Maryville gears itself up for the postseason as well as any team in the state.
The Rebels have littered their regular-season schedule with powerhouse programs like Knoxville Catholic, Oakland, Alcoa, Fulton and Farragut in the last two years to pair with a stacked region slate that includes a pair of top-10 Class 6A opponents — No. 7 McMinn County and No. 9 Bradley Central — as well.
“The last thing we want to do is get to the postseason and not had to play four-quarter games and be battle-tested,” Maryville coach Derek Hunt told The Daily Times. “I feel like we’re in a good place based on our schedule, but at the end of the day, you have to go play well that night, and if we don’t do that, we’ll get beat … because every team we play moving forward is good enough to beat us.”
Science Hill understands that sentiment.
It endured a season with a rigorous schedule that included non-region games against Elizabethton and Greeneville — two top-4 teams in Class 4A — and Knoxville Catholic while competing in a competitive Region 1 to earn a spot in the playoffs.
The difference between the Rebels and the Hilltoppers, who will face each other in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs at 7 p.m. today (Friday, Nov. 8) inside Shields Stadium, is results.
Maryville (10-0) is undefeated while Science Hill (4-6) managed to topple one of its marquee opponents — a 23-17 victory over No. 8 Dobyns-Bennett.
However, three of the Hilltoppers’ four losses to .500 or better teams came by 10 points or less, and they were a victory over Bearden away from winning the region title.
“They’re a tough team, and they obviously beat the No. 1 team in their region,” Hunt said. “Anytime you get to the playoffs, everybody is going to be good. We saw them in the second round last year, and our kids know that they have to be ready to go.”
Science Hill prefers to lean on senior running back Chris Thomas, who logged more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage during the regular season, but early deficits in most games forced the Hilltoppers to focus on the pass to play catch-up.
Senior quarterback Connor Batchelder has thrown for 2,230 yards and his top targets, sophomore wide receiver Cole Torbett and senior Solomon Dunn, each have more than 500 receiving yards.
Maryville is limiting opponents to 104 passing yards per game and 13 of the 207 passes they have defended have gone for more than 20 yards.
“They have a quarterback (senior Connor Batchelder) that can get them the ball, and when you watch them on film, they’re not afraid to throw a 50-50 ball and let their guys go get it,” Hunt said. “As a head coach, there is nothing as worrisome as guys throwing deep balls because if you have a deep threat, it can be scary.
“We’ve got to get a pass rush and we’ve got to defend in the back end, which we have, but we have to continue to be consistent.”
Another regular-season gauntlet has the Rebels ready for another postseason run, one they hope ends with a trip to Cookeville for the BlueCross Bowl after finishing a game short last season.
But first, a few more tests await.
“We have to pinch ourselves and realize how fortunate we are to get to be at Maryville High School,” Hunt said. “The bar is set really high, and there is expectation in our program and our community to make a deep playoff run and win a lot of games, but we want it like that.
“When you get to the playoffs, it’s different. I’ve always felt like our kids do a great job of understanding the urgency you have to have when you enter the playoffs. We want to have urgency in the regular season, but there are peaks and valleys, and we want to be peaking as we go into the playoffs. It all starts with playing really well in Round 1.”