Science Hill’s first playoff victory since 2001 seemed to age the Hilltoppers fans and coaches another 10 years.
Quarterback Justin Snyder rushed for three touchdowns and passed to Reed Hayes for a 7-yard TD that gave the Hilltoppers the lead for good with seven minutes remaining in a 41-32 win against Karns in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs Friday at Tipton Stadium.
Science Hill (8-3) visits undefeated Maryville on Friday. Karns finished the season at 6-5.
Hayes, who finished with four catches for 108 yards, didn’t decide to play this season until after the third game, and Science Hill didn’t appear to decide to play with a collective purpose until after most of the third quarter on Friday.
Karns led 15-14 at the half, went ahead 22-14 on athletic senior quarterback Tyler Stewart’s 12-yard pass to Shaquille Cantrell with 10 minutes left in the third quarter and stretched the lead to 25-14 on Logan Webb’s 40-yard field goal with 3:56 left in the third quarter.
But Science Hill answered the field goal with a 60-yard drive that Snyder capped with a 3-yard TD run. The two-point conversion pass failed, but the Hilltoppers were within a score with 20.9 seconds left in the third quarter.
That set the stage for Hayes, who went up high for the go-ahead TD reception. Snyder then found tight end Will Craig wide open for a two-point conversion pass and a 28-25 lead.
Jahmar Adams scored on a 14-yard run and Perry Murdaugh’s PAT gave the Hilltoppers a 35-25 lead with 4:05 left. But Karns drove quickly to score on Stewart’s 15-yard pass to Nathan Rivera, and Webb’s PAT made the score 35-32 with 2:05 remaining.
Karns still had three timeouts, but Will Adams recovered the Beavers’ onside kick and Science Hill drove 49 yards for a Snyder 3-yard TD run with 46 seconds left. The sparse Hilltoppers crowd that turned out on a cold but dry night could finally exhale.
“They stacked the box and made us throw deep and we had a hard time finding the answer,” second-year Science Hill coach Stacy Carter said. “We finally found the answer. … Hayes can play. I think we’re seeing more and more what he can do. He can about out-jump anybody, and he don’t drop it. It was big to have him right there; it was huge.”
Will Adams got 79 of his 88 rushing yards in the second half, and Jahmar Adams got 69 of his 81 rushing yards after intermission.
“We knew we had to throw deep with them packing the box,” Carter said. “Reed made some big plays, and Will got us going and Jahmar came in there and finished them off.”
Science Hill was without its most imposing offensive lineman, 6-foot-4, 290-pound Tyler Miles (concussion).
“The line struggled the first half, but they finally got movement … and did a great job,” Carter said.
Snyder also threw a 15-yard TD pass to wide-open tight end Hank Overbay to give Science Hill a 14-12 lead with 9:48 left in the first half.
Snyder finished 10-of-19 passing for 229 yards, two TDs and two interceptions.
Todd Page-Gilmore ran a fake punt 19 yards to the Karns 19 on the Hilltoppers’ opening scoring drive, which Snyder capped with a 10-yard run with 9:33 left in the first quarter.
Malik Tarter returned the game’s opening kickoff 46 yards to the Karns 43-yard line.
Aaron Greene and Malik McGue each had two catches for 51 yards for Science Hill.
Stewart was 17 of 41 for 264 yards and three TDs, and rushed 16 times for 67 yards.
“He was zoned in,” Carter said. “The kid was hot. … Hats off to him; he played great.”
Hayes had a 37-yard catch to Karns 19 on Science Hill’s second scoring drive, and caught a 41-yard pass to the Karns 24 in the third quarter. Hayes said Snyder’s experience showed when he bought time to find Hayes for the TD pass.
“On the touchdown it was ‘scramble rule,’ so I was just trying to get open,” Hayes said. “He threw it up and I went and got it. It was a great pass.”
Hilltoppers’ miscues that suggested they might’ve had a letdown after last week’s disappointing loss to rival Dobyns-Bennett included the running backs colliding in the first series, a dropped TD pass on 4th-and-goal from the 13 and a turnover after an ill-advised touch of a rolling punt while several Beavers were nearby waiting to down it. Also, cornerbacks allowed several lengthy receptions after they had initially appeared to have decent coverage.
“There was (some panic setting in) when they came out and scored on that first drive in the second half,” Hayes said. “It worked out. We won. That’s all that matters.”
The Hilltoppers’ Damian Hayes made or assisted several tackles for losses and minimal gains.
D’Andre Harris set up Karns’ first TD with a difficult, high-leaping interception at the Science Hill 21 on a short Snyder pass that was headed into the flat. Three plays later Stewart converted a 4th-and-4 at the Science Hill 15 with a 5-yard run on a quarterback draw. He then threw a 9-yard completion to Rivera to set up Xavier Harper’s 1-yard TD run.
Harris scored the Beavers’ second TD with 11 minutes left in the first half on a 25-yard reception. The score came on the first play after Tony Arlington returned an interception 35 yards.
Karns concluded its first winning season since 1974, and went down swinging.
“They played tough tonight,” Karns coach Derek Witt said. “Real proud of what they did this year, the way they responded on the field. Science Hill just came out and finished the game.”