Malik McGue will be key for Science Hill. (Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
Science Hill, predicted to be at the top of Class AAA in the area, is trying to shake off the effects of a scrimmage drubbing at the hands of one Class AA team as it prepares to open the season against another Class AA squad.
The Hilltoppers, who were handled fairly easily by Greeneville last week, will open their season tonight as they play host to rival Elizabethton at Tipton Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30.
Scrimmages don’t usually hover over a season opener, but in this case Science Hill head coach Stacy Carter couldn’t overlook it.
“We weren’t ready to play,” said Carter. “They were ready, and they beat us good. I hope it motivates us. It was a hard lesson.”
Now the Hilltoppers face a team that not only boasts running back Ethan Thomas, but also has already played a game. The Cyclones whipped Daniel Boone 35-0 in Week Zero.
“Any time you’ve played a game it’s an advantage,” said Carter. “We would have liked to have a game in Week Zero.”
In other contests involving Class AAA teams, Daniel Boone hits the road to meet Cherokee, David Crockett is at Unicoi County, Dobyns-Bennett visits East Hamilton, Tennessee High is the away team against Sullivan South, Volunteer is at home to battle Sullivan North, and Greeneville travels to take on Morristown West.
Included in the smaller-school ranks, Happy Valley plays host to Cloudland, Sullivan East hits the road to battle Unaka, and Hampton is at Oneida.
Science Hill faces a tough challenge in Thomas, who rushed for over 2,000 yards as a sophomore and started this season with 224 yards against Boone. The 6-1, 215-pound junior is simply a good running back.
“You’ve got to get a lot of people to him,” said Carter. “He’s a tremendous running back and a tremendous player. We’ve stressed that we don’t want one person tackling him. We’ve got to have a bunch of people.”
Science Hill counters with its own difficult-to-stop weapon in quarterback-receiver Malik McGue. Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten said his team faces a difficult task in dealing with McGue.
“You can’t prepare for the plays McGue makes,” said Witten. “You can’t account for thinking you almost have him, and he gets away and turns a bad play into a good play. You can have him contained, but he finds a way to get loose.”
Elizabethton has been competitive with the Hilltoppers recently, but hasn’t found a way to win since 2009. However, Witten said the advantage of playing in Week Zero could help level the playing field a bit.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” said Witten. “We have a game under our belts, and we’ve corrected mistakes. We’ve seen film and played in live situations. We had a lot of concerns going into Week Zero, and they have concerns going into this game.
“Science Hill versus Elizabethton is a mindset. There’s a lot at stake for (Science Hill), and a lot of pressure on them.”
Carter said his team has to focus on stopping Thomas first, but there are other keys to the game.
“We need to get off to a good start,” said Carter. “We need to get an early score, and get them out of their game. We want to make them play differently than they want to play.
“And we’ve got to eliminate mistakes. We’ve had penalties, bad snaps, and things to kill our drives.”
Daniel Boone (0-1) at Cherokee (0-1) — The Chiefs opened some eyes by hanging a 35-spot on Sullivan South in a tough three-point loss last week.
That’s not good news for the Trailblazers, who struggled to move the football in their season-opening loss to Elizabethton.
Dobyns-Bennett (1-0) at East Hamilton (1-0) — It’s unfamiliar territory for the Indians as they travel to Chattanooga for a regular season contest.
The Hurricanes won 11 games last season, reaching the Class 4A quarterfinals before bumping up to Class 5A this season.
Tennessee High (1-0) at Sullivan South (1-0) — It’s probably not a good night to be a defensive back as both teams should be slinging the football all over the place in this one. Look for points aplenty.
Sullivan North (0-1) at Volunteer (1-0) — The Falcons have played the Raiders some tight games, but have come up on the short end of the stick seven straight times — including last year’s 17-14 setback.
Greeneville (0-0) at Morristown West (1-0) — Despite building a very impressive tradition in recent years, the Greene Devils are on a two-game losing streak to the Trojans.
Greeneville quarterback Zach Finchum has been drawing rave reviews in the preseason.
Cloudland (1-0) at Happy Valley (1-0) — Neither team really wants a shootout, but the Warriors probably would hold the edge if it happened. The Highlanders need to make some plays on defense and stall Happy Valley drives.
Sullivan East (0-1) at Unaka (0-1) — If the Patriots don’t snap their 13-game losing streak in this contest, another winless season isn’t out of the question.
Hampton (0-1) at Oneida (1-0) — The Bulldogs haven’t started 0-2 since 2008, and Oneida was the team handing them their second loss of that season.
The Indians already have a good win under their belts by edging Rockwood by a point in Week Zero.