There is no doubt about which team is Scott High’s biggest rival.
Amid the ever-changing landscape of Tennessee high school football, other annual opponents have come and gone — Loudon, York Institute, Anderson County, Catholic and others among them. But the one constant, dating back to 1983, has been Kingston.
For 33 consecutive years, Scott High and Kingston have squared off on the gridiron. On Friday, the Highlanders and Yellow Jackets will make it 34 straight years.
But for however big that rivalry might have been over the years, it was awfully lopsided for a long time.
In fact, from Kingston’s perspective, the rivalry paled in comparison to its annual tangles with inner-county foes like Rockwood and Harriman.
That’s because, from 1983 to 2012, Kingston won 27 out of 30 times the two teams met. Throw in a pair of wins by the Yellow Jackets in 1977 and 1978, and they held a commanding 29-3 lead in the series. Scott High won in 1984, 1997 and 2003. That’s it.
But in the past five years, the Highlanders have turned this series on its nose. Scott has won three out of the last four meetings against Kingston. Put another way, the Highlanders have doubled their win total in the Kingston series since 2012, accomplishing something in just four years that took more than 30 years prior to accomplish.
Last year’s Scott High seniors became the first class in school history to have a winning record against Kingston. With a win this week, this year’s seniors can become the second class in school history to have a winning record against the Yellow Jackets.
And make no mistake: this year’s seniors, and their coaches, are anxious to try to accomplish just that.
“We’ve always said up here that this is THE game,” Scott High head coach Keith Shannon said. “It’s the team that has always been on Scott High’s schedule, forever.”
On paper, the two teams don’t match up very well this season. Kingston is 5-1, Scott is 1-6. But Shannon knows that when two old rivals get together, records matter little.
“I used to play football a little bit down the road, and coach football a little bit down the road, and I remember hearing those guys talking a little bit about those (rivalry) games,” Shannon said. “Throw the records out the window, they don’t matter.
“You’re talking about kids that remember their daddies playing in this game. And I’m dating it a little but I imagine that there are some that have heard their granddaddies talk about playing in this game,” Shannon added.
For the Highlanders, this game represents an opportunity to turn around their season on a single night. One of their goals — a winning season — is no longer obtainable. But another — going to the playoffs — very much is. Beating Kingston is a pride thing even when the postseason is not on the line. A win over the Yellow Jackets this year, though, would mean even more for the Scott High program, leaving the Highlanders just one win away from a playoff berth.
“I told the kids that I’m envious because they get to play this game,” Shannon said. “This one promises to be one of those games. I think the teams are probably going to match up evenly with each other. So Katy bar the door.”
Shannon isn’t wrong about the two teams matching up evenly, regardless of what the records are. Kingston dominated Stone Memorial on Friday, 42-15, and the Highlanders lost to the Panthers earlier this season. But the Yellow Jackets were defeated by Austin-East earlier in the year, 36-6. Scott played the Roadrunners to a 26-0 final last week. Kingston also struggled to put away Northview Academy two weeks ago, and the Cougars were beaten by three touchdowns by Gatlinburg-Pittman — a team the Highlanders beat three weeks ago.
Shannon said his team is ready to tee it up and play.
“We’re going to play and have fun. We’re going to play reckless, loose and like our hair is on fire,” he said. “That’s just kinda our way of approaching it and playing it, and we’re going forward with that mentality.”
Indians attempt to find themselves
An open date could not have come at a better time for Oneida. After their first 5-0 start since the 2008 semifinal season, the Indians have lost back-to-back games, and the schedule only gets tougher with the state’s No. 1 Class 2A team and arguably the state’s best Class 1A team lurking, separated only by a long road trip to Bledsoe County.
Oneida head coach Tony Lambert has been around football a long time. He knows what it takes to win games, and he was not happy with the effort he saw from his team in last week’s 27-7 loss to Rockwood. Lambert did not mince words after the game, saying his team can embrace the opportunity to improve or look towards the remainder of the season with fear and dread.
“We have two weeks to prepare for the best team in the state,” Lambert said. “That’s a long time to dread them, or that’s a long time to wait to get this taste out of our mouth. Win, lose or draw, how are we going to step up?”
Lambert said it starts with toughness.
“Losing two games don’t bother me,” he said. “It’s the way we’ve played the last two games that has bothered me. We’re getting hit in the mouth a little bit and we’re taking it. That’s the part I don’t understand.”
Lambert essentially said that no starting position is safe as the Indians go into their off week.
“We talk about playing the guys that it matters to,” Lambert said, referencing a quote from his long-time friend in the business, Alcoa’s Gary Rankin. “I want my guys to look around and see who it matters to when you lose a game like (Rockwood). We’re going to play the guys it matters to and there is no pecking order. If we have to go down to freshman to get the job done, we will.”
Lambert shouldered the blame for what he called a change in the character of his team since its 5-0 start, but said the Indians have to get down to the fundamentals of football.
“I didn’t see Rockwood doing anything fancy,” Lambert said. “They ran the football wide, ran it up the middle, ran the football wide and threw it down the sideline. We’ve got to do the same thing. We’ve got to find a way to execute our plays. And we’ve got to get down to blocking and tackling.”