HUNTSVILLE — Punt. Punt. Punt. Interception. Punt.
That was the way Austin-East’s third quarter possessions went here Friday night, as a solid defensive effort by Scott High repeatedly turned away a Roadrunner offense that was averaging over 30 points per game.
But the bad news was that A-E’s defense was even better, shutting down the Highlanders’ offense and allowing the visitors to escape with a 26-0 win to keep pace with Alcoa atop the Region 2-3A standings.
Austin-East finished the game with six scoring drives but mainly had to settle for field goals. In fact, until the Roadrunners broke free for a 63-yard touchdown run on the game’s final possession — long after the outcome had been decided — they had been held to a single touchdown. The only other team to hold the Roadrunners to fewer than four touchdowns this season has been Class 5A powerhouse Fulton, which defeated A-E 19-14 in an earlier game.
Thanks to a stellar defensive effort, though, field goals were all the Roadrunners would need to remain unbeaten in region play. In fact, at the same time Austin-East was going punt, punt, punt, interception, punt in the third quarter, the Highlanders were likewise going punt, punt, punt, interception, punt.
Austin-East (5-1, 2-0) limited Scott (1-6, 1-2) to just 73 yards of total offense and forced four turnovers, which did not give the Highlanders much of an opportunity to score.
“It was a great effort and our kids played well,” Scott head coach Keith Shannon said. “They came out and played with a lot of enthusiasm and intensity. They played like we know that we can play.”
Austin-East finished with 326 yards of total offense but struggled to move the ball with its passing game. The Highlanders’ secondary and pass rush limited quarterback Chris Hunter to just 10 of 29 for 112 yards and an interception. The pick was made by Tristen Henry in the third quarter.
The Highlanders recorded eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including 61 yards lost in sacks. Caleb Vaughan and Eli Hembree led the way, each with two sacks.
Still, though, the biggest story of the game was Austin-East’s defense, which pitched its second shutout of the season and knocked Scott quarterback Grainger Smith from the game with a suspected concussion.
“My hat is off to Austin-East. They’re a very formidable opponent and it was a good effort by them,” Shannon said. “I sure wish we could’ve walked out of here with that win but I take nothing away from our kids’ effort, their preparation and their enthusiasm.”
Shannon was not immediately sure how quickly Smith would be able to return to action, with this week’s important region game at Kingston looming.
“In the 1970s and 1980s terms that we all know, he got his bell rung,” Shannon said of Smith, adding that he would be under the concussion protocol. “It’ll be in the hands of the doctors as to when he can play.”
Austin-East limited Scott to four three-and-out possessions to start the game. The Highlanders then began to move the football, with their first two first downs of the game, but had two drives in a row end in turnovers, thwarting what might have become scoring opportunities with the Roadrunners leading only 16-0.
“There at one point, it was 16-0 and we kinda felt like the tide was turning in our favor,” Shannon said. “That was a really pivotal point in the game.”
Austin-East managed to limit Scott to a season-low 16 yards through the air. The Highlanders’ rushing attack was led by Tristen Henry’s 28 yards, while Smith added 23 yards before leaving the game with the injury.