First, the Hilltoppers are big underdogs against defending Class 6A state football champion and top-ranked Maryville. Second, the Hilltoppers have been through so many close games this season, nothing should faze them.
“It seems like the kids are loose,” said Hilltoppers’ head coach Stacy Carter. “With all the adversity, we’ve just given everything we’ve had, and everything has been close other than a couple of games.”
Carter said there’s reason to believe his team can get some things done against the mighty Rebels.
“It is encouraging that we’ve seen people move the ball against them, especially on the ground,” said Carter. “Hopefully we can move the ball with our running attack. If we do that, we can stay in it. If we can’t, it will be long game.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Rebels’ field.
THE REBEL REPORT
Maryville is 10-1 with its lone loss coming against rival Alcoa. Carter compared that outcome to Elizabethton beating Science Hill earlier this season, where the local kids know each other and the games can be close despite the size difference between the schools.
Among the key players on offense for Maryville are running back Tee Hodge and wide receiver A.J. Davis. Carter said the Rebels use a pair of quarterbacks, Braden Carnes and Cade Chambers.
“They are both pretty good,” said Carter.
The skill players are protected by a somewhat small offensive line.
“They have a 285-pound lineman, but the rest of them are 215-220,” said Carter. “But they are strong kids who move and do the right things. It’s just not a massive line like it has been.”
Some of these things add up to a Maryville team that may not be at the level of previous teams, but the Rebels are still in the hunt for a state title.
“We definitely want to go in respecting what they have built,” said Carter. “But we also want to go in knowing they are a beatable team. They’re not the Maryville they’ve always been. But they still beat Oakland, and Alcoa is a great football team. And you can just about count on one hand the number of games they’ve lost in the last 10 years.”
THE SCIENCE HILL REPORT
It starts with a strong and solid offensive line, creating working space for running back Chris Thomas. The junior has rushed for 1,382 yards and totaled 18 touchdowns this season.
“You have to run the football against Maryville,” said Carter. “And you have to have people make some plays in the passing game.”
Included in the success of the offensive line has been the play of Kendrick Fain and Blake Austin.
“We’ve had success since we put the big boys in at guard,” said Carter. “It’s like it changed our season.”
Maryville’s playoff record is 121-22. The Rebels have won 13 state titles in the last 20 years, including five of the last eight.
Science Hill’s playoff record is 16-21. They are 7-8 under Carter in the postseason.