Injuries have hit Science Hill hard, and the timing couldn't have been much worse.
The Hilltoppers face five straight Big Seven Conference games, coming on the heels of a 45-0 whipping at the hands of Brentwood Academy on Friday night.
Science Hill could be without quarterback Malik McGue for this week's game at Tennessee High. He suffered an ankle injury early against Brentwood and missed most of the contest.
“I don't know if he will play,” said Hilltoppers' head coach Stacy Carter on Monday. “He's moving decent, but he's questionable this week because we have to have him for the long haul.”
Senior Tucker McPherson and sophomore Justin Bedard would share duties at quarterback if McGue can't go.
Receiver Mikey White had surgery Saturday to repair a tendon in his hand — an injury suffered in the pregame — and he will miss Friday's game but likely return down the road.
Carter said receiver Isaac Story (ankle) is in the same boat as McGue while running back Chance Pierce and center Cory Johnson were both banged up but doing better.
“I've never seen anything like it,” said Carter of the injury toll from the Brentwood game.
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It's the halfway point of the high school football season, and thoughts are starting to turn toward the playoffs — perhaps to the mortification of former NFL head coach Jim Mora.
“Playoffs? You want to talk about playoffs? We're just trying to win a game.”
Here's a look at how each of the area's league races are shaping up as some teams jockey for the best playoff position while others are scrambling to get enough wins to get there. Playoff-contender status is based on the likelihood of getting to five wins, which is not a guarantee of reaching the postseason.
Big Seven Conference
Daniel Boone and Dobyns-Bennett are currently tied for first place, and they play each other this week. Boone is the underdog, but the Trailblazers do own a quality win over a very solid Cherokee team.
Boone is about to embark on an extremely treacherous four-game schedule (D-B, Greeneville, Tennessee High and Science Hill) and may be fortunate to just be standing at the end of it.
The winner of the Boone/D-B game will need to get past Science Hill for the league title. Tennessee High could still figure in the mix, but Friday's loss to Elizabethton left the Vikings with some big questions to answer.
Frontrunner: D-B (because of Science Hill injury woes)
Class 6A playoff contenders: D-B, Science Hill.
Class 5A contenders: Boone, Tennessee High, Sullivan Central, David Crockett.
Three Rivers Conference
Everybody seems to be waiting for the Week 10 showdown between Sullivan South and Elizabethton, but Sullivan North seems to be hiding in the shadows and waiting for an opportunity to spring an upset.
North gets Elizabethton and South in back-to-back weeks after taking on Johnson County on Friday.
Frontrunner: Sullivan South (just barely over Elizabethton)
Class 4A playoff contenders: South, Elizabethton
Class 3A contenders: North, Happy Valley, Johnson County (Longhorns would need at least one sizable upset).
Mountain East Conference
Nothing to see here, folks. It's all about Cloudland.
The Highlanders have to take South Greene and Hampton seriously, but will be heavy favorites in their other two games and stand a good chance of rolling through the regular season without a loss.
Class 2A playoff contenders: Hampton, South Greene
Class A contenders: None.
Blue Ridge Conference
Nobody is going to threaten Greeneville, but the Greene Devils have to stay on guard in order to protect a perfect record and maintain playoff seeding — especially with Signal Mountain still on the non-conference schedule.
Class 4A playoff contenders: Claiborne or Grainger (probably only one of these two teams can get to five wins)
Class 3A contenders: West Greene, Chuckey-Doak.
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Follow Douglas Fritz on Twitter @FritzBlitzzz.
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Elizabethton junior running back Ethan Thomas is just two yards short of 1,000 as the Cyclones begin the second half of their regular season.
Thomas rushed for 2,097 yards as a sophomore, but it took four playoff games for a total of 14. Thomas had 333 yards as a freshman and his career total stands unofficially at 3,433.
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Points of interest: Science Hill's 44-0 whipping at the hands of Brentwood Academy on Friday night was the first shutout for a Stacy Carter-coached team since a 2009 state semifinal loss by Sullivan South against Columbia Central. It was only the fourth blanking for Carter in 10 years as a head coach. ...
Science Hill fell from No. 3 on the state's scoring list to No. 14. The Hilltoppers are still averaging 42 points per game.
Tennessee High, which lost 35-13 to Elizabethton, fell from No. 4 to outside the top 20.
Greeneville is No. 4 at 44.8 and Sullivan South (44.3) is No. 5. Elizabethton is No. 18 at 41.2. The Cyclones have been very consistent, scoring 35, 35, 49, 52 and 35 points this season. …
Greeneville has the state's best defense at 2.6 points per game. Cloudland (10.2) is No. 14 and Elizabethton (10.6) is 15th.
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State rankings update: Here is a look at significant changes the Johnson City Press votes for this week's poll.
Class 6A — Science Hill's blowout loss to Brentwood Academy at home took away some of the impressiveness of Siegel's whipping of the Hilltoppers. So Maryville bumped back to No. 2, ahead of Oakland and Blackman. The Hilltoppers were dropped from the top 10.
Class 5A — Anderson County's loss bumped Henry County into the top spot. Anderson was dropped to No. 8. Oak Ridge entered the rankings at No. 5, and Campbell County moved in at No. 6.
Class 4A — Elizabethton's impressive win moved the Cyclones ahead of Knox Catholic into the No. 4 spot.
Class 3A — None.
Class 2A — None.
Class 1A — Cloudland muscled up to No. 4 thanks to a loss by Dresden.
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Alex Campbell's sociology class at Elizabethton High School is holding a fundraiser for Josh Wandell and his family. Wandell, a former Cyclones' football standout, was recently diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease.
T-shirts will be sold for a minimum donation of $15. If 100 T-shirts are sold, Wandell will have the opportunity to deadlift at the Night of the Living Dead, a national competition. T-shirts can be pre-ordered, and others will be available at the event, which is set for Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. at Treadway Gymnasium.
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Soccer update: Science Hill wraps up its Big Seven Conference schedule tonight against Tennessee High.
The Lady Hilltoppers, 4-0-1 in league play and 4-6-1 overall, will play host to the Vikings at 6 o'clock and can clinch a tie for the regular season title. Tennessee High is 3-1 in the conference. …
Sullivan South and University High will decide the Three Rivers Conference regular season title tonight at Civitan Park at 6 o'clock.
South is 2-1 in league play while UH is 1-2 and Elizabethton is 2-2. The Lady Rebels can win the league title outright, or fall into a three-way tie.
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Volleyball update: District tournament action gets under way Monday.
The 1-AAA event will be held at Volunteer's gym in Church Hill. The 1-AA tournament is scheduled for Unicoi County's gym in Erwin. District 1-A does not hold a tournament because it only has two teams.
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Football games of the week: Science Hill at Tennessee High, Dobyns-Bennett at Daniel Boone, David Crockett at Sullivan Central, Elizabethton at Happy Valley, Sullivan North at Johnson County.
Hilltoppers vs. Vikings — It's hard to pinpoint which team is licking its wounds the most.
One thing in Tennessee High's favor is its loss was more of a mental blow while Science Hill's was a mental and physical beat-down.
Indians vs. Trailblazers — This is another pair of teams coming off losses, but Dobyns-Bennett should have an edge having played a more difficult schedule than Boone.
Pioneers vs. Cougars — At the end of this contest, one of these teams is going to have four wins and be riding the momentum of a two-game winning streak.
It would be an important step for either of these programs.
Cyclones vs. Warriors — Happy Valley has gotten things squared away, but the level of competition increases quite a bit with Elizabethton paying a visit.
Raiders vs. Longhorns — Johnson County got back on the radar in the Three Rivers Conference with a non-league victory over Hampton, but needs an upset here to get back into serious playoff conversation.
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Pick of the Week — Dobyns-Bennett 24, Daniel Boone 13.
It has been a tough season for the Indians as they have their most losses since 2009, which was the last time they lost to Daniel Boone. However, D-B is better than its record indicates.
Picks record: 6-0.
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Player of the week — Ethan Thomas of Elizabethton.
It looked like it would be a tight battle between a powerful rushing offense against a precision passing offense, but Thomas provided too much of a gap for Tennessee High to close.
The Cyclones won 35-13 behind a career-high 312 yards rushing and four touchdowns from the junior running back. Thomas averaged 13 yards per carry, and scored on runs of 1, 63, 3 and 56 yards. He rushed for 131 of his yards on eight third-quarter carries to put the game away.
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The Hogs Award — Happy Valley Warriors.
Rushing lanes were open for business as the “War Hogs” exploded their way through Abingdon's defense in a 28-26 win. Happy Valley gained 469 yards rushing on 47 attempts for an average of 10 yards per carry. The pass protection was solid as well, allowing 55 percent completions (5 of 9).
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Defensive unit of the week — Johnson County Longhorns.
The 'Horns took full advantage of their only shot at Hampton with the defensive unit inspiring a 21-9 victory. The only points Johnson County allowed came on a fourth-quarter safety, and then a 53-yard return on the ensuing free kick set up Hampton's only touchdown of the game.
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This Week in Prep History — September 29, 1997.
Science Hill receiver Mike Rader had a huge game as the Hilltoppers held off upset-minded Daniel Boone. Rader caught 13 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns to lead the 'Toppers to the 29-22 victory.
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Elizabethton slides past Science Hill, and Cloudland earns a measure of respect in this week's Prep Top 10.
Team W-L Prv
1. Greeneville 5-0 1
2. Sullivan South 6-0 2
3. Elizabethton 4-1 4
4. Science Hill 3-2 3
5. Dobyns-Bennett 3-3 5
6. Tennessee High 3-2 6
7. Cloudland 6-0 8
8. Daniel Boone 3-2 7
9. Sullivan North 4-2 9
10. West Greene 4-2 nr