Science Hill and Dobyns-Bennett played one for the ages Friday night in Kingsport, and trying to beat D-B is still getting old for the Hilltoppers.
Chad Diminick’s 35-yard field goal with 17 seconds remaining sealed a 37-34 victory for D-B, which trailed 34-19 entering the fourth quarter.
Science Hill lost to the Indians for the 18th straight year and 19th straight time (they met for a second time in the playoffs in 1998).
A potential rematch became much less likely when the pairings were released Saturday.
Fifth-seeded Science Hill (9-1) didn’t land in the same four-team pod as D-B (10-0). The ’Toppers would almost certainly have to win at No. 1 Maryville in a second-round game before a return to Kingsport, and that’s if they win at Oak Ridge (9-1) on Friday (7 p.m.).
But in the unlikely event that D-B and Science Hill do meet again, it’s hard to believe that anyone who was part of Friday’s massive crowd wouldn’t buy tickets for the nailbiter’s sequel.
Crowd estimates ranged from 11,000-14,000. The baseball grandstands were filled to capacity, and the majority of those seats aren’t even situated for viewing football. Spectators stood around the fence everywhere at field level, and were lined five deep in places. And many were watching in lounge chairs beneath the pine trees on the bank beyond one end of the field.
Veteran observers, including D-B coach Graham Clark, recalled three J. Fred Johnson Stadium crowds that were comparable — a 1969 game against Gate City, one against John Cropp’s state-champion Tennessee High during Clark’s junior year in 1971 and a game against Sullivan South during Curt Phillips’ junior season in 2006. Science Hill coach Stacy Carter coached South in that game.
“I think this was the best atmosphere I’ve ever seen,” Carter said.
The matchup of unbeatens generated energy that snowballed all week — all season, for that matter. Fourth-ranked D-B was beating opponents by an average score of 57-11, and No. 5 Science Hill was winning by an average score of 50-18.
And the teams, catalyzed by crowd-pleasing quarterbacks Malik Foreman and Reed Hayes, amplified the electricity with an instant classic that not only lived up to the hype, but exceeded it.
“My mind was going in 10,000 different directions,” Foreman said while describing the pregame scene. “It was loud, it was crazy.”
Foreman, whose speed evoked streaking images of former Hilltopper Toby Patton, rushed for 244 yards and three TDs. Hayes rushed for 99 yards and a TD and passed for 256 yards and three TDs, often after scrambling for 5-7 seconds.
“Hayes is an unbelievable athlete,” Clark said. “Both quarterbacks tonight were pretty special.”
So was D-B’s fourth-quarter rally, which Science Hill helped fuel by mishandling a squib kick and jumping offsides on what proved to be the game-winning drive when D-B shifted its punt formation on a 4th-and-3 at the D-B 26 with 4:08 remaining. Clark called for the confusion-inducing shift during a timeout after Science Hill’s Bryson DeJesus, who seemed to be everywhere during key stretches, stopped Zach Casey for no gain on 3rd-and-3. Clark credited assistant Jesse McMillan for initially coming up with the play when it was initially used successfully in a game 2-3 years ago.
So Science Hill left empty-handed despite Hayes’ playmaking, the tireless defense of Grant Janeway, Gad Nagba and DeJesus, O’Ryen Scott’s leaping interception that set up a 26-yard TD drive and the inspiration of senior Tate Isbell playing on the offensive line with a torn ACL.
The Hilltoppers left convinced they’re capable of beating the explosive Indians if they were to meet again in the playoffs.
“It would not be shocking,” Clark said. “That’s a fine football team.”
Of course, that fact makes the Indians’ great escape all the more impressive.
“It makes you awful proud,” Clark said. “Our kids never did quit. It was a pretty special. I don’t know that I’ve been any prouder. It was a pretty daggone good night.”
Many D-B followers believe this is Clark’s best team, or at least were saying as much before Friday’s game. Others still say it’s the best since the 2000 team (12-2) that included Dallas Cowboy safety Gerald Sensabaugh, Jeremy Graves and Adonis Johnson, and was eliminated 14-7 in the mud to Gerald Riggs-led Red Bank. It won three playoff games, as did a 1998 team (13-1) that also included McMillan, Andrew Foerster and Chad Hyder.
“Probably every year that you’ve got a good thing going, people start talking, ‘This may be your best ever,’” Clark said. “And I’ve heard that before. The best ever right now is the one that won the most games, and that was the ’98 team that won 13 ballgames. We’ll see how this bunch stacks up.”
Despite its dominance, Foreman knows what this Dobyns-Bennett team would be remembered for if it had lost Friday.
“It was going through my mind,” Foreman said, “but we’re not gonna be the team (that stops The Streak). … I had faith in my team, and I’m actually glad that this game happened, because we need to learn how to play a full game and make big plays in big games.”
The ’98 team was the one that beat Science Hill twice. D-B won 33-29 in the regular season and 44-8 in what was Hilltoppers coach Scott McClanahan’s last game. It’s difficult to foresee another shootout-to-blowout transformation this time if the teams meet again.
“I know they wouldn’t come in here and think it’s a cakewalk,” Hayes said.
It was an unforgettable game but one Science Hill must forget for now, or winning a playoff game for the second straight season won’t happen. Oak Ridge’s lone loss was a 38-23 setback at home against Maryville, the Rebels’ closest margin of victory this season.
“We spent a lot of emotion,” said Carter, who believes this unit of hard-working, “team” players will recharge after the heartbreaking loss. “I’m not a big moral-victory guy, for sure, but we’re getting better. That’s one thing they (the Indians) have gotta know.”
Indeed, they do.
“Stacy’s done a great job everywhere he’s been — I mean, at Sullivan East as a (offensive) coordinator,” Clark said. “He does a great job, I think, of leadership of a program, and he’s obviously done a great job of getting kids out and suiting their style of play to what his athletes do best.”
Indeed, Carter nearly has the Hill over the hump. Certainly, there was a grand view from where the Indians and ’Toppers took area high school football on Friday.