HUNTSVILLE — It would’ve been hard to have scripted a tougher start than the one Scott High experienced against Region 2-3A foe Gatlinburg-Pittman here on Friday.
A high snap on a punt attempt from midfield on the Highlanders’ first possession gave Gatlinburg a short field and led to a touchdown. A fumble as the Highlanders were driving deep into Gatlinburg territory and threatening to tie the game ended that scoring threat and later led to a second Gatlinburg score. And, two plays after that, another Scott High fumble gave Gatlinburg the ball back deep in Highlander territory and led to another touchdown.
Three bad plays, three Gatlinburg scores. The Highlanders played their guests evenly after that, but the damage had been done, and Gatlinburg ultimately pulled out a 28-7 win to improve to 2-0 in region play.
“Obviously it’s disappointing,” Scott High head coach Josh Terry said later. “I’m not going to take anything away from GP. They’re a good football team and they deserved everything they got tonight. (But) it’s disappointing just seeing the overall, lackadaisical way we came out. We had some bad things early.”
One week after the Highlanders had 110 rushing yards in a win over Grainger, they couldn’t get much going on the ground against Gatlinburg, finishing with -20 yards rushing. That statistic is somewhat misleading, as it takes the bad snap on the punt attempt and the other fumbles into account. But, still, yards were tough to come by. Scott’s leading rushers, Dillion Day and Grainger Smith, each had just 13 yards against a stingy Gatlinburg defense.
Gatlinburg tailback Bryce Akey, meanwhile, finished with 108 yards and four touchdowns.
And, yet, if not for the turnovers, the outcome might have been different. Gatlinburg had just one more first down than Scott, total offense was not especially lopsided — and would have been almost even if not for the 33-yard loss on the first quarter punt attempt — and time of possession was equally divided.
“I heard a saying one time that said good fortune favors the bold,” Terry said. “I think right now what we’re fighting is an overall sense of what’s gonna go wrong or an overall panic, in terms of not messing up instead of playing mistake-free, instead of making plays, instead of cutting loose and letting it rip as somebody who’s seeking to win would.”
Gatlinburg marched 40 yards in 13 plays on its first possession, chewing nearly three and a half minutes off the clock before missing a 47-yard field goal attempt. After G-P reached the 30-yard-line, the Highlander defense forced three straight incomplete passes.
Scott High then put together back-to-back first downs to advance the ball to midfield. But Gatlinburg’s defense stiffened, and the high snap on fourth down forced the ball over on downs at the 15-yard-line.
From there, Gatlinburg needed just three plays to find the end zone, with Akey scoring from 11 yards out on third down.
The Highlanders appeared ready to answer, putting together a successful drive that took them deep into Gatlinburg territory. They converted a fourth down with a five-yard run by Daniel Hembree, then picked up a first-and-goal on the seven-yard-line with a Day-to-Hembree pass.
But a fumble on the next play was recovered by Gatlinburg’s Hayden Proffitt, and G-P went right back to work on offense.
Picking up yards in chunks, it took Gatlinburg just two plays to get to midfield, with Akey eventually scoring on a nine-yard run on third down to give his team a 14-0 lead with five minutes remaining in the first half.
Three plays later, a snap over the head of quarterback Alex Rector was recovered by Gatlinburg at the Highlanders’ nine-yard-line, with Akey scoring from 10 yards out two plays later.
Down 21-0 at the half, Scott High came out fighting in the second half. Day returned the third quarter kickoff 69 yards to Gatlinburg’s 18-yard-line. But the Highlanders could not move the ball, and a 33-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
After Scott’s defense forced Gatlinburg to punt, the Highlanders found the end zone with a lengthy drive that saw them twice convert fourth downs. The first came on a fourth-and-long, when Alex Rector found Smith on a 14-yard pass play. The second came on a fourth-and-short, when Rector picked up the first down with his legs.
Later, Rector scored on a one-yard run to cut Gatlinburg’s lead to 21-7.
Unfortunately, Gatlinburg had an answer, covering 68 yards in eight plays before Akey scored on an 11-yard run with 6:48 remaining.
With Rector completing passes of 17 yards and 38 yards to Dawson Branstetter, the Highlanders moved the ball inside Gatlinburg’s 20-yard-line again, but the drive eventually ended on downs, and Gatlinburg was able to run out the clock.
“There are a few guys here and there that obviously played their guts out,” Terry said. “There is nobody that didn’t make mistakes tonight, but there’s stuff to work with. There’s stuff to build on.”