For nearly an hour in south Knoxville Saturday evening — 24 minutes of game time — Scott High looked tantalizingly close to pulling off what would have been remembered as one of the greatest upsets in school history, and what would have likely been one of the most improbable upsets in Tennessee high school basketball’s recent history.

The final score, 80-54, suggests that the potential upset that wasn’t shouldn’t even be mentioned. The final score suggests that Fulton dominated Saturday’s game.

But the final score didn’t even come close to telling the story.

One of the biggest cliches in sports is to say that a game was closer — or more lopsided — than a final score indicates. Yet that tired, old saying was never more true than at Jody Wright Arena Saturday.

As Wright himself watched from his team’s sideline — sometimes appearing frustrated, sometimes almost helpless — first-year head coach Jordan Jeffers inspired his Highlanders to what could almost be described as a dominating performance through much of the game’s first three quarters.

The Highlanders shot the ball well. They also defended well. They scrapped, clawed, and generally turned in an inspired performance that had the state’s defending Class AA champion and overwhelming favorite to repeat on the ropes.

Scott entered Saturday’s game against nearly impossible odds. No one — least of all those Knoxvillians who showed up expecting a rout by the home team — gave the Highlanders any kind of a chance to compete against the Falcons, who have been the state’s top-ranked Class AA team for much of the season.

And, perhaps, somewhere deep inside, you always knew the other shoe would drop. Fulton would catch fire, and then it would be lights out.

But for three quarters it didn’t happen. When Fulton landed a punch, Scott retaliated. For three quarters, there was one team in Wright’s gym that wanted to advance to the field of 32 teams still vying for a Class AA championship, and that team was wearing black jerseys with red numerals. For three quarters, Scott out-hustled Fulton, played with more heart than Fulton, and beat the Falcons to every 50-50 ball.

When the other shoe did drop, the game got ugly in a hurry. Fulton went on a run that is seldom seen in high school basketball, out-scoring the Highlanders 39-8 in the game’s final period. That’s what championship-caliber teams do. They find a way to overcome adversity, and you have to give the Falcons credit for doing just that.

But on some nights in high school sports, the outcome of a game really does come down to pure talent, and which team has the most of it. That’s too bad, because if it came down to heart and desire, there is no doubt about which team would have emerged victorious in Saturday’s Region 2-AA quarterfinal. And Class AA would be looking for a new champion to crown in 2017.

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Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at bgarrett@ihoneida.com. Follow him on Twitter, @benwgarrett.