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Malik McGue wasn’t born the last time Science Hill beat Dobyns-Bennett in football, and he’s the primary reason the Indians will have to labor to extend the life of a winning streak that began in 1995.
D-B (5-0, 6-3) will try to win its 20th straight in the series — the ’98 season included two victories — when it hosts the Hilltoppers (5-0, 7-2) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. By the way, a Big Seven Conference title is also at stake.
The Indians are hosting two years in a row thanks to the luck of the draw held after Sullivan South dropped out of the league.
McGue, a quick 5-foot-7, 160-pound junior quarterback, will also play defensive back and return kicks this week. He played in all three phases of the game last year, but that was before his move from receiver to quarterback.
“I had to pretty much kind of talk them into it,” McGue said, “because this game really means a lot to me and a lot to our program.”
Complicating matters this season was an ankle injury McGue sustained late in the first quarter against Brentwood Academy on Sept. 27. It cost him 11 quarters of action, but now in his third week back, McGue feels as good as new.
“Now, it is back 100 percent and I’m getting a lot of reps on defense,” McGue said. “I remember last year in this game I played both ways – I played every down – and I ended up cramping up late in the fourth quarter. But it’s just a process where I have to hydrate a lot better this week and hopefully it won’t be as hot as it was last year.”
The Streak was all but fully clothed last year. Science Hill led 34-19 in the fourth quarter, but Chad Diminick’s 35-yard field goal with 17.7 seconds remaining gave the Indians a nail-chewing 37-34 victory.
Science Hill had scored 27 consecutive points before D-B ended the game with 18 straight, and the see-saw battle and electric atmosphere produced by a five-figure crowd were so compelling that 2012 has been the topic of as many conversations as 1995-2012.
“I’ve never been in one (an atmosphere) like that – ever,” Science Hill coach Stacy Carter said. “I mean, I’ve been in a lot of big ones, but that was the definitely the biggest one I’ve been in – I mean, even semifinal games and everything. This one, hopefully, will be big like that, too.”
Dobyns-Bennett coach Graham Clark recalled some Sullivan South/D-B games last decade and a D-B/Tennessee High game in the early 1970s having similar settings, but nothing to top it. McGue hadn’t seen anything like it.
“There was a big crowd there even when we were walking around for warm-ups,” McGue said. “It was an exciting atmosphere with a lot of exciting players. … You can’t compare anything to that. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life.
“I think our team has just as many athletes as we did last year. So hopefully we can have exciting plays like we did last year and get the crowd going.”
McGue had four receptions for 69 yards and threw a 20-yard pass to Will Adams via a reverse flea-flicker in last year’s game. His 10-yard TD reception from Reed Hayes on fourth down gave the Hilltoppers a 27-19 lead with 12 seconds left in the half, and talented Malik Foreman was covering him on the play.
McGue has rushed for 11 TDs and passed for nine scores this season despite missing those 11 quarters and playing sparingly in the second halves of three games. He is averaging 9.8 yards per carry.
“McGue’s eluded more people than Jesse James,” said Clark, whose Indians have had two weeks to prepare for Science Hill. “He’s a daggone special player, no question about it. He was a special player last year as a sophomore. And he seems like a great kid, too.
“He extends plays just like Reed Hayes did last year. You know, it’s amazing that they have two guys back to back like that.”
McGue’s brain works just as quickly as his feet, according to Carter.
“It’s hard to rattle him; it really is,” Carter said. “He’s like a coach on the field. He can make checks.”
McGue wants the victory for former teammates such as Hayes, as well as for injured Hilltoppers like snapper Andrew Smith (leg) and safety-receiver Malik Stephens (shoulder). Stephens, arguably the second-most valuable ‘Topper behind McGue, was the quarterback on defense.
“We miss him a lot on both sides of the ball,” McGue said. “He was a big-play factor on offense, and then on defense he was the leader of our secondary. He got us in the right spots and right positions.
“And he’s just a leader … the team comedian. He’s always the person – if you’re having a bad day, he’ll come up and it’ll just turn into a good day. So losing him was like the heart of our team.”
Perhaps Stephens can lighten the mood with The Streak, a touchy topic that puts pressure on both teams.
“Yeah, you talk about it, because I mean, the kids are tired of it,” Carter said. “One thing, we’re just tired of hearing about it, you know. So you just want to put that to rest. … You might as well mention it. It’s not like you hide from it or anything. It is what it is, and the kids are ready to play.”
The psycholorical trick is parlaying pressure into opportunity.
“A game like this is supposed to be a fun week,” Clark said. “This is the kind of game that ole Chris Columbus lined up those boats to ride over here and see a game like this. It’s two good teams, and supposed to be an enjoyable week, and that’s how I try to approach it. I mean, yeah, you put your hours in; most of my calories are coming from creamer this week. …
“I mean, obviously, it’s something you take a great deal of pride in, because there’s been a lot of great Science Hill football teams, you know, that we’ve been able to somehow get a hold of them and make something happen.”
McGue doesn’t mind talking about The Streak, but he seems exceptionally focused on punctuating any future discussion.
“I mean, we hear it a lot – a lot of people saying, you know, that we need to be the team to end it,” McGue said. “But we really don’t focus on that. We like to focus on the now. …
“That doesn’t really bother us hearing that 19 years and all that stuff, because, I mean, we had nothing really to do with that. But we’re just trying to get this city the win and get us over the hump to bring this program back up.”