also lost to Johnson County in an overtime decision.
As will be the case in many games this year, the Blue Devils’ fortunes will probably be as good as their ability to stop the opponent’s ground game.
Unaka (0-3) at West Greene (0-3) — Both teams are hungry for their first win, but neither has been able to show much offense.
The Rangers have scored just 16 points in three games while West Greene has totaled 37. Unaka’s defense has been a little better, averaging 30 points allowed per game while the Buffaloes are at 39.
Franklin County (3-0) at Greeneville (0-2) — The Greene Devils have gone from two-time defending state champion to a team staring at the real possibility of an 0-3 start.
One thing in Greeneville’s favor is the four-plus hour bus ride for the Rebels. The Greene Devils have scored 49 total points in their first two games, but have surrendered 80.