KINGSPORT – With a last-man-standing slugfest unfolding in front of a standing-room-only crowd, Science Hill at Dobyns-Bennett lived up to the hype Friday night at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.
The Indians’ Chad Diminick kicked a 35-yard field goal with 17.7 seconds remaining, completing an 18-point fourth-quarter outburst that gave D-B a 37-34 victory, its 19th straight in the series.
The playoff pairings will be released today. Science Hill (9-1) is expected to be the No. 5 seed and travel to McMinn County. D-B (10-0) expects to host Jefferson County.
Science Hill had taken a 34-19 lead on Addison Adams’ 2-yard run and Alex Rinella’s PAT with 8:53 left in the third quarter.
The game-winning drive began after D-B quarterback Malik Foreman intercepted a long Reed Hayes pass on 3rd-and-10 to give D-B the ball at its 4-yard line with 6:22 left in the game, and the Indians drove to the Science Hill 18 in the next 6:05. The backbreaking play for Science Hill came when it jumped offside when D-B shifted its punt formation on a 4th-and-3 at its 26 with 4:08 remaining. D-B coach Graham Clark decided on the wrinkle during a timeout before the play.
The fleet Foreman (24 carries, 244 yards) and Zach Casey (13-91) did most of the work on the game-winning drive, which Diminick was confident he wouldn’t squander.
Crowd estimates ranged from 11,000-14,000, and everyone was on the edge of their seats when Tyler Norris snapped to Sam Stewart, who got a good hold down for Diminick’s kick, which was plenty high and plenty long.
“I felt pretty calm,” said Diminick, who credited Clark with helping settle nerves during a timeout before the field goal. “Coach Clark, you know, he just relaxed us in the huddle before we went out there. … They (Science Hill) gave us effort all the way to the end … but we came out and busted it and overcame adversity and were able to get the victory.”
It looked like the series’ third straight rout was going to materialize early. D-B took a 13-0 lead thanks to TD runs of 46 and 51 yards by Foreman. Reed Hayes answered with a 33-yard TD pass to Jordan Olsen with 29 seconds left in the first quarter.
A blowout still seemed to be looming when Casey’s 46-yard TD made it 19-7 with 10:19 left in the first half, but Hayes connected with Grant Janeway for a 6-yard TD pass on the first play after Science Hill recovered a fumble – and the shootout was in full swing.
The Indians muffed the ensuing sky kick, and Janeway recovered at the D-B 30. Three plays later, one of which was a 27-yard pass to O’Ryen Scott, Hayes scored from 12 yards out for a 20-19 lead (the PAT was wide).
The Hilltoppers stretched it to 27-19 when Hayes connected with Malik McGue on a 10-yard TD pass on an accurate fourth-down throw with 12 seconds left in the half. Hayes finished with 21 carries for 99 yards and a TD, and was 15-of-28 passing for 255 yards and three TDs.
Foreman’s 1-yard run got D-B within 34-26 with 9:57 left in the fourth quarter. The Hilltoppers mishandled a squib kick on the ensuing play, and D-B recovered at the Science Hill 25. Foreman then ran 18 yards to the 7, setting up Devaun Swafford’s 7-yard TD run to the left pylon. Foreman fought across the goal line near the same pylon to tie the score with a two-point conversion.
Clark said both quarterbacks were “more elusive than my first girlfriend,” and left impressed with the resilience of Hayes and both teams.
“These kids have a lot of fight, plain and simple,” Clark said. “Both quarterbacks did an outstanding job of extending plays.”
Science Hill’s defense got energetic performances from linebacker Gad Nagba, Bryson DeJesus, Janeway and O’Ryen Scott, among others. Scott was inspired after watching Tate Isbell play on the offensive line with a torn ACL – “That put a fire in me,” Scott said – and is proud of how Nagba’s played since taking over for Isbell on defense.
If Science Hill had fielded the squibbed kick and not jumped offside on the punt formation shift out of a timeout, D-B wouldn’t have won the 19th straight in the series.
“I’m pretty sure everybody feels like we should’ve won that game,” Hayes said. “But give them credit, they made big plays when they needed to.”
Scott had five catches for 84 yards and leaped high for an interception that gave the Hilltoppers possession at the D-B 26 on the second play from scrimmage in the second half. Hayes had four carries for 18 yards, including a 6-yarder to the D-B 2 on a 3rd-and-3 run that Addison Adams followed with his TD.
McGue had four catches for 69 yards, and he threw a 20-yard pass to Will Adams via a reverse flea-flicker on the Hilltoppers’ second play from scrimmage.
Olsen had two catches for 59 yards.
The Indians outgained Science Hill 472-387. D-B rushed for 418 yards on 56 carries. Swafford had 10 for 49 and Seth Barger had seven carries for 48 yards.
The streak could still end this season. The teams could meet again in two weeks.
“We’ll see them again,” Science Hill coach Stacy Carter said. “I’m just proud of my kids for how they competed and how they played. I thought we should’ve been able to win at the end, but we just, you know, come up a little short there.”