It’s not the wild, wild west, but it sure looks like Science Hill and Sevier County are headed for a good old-fashioned shootout.
The offensive powerhouses will meet in the second round of the TSSAA Class 6A playoffs tonight in Sevierville. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 o’clock.
Science Hill enters with a record of 9-2, coming off a 56-42 win over Knox Farragut. The Smoky Bears are 10-1, coming off a 56-42 win over Cookeville.
Those scores alone suggest plenty of offensive fun. Throw out the hideous outing against Brentwood Academy, and the Hilltoppers have scored at least 35 points in every game.
Throw out the hideous outing against Maryville, and the Smoky Bears have scored at least 34 points in every game except one.
Also, the Hilltoppers have struggled to stop people all season while Sevier County — beset by injuries — has encountered the same difficulty in recent weeks.
Leading the way for the Smoky Bears is senior quarterback Luke Manning. He has thrown for 2,513 yards with 29 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Manning’s favorite target is Devante Matthews, who has 35 catches for 548 yards and four scores. Jake Whaley has 20 catches with seven going for touchdowns.
“They are very fast-paced on offense, and their quarterback gets rid of the ball really quick — bubble screens and timing stuff,” said Science Hill head coach Stacy Carter. “And they have two good running backs.
“They are very well-coached, they have a system, and they are very good at it. They are playing on a high level. They aren’t 10-1 for nothing. They can play.”
One unusual thing the Hilltoppers will face is Sevier County’s field. It has a very high crown to it.
“In warmups we’ve got to check it out,” said Carter. “It’s different. It won’t be like that next year because they are getting artificial turf, but it’s something to deal with.”
Helping Science Hill deal with the issue will be quarterback Malik McGue. The junior has totaled 2,367 yards — 1,483 passing — and 27 touchdowns despite missing some games with an injury.
The Hilltoppers normally run a fast-paced offense like the Smoky Bears, but things could be a little different this time around.
“We have a couple of plans,” said Carter. “We will see how the game goes. If we have to slow it down we can. If we have to do a shootout, we’ve got that, too. We can open it up or close it down.”
Running back Chance Pierce should play a key role regardless, but he could be an even bigger factor if the Hilltoppers pull on the reigns a little.
“It’s a cold weather game, and it always comes down to running the ball,” said Carter. “He certainly could be a big factor.”
Pierce leads the Hilltoppers with 1,007 yards rushing and has scored 12 touchdowns this season.
Notes: Science Hill is trying to reach the state quarterfinals for the first time since its second of two straight appearances in 1993-94.
In both of those years, the Hilltoppers went on the road to beat a Chattanooga-area team in the second round. They beat Baylor 21-14 in 1993, and Red Bank 30-20 in 1994. …
The Hilltoppers are 7-9 in the all-time series against Sevier County. The teams were league-mates in the Big East Conference from 1993-2008.