Chance Pierce helped Science Hill football turn the corner against Dobyns-Bennett on Friday in Kingsport.
The Hilltoppers trailed 24-14 with 5½ minutes remaining, the potential of a 20th consecutive loss in the series looming larger than the Bays Mountain ridges on the horizon, when Pierce ran wide for 35 yards to the D-B 26-yard line on a third-and-four carry.
Pierce ran left around tackle Malcolm White, avoided a safety via a cutback, accelerated beyond a couple of diving Indians and tight-roped the left sideline on an impressive run that ignited Science Hill.
Malik McGue threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Mikey White on the ensuing play, and McGue added two TD runs in the final 1:50 for a 35-24 victory that left senior citizens jumping for joy and seniors such as Science Hill’s Gad Nagba collapsing to the ground with gratitude.
Pierce was perhaps happiest for his grandmother, Sharon McAlister, who moved back to Texas this year and has remained there since Pierce’s great grandmother’s death. Pierce was born in Webster, near Houston, and moved to Johnson City in the fourth grade.
McAlister doesn’t miss a radio broadcast and watches game film on the internet.
“She’s really been wanting me to win this game,” Pierce said, “and I mean, she was going crazy. She called me. She texted me while I was on the field, you know, still celebrating. She was going crazy.
“This was the first season she’d ever missed of me ever playing football because she’d been sick in the hospital in Texas. She has been watching me play since I was little.”
Pierce rushed 17 times for 148 yards against D-B, and 96 of those came in the second half. His 4-yard TD run got Science Hill within 17-14 with 2:45 left in the third quarter.
Pierce likely would’ve gotten another 8-10 carries if not for D-B generating a time-consuming drive in each half. Pierce’s counterpart, Zach Casey, ran 27 times for 157 yards, helping the Indians produce a drive that exhausted 6:37 of the first half and a seven-minute, five-second march that began with 1:05 left in the third quarter.
Pierce said he and Casey spoke briefly after their productive performances.
“We could’ve fed it to Chance more if we had more time,” Science Hill coach Stacy Carter said. “It just kind of got away from us the other night. … I thought their game plan was great, and how they held the ball. They almost played perfect.”
Pierce has rushed for 842 yards and nine touchdowns on 115 rushes (7.3 yards per carry) this season.
“Chance has just had a tremendous year for us,” Carter said. “Straight on, he’s really fast. You can’t really tell it sometimes, but he is. It’s hard to run him down when he gets out, and he’s a strong – a physical runner also.
“He’s smart, too. He’s good on our pass protections … and really understands everything. Him and Malik really understand what’s going on. With all these different defenses and blocking schemes, he does a good job with that, too.”
Pierce is quick to credit Science Hill’s offensive linemen, players such as Ethan Morelock, Cory Johnson, Demetri Kalogeros, Dylan Miles and White, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior.
“Malcolm White … is an animal at blocking,” Pierce said. “If he hits the weight room real hard this winter I think he’ll go Division I easily. He’s a phenomenal blocker.”
Of course, McGue was Science Hill’s primary phenom Friday, mainly because he rallied the Hilltoppers 48 hours after popping his throwing shoulder out of place in practice. He took a shot some 24 hours before the game.
“I separated my shoulder last year and I finally got it fixed in the offseason,” Pierce said. “He kept asking me like, ‘What’d it feel like when you threw the ball?’ And I was like, ‘Well, it kind of crackled a little bit.’ And he was like, ‘That’s what mine’s doing right now.’”
McGue didn’t throw for 48 hours prior to Friday evening.
“We didn’t even know if he could throw until warm-ups, and it was hurting him as soon as he started throwing,” Carter said. “That was the first time he’d thrown since the injury – warming up, and he didn’t do much warming up.”
But McGue made numerous clutch completions, and was prepared to still be chucking it at the end. In fact, a pass play was the initial call, Pierce said, on McGue’s 19-yard TD run for the game’s final score with 1:15 remaining.
“I said, ‘Listen, ‘Gue, don’t do anything stupid. Don’t throw a pick. Don’t fumble. If you’re gonna do anything, just throw it out of bounds or tuck it and run and pat me on the shoulder and I’ll lead you down the sideline,’” Pierce said.
Science Hill needed one first down to seal a victory, and McGue didn’t appear to even glance downfield at receiver Mikey White after a play-action fake to Addison Adams out of a three-back pistol variation. Instead, he started running to his right before darting back through the middle and dashing past a diving safety for a 19-yard score.
“I was just going nuts after he scored,” Pierce said. “Oh my gosh, I’m still pumped about that. I mean that game was ridiculous.
“I was sitting in class (Monday). All of the sudden the class just stops and they’re like, ‘We beat D-B,’ and everyone wrote it on the board. Everyone was just going crazy.”
Still, Pierce sounds like he’s come back down to earth to prepare for Friday’s first-round playoff game against Farragut at Kermit Tipton Stadium. A game similar to last week’s could give Pierce 1,000 yards rushing this season.
“I mean, I’d like to get 1,000,” Pierce said, “but I’d rather the team win than me have 200 yards rushing.”
Indeed, 35 and 24 were the only numbers Pierce, McAlister and company cared about Friday.