BY JIM MILLER
JOHNSON CITY -- For the first time in nearly a half-century, uniform number 11 is being worn by a Science Hill quarterback. Friday night, Reed Hayes put up a performance worthy of the man who donned that jersey before him, the legendary Steve Spurrier.
Hayes threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 109 yards and another score as the Hilltoppers outslugged Greeneville 49-21 in the season opener at a packed Kermit Tipton Stadium.
The Hilltoppers avenged a 26-18 loss in the season opener at Burley Stadium last season by piling up 549 yards of total offense against a Greene Devil defense that returned just one starter from last year's second consecutive Class 4-A state championship team.
The Greene Devils trailed 28-7 at halftime, but scored twice to open the third quarter and had all the momentum until a fluke touchdown brought the Hilltoppers back to life.
"We were doing good things, but we're not good enough to overcome penalties and mistakes," said Greeneville head coach Caine Ballard. "This is a brutal start for us, but I saw some fight. I think we're going to be OK once we get into our league, that's for sure."
Tanner Stewart led the Devils on the ground with 46 yards on 17 carries, but had no run longer than eight yards. Xzavier Goode had 44 yards rushing on five attempts, including a 17-yard touchdown during the third quarter, and Hays Culbreth caught a 49-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
The Devils finished the game with 215 total yards against the Hilltoppers, and committed seven penalties for 59 yards. Third-down conversions were the main story in the game, with Science Hill converting on seven of its 14 attempts and Greeneville going 0-for-7.
Hayes, a three-sport standout at Science Hill, completed 14-of-24 passes and ran the ball 18 times for 109 yards. The senior improvised on several broken plays, including one pass that he threw left-handed.
"He's a great athlete surrounded by a lot of great athletes, which makes him better when you have to worry about four or five other guys on the field. He did a tremendous job," said Ballard.
The Devils came out aggressive on offense, with Stewart converting a fourth-and-short at their own 24 yard line on their first drive of the season. The Devils advanced to the Hilltopper 45 before Stewart was stopped on third-and-2 to force a Greeneville punt.
Malik McGue returned the punt 89 yards for an apparent Science Hill touchdown, but the score was negated by an illegal block near the catch. Unfazed, the Hilltoppers marched 93 yards in 13 plays to take a 6-0 lead on a plunge by Will Adams with 1:28 left in the first quarter.
Greeneville's next drive gained little yardage, and Science Hill came back quickly when Hayes hit Tre Fields for a 21-yard touchdown with 10:38 left in the second quarter. Hayes hooked up with Grant Janeway on the two-point pass for a 14-0 Hilltopper lead.
Science Hill extended its lead to 20-0 with 8:13 left in the first half as Hayes hit McGue in stride down the middle for a 63-yard touchdown pass.
The Greene Devils needed just 33 seconds to respond, using a bit of trickery to get on the scoreboard. Stewart connected with Culbreth for 20 yards to midfield, and on the next play he threw a backward pass to Zack Finchum, who found Culbreth all alone down the middle for a 50-yard touchdown. The extra point from Lincoln Taylor brought the Devils within 20-7 with 7:40 to play in the second quarter.
Looking to answer the Greeneville score, Science Hill overcame several penalties to move the ball all the way to the Devils 1-yard line. The Greene Devil defense rose to the occasion, as Adams was twice stuffed at the goal line, and a desperation scramble and pass by Hayes barely fell incomplete on fourth down with just under six minutes to go in the half.
After catching a break in the punting game earlier in the quarter, the Greene Devils felt the pain of misfortune when Trey Clark's knee accidentally touched the ground as he went to field the snap from center.
Given the ball at the Greeneville 12 with 1:18 left in the half, Science Hill took advantage as Adams plowed in from five yards out with 44 seconds to go. Hayes found O'Ryen Scott for a two-point conversion and a 28-7 Hilltopper lead heading into halftime.
Greeneville came out firing on all cylinders to start the third quarter, using a 66-yard return of the second-half kickoff by Culbreth to set up in Science Hill territory. Goode capped off the six-play, 28-yard drive with a 17-yard run that featured two spins on his way to the end zone, and Taylor's conversion cut the Hilltopper lead to 28-14 with 9:35 left in the third quarter.
Science Hill moved to midfield on its next drive and looked for the home-run ball, but Quan Wilson was able to break up a Hayes pass at the 5-yard line. Forced to punt on fourth down, Hayes' kick was partially deflected and bounced near midfield. As players from both teams looked on, Wilson scooped up the ball in stride and sprinted 50 yards to the end zone for a touchdown, cutting the Science Hill advantage to 28-21 with 6:49 left in the third.
Two penalties left the Hilltoppers facing third-and-15 at its 15 on its ensuing drive, which brought the large Greeneville fan base to its feet in anticipation of a stop. Hayes had other plans, hitting Adams with a short screen pass on which he was able to elude several would-be Devil tacklers. After gaining 30 yards and the first down, Adams fumbled the ball, but Fields picked it up and dashed the remaining 55 yards for a stunning touchdown and a 35-21 Science Hill lead.
"The momentum came back to us, we got excited and made some plays and I think they got a little nervous," Ballard said. "We had them on the ropes, but we couldn't make a play. Adams killed us, and that's what great athletes do."
A short kickoff was recovered by the Hilltoppers at the Greeneville 35, but the Greene Devils turned in another goal-line stand as Trevor Wright knocked down a fourth-down pass in the end zone. However, Greeneville could do little more on offense and Science Hill tacked on fourth-quarter touchdowns on runs of four yards by Hayes and eight yards by Adams. The final eight minutes were played in a downpour which sent most of the fans to their cars.
Adams led the Hilltoppers with 110 yards on 22 carries and three touchdowns, added 57 yards on three catches and also intercepted a pass. Fields was the leading receiver for Science Hill with four catches for 62 yards and a score.
Finchum was a perfect 4-for-4 passing for the Greene Devils for 81 yards and a touchdown, and added a key third-down catch on fourth-and-3 during Greeneville's scoring drive to open the third quarter.
Greeneville will be home next Friday night against Morristown West, while Science Hill travels to Elizabethton.