And the circumstances don’t matter.
For example, in the 1989-1990 season the Hilltoppers and Indians played early in the day in Bristol with only sixth place in the Arby’s Classic on the line. Science Hill would go on to win its first-ever state basketball championship that year, but that brunch battle with the Tribe was still a dandy.
When these teams play, records don’t matter. Neither does location, who is favored, who won last year, or who may or may not have the most talent.
D-B head coach Joey Christian said the rivalry is very important to Kingsport.
“Any city leader you talk to, whenever they bring in a potential business or somebody into town, they want to bring them to J. Fred Johnson Stadium on a Friday night,” said Christian. “Having been part of several of these matchups I have a lot of fond memories, whether it was at Memorial Stadium in Johnson City, their new stadium, or J. Fred. It’s a special night.”
This year’s battle between Science Hill (3-1, 3-5) and Dobyns-Bennett (5-0, 8-0) has plenty of significance. If the Indians win, they are undefeated region champions for the first time since 2012 — which was the year of the epic undefeated Science Hill/D-B contest, won 37-34 by the Indians on a last-second field goal.
If Science Hill wins, it can keep alive its hopes of winning a share of its first league crown since 2014.
Hilltoppers’ head coach Stacy Carter said the rivalry is unmatched.
“There’s not any better game,” Carter said. “We’ve had some of our best experiences at J. Fred Johnson Stadium, whether it was wins or losses. There have been some great environments. People come out in Kingsport and our fans come out like crazy. We’re excited and I know they are.”
D-B won last year’s game, ending a string of six straight wins for Science Hill.
SEASON OF CHANGE
When the season started, Dobyns-Bennett wasn’t picked to win the region title. The Indians were coming off a 4-6 finish where their streak of 25 straight playoff appearances came to an end.
Word on the street was the Indians’ program was in trouble. Was the talent level high enough? Were the Xs mixing properly with the Os? At best, D-B was considered a playoff threat and maybe a fringe title contender.
There were some critics, but Christian emphatically silenced them — beginning Week 1 against Tennessee High. The Indians thumped the Vikings and haven’t missed a single beat along the way.
Christian’s old-school approach allowed the Indians to succeed despite departures of talented players. He said he noticed the team became stronger despite the changes.
“There were people who left the program, either from their own doing or from me dismissing them,” said Christian. “But every time it happened, this group got closer and closer.”
That togetherness has been at the heart of D-B’s success. This has been a full-scale team, winning games 11 young men at a time.
If there is a core central for the Indians, it has been the offensive line. Battered by injuries, the Indians are still blocking and moving the football.
“The offensive line has been everything,” said Christian, whose coaching strength was born in the trenches. “Whatever we want to do on offense, pass or run, we have kids who are so selfless. We take what the defense give us. If that means running it 60 times a game or throwing it 60 times a game, the kids understand it either way. And we have different kids contributing on Friday nights.”
FINDING THEIR WAY
The Hilltoppers were mentioned in the same breath with Knox Farragut at the top of the league when the season began. But they were unable to navigate the brutal non-conference schedule, losing all four of those contests.
Still, they had a chance to roll into the D-B game with a perfect league mark before turnovers and a blocked punt derailed them in a loss to Farragut.
The good news for Science Hill is the Hilltoppers will be in the playoffs for a 10th straight year, barring a very unlikely scenario that results in a three-way tie for third and fourth place with Farragut and Hardin Valley. And a win over Dobyns-Bennett would boost the Hilltoppers’ chances of getting something done in the postseason.
Science Hill’s tough schedule didn’t make its record look very good, but Carter said it can still pay off for games like this.
“I think it helped us to play those games,” Carter said. “We learned a lot about ourselves. It could go two ways: We could get better or tank it. And we’re so young, I think we’re getting better. Every game other than one, we’ve been in the game.”
Science Hill is still looking for its first win over a winning team. Coming off a bye week, the Hilltoppers have their biggest rival in sight with a chance to change their season.