It seems like everybody is talking about The Streak, but don’t count head coaches Stacy Carter or Graham Clark in that group.
“A lot of our kids are different kids and it’s a completely different team,” said Carter, Science Hill’s head football coach. “These kids have been successful against D-B all the way up. We’ve got a couple of real good classes that have competed against everybody.”
Clark, the Indians’ head coach, said it’s all about 2011.
“You talk about this year’s D-B/Science Hill game,” he said. “We don’t need any burdens placed on us about the past.”
The Indians, who have defeated the Hilltoppers 17 straight times, will invade Tipton Stadium tonight with the Big Eight Conference championship on the line. Kickoff is set for 7:30 in a game that was moved up because playing on the same day as the Shriner’s Circus at Freedom Hall could have caused major parking problems.
Both teams are 6-0 in league play while the Hilltoppers are 7-2 overall and D-B is 9-0. Both teams are ranked in the state with the Hilltoppers at No. 10 and D-B standing at No. 3. And both teams have locked up berths in the Class 6A playoffs, which begin next week.
Without The Streak and the rankings or even the championship, D-B and Science Hill would still be special. So add those things and it should be quite a show.
“It’s two communities that want to be the best they can be in whatever they do,” said Clark. “It’s two communities that take great pride in their schools. That’s what makes a rivalry. And a championship game adds to everything.”
It is a matchup between arguably the two best offenses in Northeast Tennessee. The Hilltoppers have scored more points through nine games (38 per contest) than any team in school history while the Indians are averaging 47 points a game.
So that could put things squarely in the hands of the defenses to decide the outcome. For Science Hill, that means dealing with D-B’s option offense.
“We have to play responsibility defense,” said Carter. “They’ve got a lot of weapons. They move the chains with the fullback and quarterback, and the big plays come from (Seth) Barger and (Devaun) Swafford on the sweeps and pitches.
“Swafford is definitely their best football player — on both sides of the ball.”
When the Indians throw the ball, they usually do it with purpose and precision. Quarterback Chris Cook has thrown for just 647 yards (850 fewer than Science Hill’s Justin Snyder), but Cook leads Northeast Tennessee with a 12-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Swafford has five touchdown catches while Foreman has four.
Still, Carter said the Hilltoppers will try to force Cook into passing situations.
“We’ve got to stop them and get them in third and long,” said Carter. “Their offense isn’t built for that. We’ve got to get them out of their comfort zone.”
The Hilltoppers’ defense has allowed just 135 points this season, the fourth-best area total behind the Indians (98), Greeneville (102) and Elizabethton (112).
When Science Hill has the ball, the Indians will be faced with a balanced attack. Science Hill has rushed for 2,247 yards and passed for 1,646 to lead the area with 433 yards of offense per game.
“We can’t give up the big, big plays,” said Clark. “They’ve got a lot of weapons. You can’t key on one thing.
“Snyder has been slinging the pill for three years. He’s slung more balls than Waffle House cooks have slung hash browns.”
Snyder’s top receiving threat is Aaron Greene, who has 26 catches for 456 yards. However, five different receivers have double-digit catches on the season, and eight have at least eight grabs.
Freshman Malik McGue, who has gotten hot lately, has 16 receptions for 237 yards. McGue is tied with Will Craig and O’Ryen Scott for the team lead in touchdown catches with three. Ten different Hilltoppers have caught a touchdown pass.
D-B’s defense has been very difficult to consistently move the football against. The Indians allow just 60 yards rushing and 95 passing per game despite allowing 440 total yards in a 42-41 win over Sevier County in Week 3. Just for comparison sake, the Hilltoppers defeated Sevier County in a spring scrimmage and a preseason scrimmage.
With all of the offensive and defensive prowess these teams posses, it could all come down to special teams.
“You have to be careful on special teams about No. 8 (Swafford) and No. 6 (Foreman),” said Carter. “They’ve turned a lot of games around on special teams.”
Said Clark, “Special teams and turnovers could decide it pretty much.”
Neither team wanted the game to be moved up a night, said Carter.
“Any time you have a short week, there’s less time to prepare,” said Carter. “And you don’t have Thursday for that day of rest.”