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Hilltoppers face extreme challenge against Maryville

Douglas Fritz • Nov 8, 2019 at 12:30 PM

Even in Science Hill’s best football seasons, the trip to Maryville was viewed as a perilous one.

With the Hilltoppers struggling to a 4-6 regular season, this year’s first-round TSSAA Class 6A playoff contest on Friday must seem like one of the biggest tasks they’ve ever faced. Maryville is 10-0 and ranked No. 2 in the state.

But . . . Science Hill can at least take solace in the fact it has faced a team of Maryville’s caliber.

“I think Knox Catholic is better than they are,” said Hilltoppers’ head coach Stacy Carter. “So we’ve played teams as good or better, at least one. We hope the tough schedule helps us.”

The downside is Catholic defeated the Hilltoppers 48-17 back in Week 6.

“We’re going to have to make some plays and get some breaks to be in the game,” said Carter. “We know that.”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

WHAT MAKES MARYVILLE SO TOUGH?

In part, it is the tradition. The Rebels are 123-23 all time in the playoffs. That’s a crazy-good record.

Maryville owns 16 gold balls with the only chink in the armor being just one of them came in the last four years after winning eight in an 11-year span.

What makes the Rebels this year, in part, is running back Tee Hodge. The 6-foot, 230-pound senior will be playing close to home in college as the 3-star recruit is committed to the University of Tennessee. He is nephew of Dallas Cowboys’ wide receiver Randall Cobb.

“He’s everything,” said Carter. “He’s strong and fast. He’s one of the best players in the state, for sure.”

Hodge missed three games with a turf-toe injury, so his 464 yards and six touchdowns don’t lead the team. Junior Parker McGill has rushed for 1,038 yards and nine scores.

Quarterback Cade Chambers has thrown for 1,428 yards with 23 touchdowns. He has a pair of dangerous receivers in A.J. Davis (36 catches, 510 yards, 8 touchdowns) and 6-foot-4 Ashton Maples (20 catches for 524 yards and eight scores).

“I think (the Rebels) are better on offense than they are on defense, and their defense is good, too,” said Carter. “It’s one of the strongest offenses I’ve seen them have.”

DEFENDING THEIR TERRITORY

The Rebels’ defense has been beastly at times this year, especially in a three-game stretch against Bradley Central, Ooltewah and McMinn County in weeks 8-11. Maryville allowed just seven total points in that stretch and the offenses for Bradley and McMinn are normally explosive.

“Maryville has a good defensive front with two good tackles,” said Carter. “The linebackers are good and the secondary is good. It’s typical Maryville.”

COMPARING WITH HISTORY

Carter said this Maryville team ranks highly among other seasons.

“I think this team overall is one of the better bunches they’ve had,” said Carter. “They have all of them back from last year. They’re all seniors. They will graduate a ton of kids this year.”

The game is expected to be played in very cold temperatures. The high for Friday is expected to be 45 degrees. And even the weather gives Maryville an edge.

“Maryville has played in more of those (cold games) than us,” said Carter, referring to the Rebels’ runs into late November almost every season. “It’s one of those things. We’re going to have to execute and play hard.”

Science Hill is led by quarterback Connor Batchelder, who has passed for over 2,000 yards, and running back Chris Thomas, who needs 127 yards to reach 1,000 for the season.

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