Science Hill plans a full-throttle approach as it tries to end a 19-game losing streak to rival Dobyns-Bennett.
“We won’t be conservative,” said Hilltoppers’ head coach Stacy Carter. “We opened it up a little last week, and I feel like we played loose. We will play like we play, and there won’t be any difference.
“We can pack it in there, and we can spread it out. We feel like we’re a team that can do both.”
Science Hill and D-B are both undefeated in Big Seven Conference play, will meet tonight at J. Fred Johnson Stadium with the league championship on the line. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30.
Science Hill, which hasn’t beaten the Indians since a 14-7 decision in 1994, is 5-0 in the conference and 7-2 overall. The Hilltoppers suffered their losses in back-to-back fashion, getting outscored 109-38 by Murfreesboro Siegel and Brentwood Academy.
D-B, which is coming off a bye week, is 5-0 and 6-3. The Indians’ losses came outside the area against East Hamilton, Sevier County and Ooltewah. Those three teams have a combined record of 22-5.
The Indians recently won back-to-back conference games with touchdowns in the final minute. Prompted by a comment in the Johnson City Press from Carter last week about Daniel Boone’s loss to the Indians, D-B head coach Graham Clark said, tongue in cheek, of the matchup against Science Hill, “We’ve just got to keep it close, and maybe we can hit a fluke play at the end.”
Last year the Indians staged a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback against the Hilltoppers and won on a last-minute field goal in front of an overflow crowd in Kingsport. A rainy forecast and another big game just a few miles down the road — Elizabethton at Sullivan South — will probably take a bite out of this year’s attendance.
As for playing at D-B for a second straight year, Carter said, “We’re excited. We just wish we had the money game.”
Carter said his players know they have the ability to beat D-B.
“Our kids have played these guys all the way up, and been successful,” he said. “We will be ready to play. We feel like we have played real tough competition, and (the Indians) are going to get our best shot.”
Science Hill relies on the offensive prowess of quarterback Malik McGue. Despite missing the equivalent of three games, McGue leads the quarterback-dominated Big Seven in rushing with 785 yards. He has thrown for 1,102 and has accounted for 20 touchdowns (11 rushing and nine passing).
Running back Chance Pierce (694 yards rushing) complements McGue, and the Hilltoppers have several receiving threats.
“They have so much depth at receiver,” said Clark. “They have a number of guys to throw to, so it’s hard to pin them down. It’s quite a concern matching up.”
And when the Indians get matched up, they need to stay that way throughout the play, said Clark.
“You’ve got to do a good job containing Malik, and we’ve got to do a great job of staying with the receivers when the play gets extended,” said Clark.
D-B will try to contain McGue in part with blitzes, said Carter.
“They blitz a lot,” said Carter. “They really do. More than in recent years. They come with a bunch of different things, and we’ve got to pick up that stuff.”
Both coaches said they believe their teams are getting healthy at the right time. For D-B, that means running back Zach Casey will play, said Clark.
“He’s a good football player for sure,” said Carter. “I think it always makes a difference when a good player plays.”
Quarterback Josh Holt is the main threat for the Indians. He has passed for 829 yards and seven touchdowns despite missing time with injury, and has rushed for 631 yards and four scores.
“I think he manages the game well for them,” said Carter. “He’s well-coached and carries out his fakes well.”
Holt’s top receiving threats are Caleb Cook (22 catches, 299 yards) and D.J. Jones (19 catches, 447 yards).
Carter said his team talks about The Streak.
“We need to end that,” said Carter.
Said Clark, “I haven’t heard our players talk about it. There are a lot of things they talk about that I don’t hear and don’t want to hear. I talk about about things we’ve got to do to get ready to play.”