There really is no such thing as a win-win situation when one team has to lose.
However, the bottom line for Science Hill and Elizabethton is both football teams should be pretty good this season — and both have a major weakness or two that could bite them along the way.
The Hilltoppers desperately held on for a 40-35 victory Friday night in one of the most exciting games this longtime rivalry has ever produced.
Elizabethton running back Ethan Thomas, with likely everybody in the stadium expecting him to get the ball, was stopped one precious yard short of the end zone as time expired.
Throughout the course of the four quarters, two things stood out as shining positives: Science Hill quarterback Malik McGue is good enough for Science Hill to stay competitive against just about anybody, and Thomas is a dynamic force that should keep Elizabethton in the statewide conversation in Class 4A.
It was a game that lived up to its advertisement and then some as McGue delivered crushing blow after crushing blow to the Cyclones. On the other side of the field, Thomas was helping his team recover from each of those wounds.
Because McGue and Thomas are such big weapons, these teams figure to have their way with a lot of teams on their schedules.
However, they both better find fixes for some issues. The Cyclones ripped the Hilltoppers for almost 400 yards rushing, much of it by physically winning the line of scrimmage.
Give Science Hill’s defense credit. It made the one play it had to make. However, the Hilltoppers could be susceptible against power teams that can grind it out.
Of course, nobody else on the Hilltoppers’ schedule will have Thomas.
“Their running back is a good player,” said Hilltoppers’ head coach Stacy Carter. “Hats off to him, but I’m glad we came out with a win.”
As for the Cyclones, their ground game is something special. Jeremiah Turner and Christian Glover complement Thomas and the offensive line looks really solid and strong.
Time after time the Cyclones called quarterback sneaks on short-yardage plays, and they usually gained two or three yards to get the first down with ease.
Elizabethton’s passing game was erratic with just eight completions in 23 attempts, but the Cyclones did get a couple of nice touchdown tosses from Caleb Bailey.
The Cyclones’ run defense was probably good enough to win, especially with a threat like McGue on the other side. However, the pass defense was, to be nice, kind of iffy.
McGue completed only five passes, but those went for 231 yards and two touchdowns — with two more scores only missing by a total of three yards. Most of the time McGue was hitting a receiver so wide open it looked like there was nobody available in the secondary.
Considering the Cyclones have passing teams like Tennessee High and Sullivan South remaining on the schedule, it is certainly a problem.
Adding up all of the good things Science Hill and Elizabethton produced on the field, both teams’ fans can view their squad as threats to claim conference championships.
However, if the fixes don’t come for the bugs in the software, extended playoff success may not be in the cards for either.