OAK RIDGE – Science Hill’s football season was nine weeks of pleasure and eight days of pain.
Oak Ridge senior quarterback Rian Hall powered his way across the goal line for a 6-yard touchdown with 29.8 seconds remaining, dealing the Hilltoppers a 35-28 loss in a first-round Class 6A playoff game Friday at Jack Armstrong Stadium.
Science Hill, which ended the season at 9-2, was trying to bounce back from a 37-34 loss last week at Dobyns-Bennett. Hall and the senior-laden Wildcats were a taxing team against which to do it.
Hall rushed 27 times for 170 yards and two TDs and Matt Moore (nine carries, 61 yards) ran for two TDs and returned a kickoff 97 yards for another for Oak Ridge, which outrushed the Hilltoppers, 258-142.
“Up front, we couldn’t run the football,” Science Hill coach Stacy Carter said. “It really hurt us. They took that stuff away from us, and they did it with six in the box. We’ve gotta be able to do something right there.”
Quarterback Reed Hayes gave the Hilltoppers a puncher’s chance. He rushed for 120 yards and two TDs and passed for 201 yards and two TDs, and when he connected with Malik McGue for a 41-yard scoring strike with 3:38 remaining, the Hilltoppers had tied the score at 28 after trailing by 14 points entering the fourth quarter.
But Hall had his hands on the wheel last, and he drove the Wildcats 69 yards in nine plays for his winning score. The play of the game was Hall’s 12-yard pass to Robert Valdez on 4th-and-4 from the Science Hill 35-yard line. Hall sprinted to his right, made a good throw across traffic and Valdez made a difficult catch while absorbing Will Adams’ hit, which arrived almost simultaneously with the football.
“An incredible catch by Robert Valdez,” Oak Ridge coach Scott Blade said. “I thought they did a good job defending it. We just ran a little flood pattern there and he threaded the needle and we got one when we needed it. Otherwise we’re in overtime right now.”
Perhaps not. Science Hill would’ve taken over with 55 seconds left and a timeout, and Hayes would’ve had every spectator in the stadium holding their breath. He got little protection from his blind side all night – Oak Ridge defensive end Ethan Grumski had three sacks, pushing his season total to 18, and whiffed a whirling Hayes several times – but still piled up yardage.
The play that wowed the crowd the most was his first-down conversion on a fake punt in which numerous Wildcats defenders had a shot at him with 1:42 left in the third quarter. Hayes dove to reach the marker by half a yard on the 4th-and-3 near midfield and added two more fourth-down conversions on a drive that ended with Hayes’ 4-yard TD run that got Science Hill within 28-21 with 10:33 left in the game.
That drive included McGue making a difficult sliding catch at the Oak Ridge 20 to convert a 4th-and-8 with one second left in the third quarter and Hayes’ 12-yard run to the Oak Ridge 4 on a 4th-and-6.
“He (Hayes) is fantastic,” Blade said. “I knew he was … an incredible athlete. He extended all those plays with his legs. We had our best pass rushers in there and he made us look silly sometimes.”
Moore’s 2-yard touchdown run opened the scoring with 2:05 left in the first quarter.
Science Hill drove 80 yards in 12 plays for its first touchdown, a 4-yard pass from Hayes to O’Ryen Scott that tied the score at 7 with 7:09 left in the second quarter.
Moore took the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a score. Carter said the ball wasn’t supposed to be kicked to Moore, who returned a kick 86 yards for a TD last week at Campbell County.
Hall’s 32-yard TD run stretched the lead to 21-7 with 5:13 left in the first half. Hayes scored from seven yards out with 2:30 left in the half, capping an 11-play, 80-yard drive.
Moore’s 23-yard TD made the score 28-14 with 4:09 left in the third quarter.
“He’s got an incredible competitiveness about him, an incredible drive in him,” Blade said. “He made some huge plays throughout the game.”
Ethan Wheeler had six catches for 83 yards for Oak Ridge.
McGue had three catches for 92 yards and a TD. Jordan Olsen had four catches for 34 yards, and Will Adams had an interception.
Oak Ridge (10-1) visits undefeated Maryville on Friday.
“I’m going to enjoy this one for about five minutes,” Blade said.
It’ll take a lot longer than that before Science Hill can enjoy what it accomplished in 2012.