In the battle for postseason relevance, Scott High’s dramatic win over Grainger doesn’t mean much — no more than the Highlanders’ season-opening losses to Clinton and Stone Memorial meant.
Of the four games Scott has played thus far, only the Alcoa game can go on the resume to continue playing in November. The rest have been non-region games.
But, sometimes, the bid for postseason appearances can start with non-region games. It is in those games that matter little on paper that confidence and momentum are built. And, on Friday, a Highlander team needing something to feel good about found it with late-game heroics against the visiting Grizzlies from Rutledge, Tenn.
Scott High coach Josh Terry spoke after the game about his team “holding composure” and “keeping faith.” Sometimes, when losses mount, that’s not easy to do — especially when they’re the sort of losses that rip your heart out and gnaw at your gut.
Late in Friday’s game against Grainger, some might have been thinking, “Here we go again.” The Highlanders had been in the red zone four times with just six points to show for it — one scoring threat had ended on a fumble, another had ended with a blocked field goal. It wasn’t drastically unlike Scott’s season-opener against Clinton, or even the next week’s game at Stone Memorial, when missed opportunities haunted the Highlanders.
This time, though, there would be no second-guessing. Mason Jones made a big play on a night that was full of big plays by the Highlander defense, stepping in front of a Grainger pass and returning the interception inside the 10-yard-line. That set up Alex Rector’s third-and-goal score on a quarterback sneak, and the celebration was on.
The first half of Scott’s season has been well-documented. The Highlanders could easily be 3-1 instead of 1-3, and the narrative of the 2018 campaign would be much different. But with a couple of big plays late in the fourth quarter against Grainger, there’s an opportunity to change the narrative anyway. The difference between putting yourself in position to win and actually winning is that you go from thinking you can to knowing you can.
No, the Highlanders aren’t 3-1. But they’re just as well-positioned for a playoff berth as they would be if they were. And now there’s no doubt: they’ve got the grit and determination to finish the job when it matters most.
The reality is that Region 2-3A is wide open. It’s one of the most wide-open regions in the entire state when it comes to playoff potential. Aside from the Alcoa test already completed and the trip to Austin-East that looms at the end of the month, this week’s visit from Gatlinburg-Pittman may be the Highlanders’ toughest remaining test in region play. Gatlinburg is looking good, and dominated Northview Academy two weeks ago, 43-0.
But for Scott High, a playoff bid is still very much in play. On paper, it would still be in play even if the fourth quarter hadn’t gone the Highlanders’ way on Friday, even if they were now 0-4 and the narrative was that they could be 3-1. The fourth quarter did go their way, though, proving what can happen when — as Terry said — you keep faith and keep composure.
The road to the postseason has to start somewhere — and faith and composure are good first steps, even if the opponent isn’t a region foe.
Indians look to regroup: Oneida looked good in a season-opening win at Claiborne, and even better in a Week 2 win at Gatlinburg. Those early victories sent the Indians soaring into the Top 10 of Tennessee Class 2A football.
Then came a lackluster first half against Wartburg, which wound up being a prelude to what was looming at Harriman.
Oneida defeated Wartburg handedly, but was only up a touchdown at halftime against a team that was decidedly out-manned. At Harriman on Friday, the Indians moved the ball almost at will in the first half, but turnovers — and, in one case, a fumble that did not result in a turnover — ended each drive prematurely. Then came the second half, when the Blue Devils took complete control and handed the Indians their first loss of the season.
Oneida coach Tony Lambert was clearly not pleased with his team’s effort on Friday, or with the effort in practice in the week leading up to Friday’s game. He even mentioned that the loss didn’t matter as much as it should’ve, saying, “I thought I’d see a few more tears out there. I didn’t see that. That bothers me.”
Ultimately, Oneida’s undefeated start to the season came to a halt because the Indians didn’t “play there,” in Lambert’s words.
“We’re sitting here 3-0, ranked seventh in the state,” Lambert said. “We’ve had a motto for many years that I adopted: ‘If you want to stay there, you gotta play there.’ I asked them, ‘Did you play there?’ They said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well that’s what you get.’ Everybody’s gunning for us and Harriman was a talented football team.”
But Lambert, who said it’s his responsibility to get his team back into shape ahead of this week’s visit from Cumberland Gap, knows the Indians have the potential to fix what needs to be fixed.
“Our kids have been known to be resilient and our coaches work hard,” he said. “My job is to try to get them to bounce back and see what we can do. If our kids prove to be what I think they are, we’ll come back ready to play.
“We’re gonna love on ‘em,” Lambert added. “We’re gonna scold ‘em, but we’re gonna love on ‘em. I think we’ve got a pretty fair football team when we come to play, I’ll be honest.”
From the Pressbox is a weekly sports column of Independent Herald Editor Ben Garrett.