But both head football coaches said they expect a typical edition of the rivalry.
“It’s fantastic,” said Science Hill head coach Stacy Carter, who won’t be at the game as he serves a one-game suspension because of his ejection from last year’s playoff loss to Maryville. “It’s one of the best games of the season every year. Everybody is so excited. It’s a great football game, and I hope the series never ends.”
The Hilltoppers play host to the Cyclones in the high school season opener Friday night at 7:30 at Tipton Stadium.
GREEN BEHIND CENTER
Connor Batchelder, a 6-foot, 180-pound senior, gets the starting nod for the Hilltoppers.
“Both of us have brand-new quarterbacks,” said Carter. “They’re going to make some mistakes. It’s just going to happen.”
Elizabethton not only has a new quarterback, but uncertainty entering the season as to whether sophomore Bryson Rollins or senior Cade Maupin will take the most snaps behind center this year.
“We have the mentality of whatever it takes,” said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten. “Regardless of who is at quarterback, they are both heavily involved in the game plan. And both of them have to play defense, too.”
LEADING THE HILLTOPPERS
Carter has turned the controls over to defensive coordinator Ralph Nelson.
Matt Eads and Wes Jones will take care of the play-calling duties.
Witten said he doesn’t expect the Hilltoppers to look different.
“Those guys have been together collectively for a long time,” said Witten. “Stacy has three or four guys who have been head coaches before. They are settled in what they want to do.”
The Cyclones jumped out hard, leading 17-0 in the second quarter. But the Hilltoppers bounced back for a late first-half touchdown, and eventually rode that momentum to a 28-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Roaring back, the Cyclones took a 36-28 advantage with under two minutes left. Science Hill scored with 14 seconds remaining and went for two, but failed and Elizabethton had its first win over the Hilltoppers after losing eight straight times.
“We’ve come close several times, and we were able to get over the hump last year,” said Witten. “I’m sure they’re tired of hearing about it.
“But it’s a great rivalry and you set yourself up for the rest of the season. It shows you a lot of things you have to work on and improve. It gives us a sense of urgency every day in the summer.”
Elizabethton will likely have its hands full with the Hilltoppers’ senior running back.
“Chris Thomas is tough,” said Witten. “They try to keep it simple, run off the tackle and with speed on the edge.”
Both teams have threats at wideout positions. Science Hill has depth, but Elizabethton has Parker Hughes.
“He is as good of a receiver as there is around,” said Carter.
Carter said simple execution will likely decide the winner.
“There are a lot of weapons on both teams,” he said. “It comes down to who makes the plays.”