Different scenarios faced Science Hill, David Crockett and Daniel Boone on Friday night, but all three programs ended with the same result.
The Hilltoppers, Pioneers and Trailblazers scored big non-conference wins before heading into next Friday’s Big Seven Conference openers.
Science Hill, the favorite to unseat Dobyns-Bennett in the league coaches’ poll, pulled away from rival Elizabethton in the fourth quarter before it escaped with a 40-35 win over the Cyclones.
Certainly, the hype around Science Hill has been all the playmakers the Hilltoppers boast, starting with Malik McGue. The junior quarterback didn’t disappoint against Elizabethton, throwing for 231 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for another 122 yards and two TD’s.
After the Cyclones couldn’t recover an onside kick with less than five minutes left, McGue threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Malik Stephens in what appeared to be the final dagger in Elizabehton’s chances.
It wasn’t, however, thanks in large part to the individual effort of the Cyclones’ Ethan Thomas, who was stopped on the 1-yard line on the game’s final play.
There was an irony the game came down to one yard since much of it was defined by Science Hill’s big-play capabilities.
Three of the Hilltoppers’ touchdowns came on plays longer than 40 yards with McGue the common denominator. He threw a 43-yard pass to Mikey White for the game’s first score and his 48-yard run accounted for the Hilltoppers’ second score.
Even their third touchdown, a 2-yard run by Chance Pierce, was set up by a big play from McGue, a 57-yard pass to Trey Sutton.
Next up, the ‘Toppers will face David Crockett (2-0), a team brimming with confidence after wins over Sullivan East and Unicoi County.
The Pioneers have a big-play guy in their own right -- TK Hill. The freshman phenom accounted for 323 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns in a 48-26 win over the Blue Devils.
Hill finished with 243 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries, and also had an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He might have finished with over 400 yards, but an 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was called back for a penalty.
All total, Crockett ended with 395 rushing yards and 166 passing yards against Unicoi County.
Dalton Brown had 15 rushes for 83 yards, and quarterback Ryan Burger supplemented his passing numbers with six carries for 53 yards.
Luke Hopson was the leading receiver with three catches for 95 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown, and Eric Day hauled in a 29-yard touchdown .
Washington County rival Daniel Boone had a nice bounce-back after getting shut out by Elizabethton in its season-opener.
In what has been a staple of the Jeremy Jenkins era, the Trailblazers followed up a bad loss by grinding out a 22-21 win over Cherokee. An eye-opener for Boone was watching the Elizabethton game film.
“They saw the missed tackles on defense and we tackled a lot better,” Jenkins said. “We tried to keep a hat on a hat for six seconds. We’re not where we want to be, but we played a lot better.”
Daniel Boone dominated the game up front with 20 first downs to only six for the Chiefs. The Trailblazer defense limited them to 38 yards rushing and minus-5 in the first half.
The offensive numbers weren’t overwhelming with 189 rushing yards on 37 carries, but Boone’s two-quarterback system was effective in controlling the tempo.
Dustin Chandler had touchdown runs of three and two yards, while Gabe Sanders went 5-of-7 passing for 70 yards.
Sandwiched around Chandler’s touchdowns, Matt Poole kicked a 40-yard field goal for Boone’s first score, and Josh Bacon had a four-yard run for the final score.
Still, Cherokee proved resilient.
The Chiefs scored on a special teams break-down in the second quarter and put together a pair of big drives in the third quarter. The outcome wasn’t decided until an interception by Boone’s Caleb Ratliff with seven seconds remaining.
Back on track, the ‘Blazers will host league rival Sullivan Central this Friday night.