HUNTSVILLE — Missed opportunities.
That was the theme for a second consecutive week, as Scott High came up on the short end of a 21-14 decision against Stone Memorial at Highlander Stadium Friday evening.
The Highlanders got off to a tough start, falling behind 14-0 in the first half before rallying in the second half to make a game of it. Ultimately, though, missed opportunities were the difference in the game.
“It was just a slow start on us and it cost us in a game that we expected to win and that I feel like we should’ve won,” Scott Coach Keith Shannon said.
The Panthers scored on two of their first three possessions, marching 83 yards in 12 plays for one score and following up by turning a Highlander turnover into a quick score.
The Highlanders’ defense turned the tide after that, forcing three consecutive turnovers. Stone’s offense was able to close on a strong note, however, scoring on a 78-yard drive to give itself a two-touchdown cushion in the fourth quarter, then managing to pick up enough yards to gain first downs and keep the clock running after the Highlanders cut the gap back to a single touchdown late in the game.
“We dug ourselves a hole and we had to scrap and fight our way out of that hole,” Shannon said. “There were some big plays there in the second half that we didn’t make for ourselves. The situation is what it is, but I don’t fault the kids’ effort.
“A few critical plays here and there and it’s a whole different game, and we’re not feeling as low as a snake’s belly, we’re feeling high as a kite. That’s just the nature of the game,” Shannon added.
Stone Memorial was particularly effective in its ground game, rolling up 269 yards of rushing offense. The Panthers also converted seven of 10 third downs and completed all five of the passes they attempted.
The Panthers set the tone early by taking their first possession the length of the field, scoring on a four-yard touchdown run by Jayden Bowman.
The Highlanders responded by marching deep into Stone Memorial territory before turning the ball over on downs. A 40-yard pass completion from Grainger Smith to Ryan Newport got the ball rolling, and another completion from Smith to Newport converted a fourth down and moved the ball inside the red zone.
But Stone’s defense stiffened its back, flushing Smith from the pocket on another fourth down from the 16-yard-line and tackling him before he reached the sticks for the conversion.
Later, the Panthers took advantage of a Scott turnover, recovering a fumble at the Highlanders’ 17-yard-line. A touchdown came on the next play, when Thomas Arnold found Jacob Brown through the air.
The first half ended with a Mason Owens interception, which set the stage for Scott’s defensive work in the third quarter.
The Highlanders forced and recovered fumbles on Stone Memorial’s first two possessions of the second half. First, Tristen Henry recovered a fumble to end a scoring threat by the Panthers. Then, after the Highlanders punted the ball back, Tyler Kinney recovered a fumble at the Panthers’ 11-yard-line to set up a two-yard scoring run by Smith to get the Highlanders on the board.
The Panthers responded by driving the length of the field to score with 9:18 left to play, widening the lead to 21-7.
But Scott’s offense was not finished, responding with another touchdown of its own. The Highlanders drove 63 yards in 13 plays, with Smith scoring on another two-yard run to cut the lead to 21-14 with 3:42 to play.
Needing a stop to get the ball back and give its offense one last chance to win the game or force overtime, Scott was unable to get Stone Memorial off the field. The Panthers picked up three first downs to run out the clock and preserve the win.
“We’ve got a bunch of heavy hearts in there (in the locker room),” Shannon said afterward. “We’ve lost two games we should’ve won. If you want to blame anybody, blame me. But we’re not playing the blame game. I told them I’ve got their backs and I hope they’ve got their coaches’ backs.”