Rutledge's game-ending field goal lifts 'Toppers over Bears

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Nov 3, 2018 at 2:04 AM

Shane Austin made a 35-yard catch between two defenders and Connor Rutledge followed with a 23-yard field goal as time expired to lift Science Hill to a 24-21 win over Bradley Central in the first round of the TSSAA Class 6A playoffs Friday night at Kermit Tipton Stadium.

Rutledge actually had to make the winning kick twice in the cold and wet conditions.

Bradley Central called a timeout right as the ball was snapped on Rutledge's first attempt, which was good. They tried to ice him again with another timeout, but the junior kicker was unfazed. He knocked it right through the middle of the uprights for the game winner.

"That felt amazing. I was just glad our team got down there so I had that opportunity to kick it," Rutledge said. "I knew they were going to call the time out. It just gave me a couple more practice swings. I'm just glad I was just able to finish it off for us."

Science Hill (6-5), which was led by Chris Thomas with 33 rushes for 195 yards and two touchdowns, will go on the road against defending state champion Maryville in the next round of the playoffs. Bradley Central, which ended Science Hill's season on the Bears' home field in 2017, finished with a 7-4 record.

According to Science Hill statistician Steve DeBaugh, the win was coach Stacy Carter's 73rd as Hilltoppers coach, tying him with Kermit Tipton for second place on the school's all-time win list.

It had been a trying season for the Hilltoppers, who continued to show resiliency on a cold and rainy night in front of a sparse crowd. Eight of Science Hill's 11 games have come down to the final possession.

"Shane had a rough first of the year and it was good to see him make that play. A great drive and a great job by Connor. I'm proud of our kids," Carter said. "We've had a tough season battling through adversities. To see the kids still fighting like this in weather like this, I'm just proud of them."

Rutledge's game-winning field goal was set up by a 35-yard pass from quarterback A.J. Stewart to Austin. The Bears had two defenders on Austin, who battled through them to come up with the ball.

"Honestly, I didn't know the play," Austin said. "I just ran an eight and A.J. threw it for Clifton (Maxwell), but it happened to bounce my way."

Stewart ended 10 of 18 for 110 yards through the air, and 10 rushes for 53 yards. He aired it out to give Austin a chance to make the play and set up the Hilltoppers for the win.

"I was amazed when he caught that ball. He was just at the right place at the right time," Stewart said. "We've had a tough season, but we've been working hard. We're committed and we just want to win."

Thomas was the workhorse, giving Science Hill a 7-0 lead on a 13-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

Still, the Hilltoppers trailed 14-7 at halftime. Bradley Central quarterback Dylan Standifer hit running back Ricky McCleary for a 12-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and McCleary capped off a 73-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run with just 29 seconds left in the half.

On the opening possession of the second half, Thomas broke free down and raced down the left side 56 yards for a tying score. He ran to the left side most of the night as he explained it was called by the coaching staff.

"The coaches saw the left side was the weakest so we started running more to that side to make some plays," Thomas said. "It feels good to come here and get the win. Last year, it hurt when we lost against them — so we came back harder this year. It feels good to get past them and to go to the second round."

Stewart gave Science Hill a 21-14 lead when he hit Joseph Miller on a 3-yard touchdown throw in the right corner of the end zone. Bradley Central responded on the next drive, which extended into the fourth quarter, with a 3-yard scoring run by McCleary.

After the defenses traded possessions a couple of times, the 'Toppers got the ball on the Bradley Central 49 with 32 seconds left. A hook-and-ladder play with Drew Morrison got the ball inside the 40, before the throw from Stewart to Austin.

Jaiden Miles was the Science Hill defensive leader with nine tackles, including two for a loss. Grant Wilson came up with an interception on the opening possession of the game and Jack Conkin forced a fumble.

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