HUNTSVILLE — Grainger wanted to avoid overtime. It did, but probably not in the manner the Grizzlies envisioned.
Deadlocked in a 6-6 defensive battle with Scott High on Friday, Grainger — which had not completed a pass against a stingy Highlander defense all night — took to the air. Mason Jones made the Grizzlies pay dearly, stepping in front of the pass, intercepting it and returning it to the seven-yard-line to set up a one-yard touchdown plunge by quarterback Alex Rector with only seconds remaining, as Scott High pulled out a 13-6 win.
On a night when neither team had much success moving the ball — they combined for just 290 yards of offense — Jones’ interception came at a crucial time. The Grizzlies hadn’t scored a touchdown since the game’s opening possession; the Highlanders hadn’t scored a touchdown at all. But with eight seconds remaining, Rector snuck across the goal line on a third down play from the one-yard-line to give Scott High its first win of the season, and the first win of Josh Terry’s tenure as the Highlanders’ head coach.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Terry said, “(but) they made the plays when it mattered and held composure. The defense played great all night long. Guys read keys well and flowed to the football. It was a good team effort as far as keeping the faith, keeping composure, and getting it done when it mattered.”
Grainger’s game-opening offensive possession was a well-executed, grind-it-out approach. The Grizzlies marched 69 yards in 14 plays, taking a whopping 7:34 off the clock while converting one fourth down and two third downs. Preston Owens scored from three yards out to give the Grizzlies a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter.
After that, the Highlander defense dominated. Grainger had just 70 yards of total offense for the remainder of the game, converting just one of seven third downs and going zero for three on fourth down.
Scott’s offense, though, was mostly stuck in neutral against an equally imposing defensive effort by the Grizzlies. The Highlanders, in fact, had just 40 yards of offense in the first half.
But the Grainger lead was just 6-3 at halftime, with Rector hitting a 31-yard field goal early in the second quarter to cut the deficit in half. The Highlander defense took care of the rest.
After Grainger’s game-opening touchdown, the Highlanders picked up one first down on their first possession before being forced to punt. Nick Lay recovered a fumble to give the Highlanders their first scoring opportunity of the night, as Grainger’s 25-yard-line. But on third-and-long, Scott fumbled it back to the Grizzlies, with Parker Acuff recovering.
That fumble, coupled with a penalty against Grainger and some key stops by Highlander defenders, pinned the Grizzlies deep in their own territory. A short, 27-yard punt gave the Highlanders possession at the 34-yard-line early in the second quarter. And while a first-and-goal from the seven-yard-line did not result in a touchdown, Rector connected on the field goal to cut the deficit to 6-3.
The Highlanders got their offense in gear when the second half began, with their two best drives of the game.
The first did not result in points, as a first-and-goal again failed to produce a touchdown, and Rector’s field goal attempt was blocked. Two holding penalties — one of which came after Grainger Smith had advanced the ball to the two-yard-line — ended the touchdown threat and forced the 38-yard field goal attempt.
But after Grainger turned the ball over on downs, the Highlanders were back in business. A steady dose of Dillion Day moved the ball to the Grizzlies’ 12-yard-line, and the Highlanders ultimately tied the game on another 31-yard field goal by Rector on the final play from scrimmage in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter saw Grainger threaten to take the lead after a short punt by the Highlanders. But from the 18-yard-line, Daniel Hembree came up with a key stop five yards deep in the backfield, and the Grizzlies ultimately turned the ball over on downs.
The Highlanders punted the ball again with just over three minutes remaining. Grainger was first backed up by a holding penalty, then attempted a pass on second-and-12. It was intercepted by Jones and returned to the seven-yard-line.
Smith ran the ball twice to get it to the one-yard-line, before Rector scored on third-and-goal with eight seconds remaining.
“Mostly tonight it was shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties,” Terry said. “We hit a stage there in the third quarter where it was about putting a drive together and penalties were taking us out of situations.” But, he added, “It was just all around a great job by the team tonight.”
Offensive coordinator Tanner Williams credited the team’s ability to push the ball across the goal line in the game’s final seconds.
“I know they were tired,” he said. “That shows me the fight that they had. It takes that type of fight to win these types of games. Not everything was pretty, but we had the fight and we brought everybody together to get it done.”