Zack Sexton celebrates his fumble recovery for a touchdown with teammates Brandon Carson and Nick Lay during the second quarter of Scott High's 21-0 win at Northview Academy in Sevierville, Tenn. on Friday, October 12, 2018 | LeEtta Boyatt/IH

SEVIERVILLE — Three second quarter touchdowns were enough to propel Scott High back into the thick of the Region 2-3A playoff chase here Friday, as the Highlanders stunned Northview Academy with a 21-0 shutout win.

The Cougars (4-5, 2-3), who could have secured a playoff berth with a win over the Highlanders, instead encountered a stingy Scott High defense that returned to its early-season form after being victimized at times in the past three games.

The Highlanders (2-7, 1-4) forced three turnovers, limited Northview Academy to just 1-of-10 on third downs and allowed only 170 yards of offense while pitching a shutout for the first time in a region game in 10 years. It was a defensive play that sparked the Highlanders, with Zack Sexton pouncing on a fumble in the end zone to give his team an early 8-0 lead.

Offensively, Scott finished with 269 yards of offense, with senior running back Dawson Branstetter serving as the work horse. Branstetter had 114 yards on 23 carries. Junior quarterback Alex Rector completed 9 of 12 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown.

Astoundingly, Northview Academy was flagged for 17 penalties, totaling 155 yards. Scott High also had a lot of penalties — 10 for 100 yards.

“It kinda got chippy there a little bit,” Scott High head coach Josh Terry said. “I don’t think it was necessarily coached, but you had an injury there and when that happens you have to wonder how 16- and 17-year-olds are going to react. Our guys got into some situations where they had to be more mature than they usually are. For the most part, I was pleased with how they reacted.”

Scott High had an opportunity to put points on the board on its first possession of the game. The Highlanders forced a 3-and-out, then drove from their 39-yard-line to Northview’s 11. But a big loss on second and short ultimately forced a 37-yard field goal try that failed.

From there, the two teams traded punts, with Andrew Hembree pinning Northview inside the 10-yard-line on his kick, which proved to be a turning point. After a holding penalty backed the Cougars up, a fumble in the end zone was recovered by Sexton, giving the Highlanders an 8-0 lead after Rector’s 2-point conversion run.

Northview finally recorded a first down with a 46-yard pass play on the ensuing possession, moving the ball into Scott High territory for the first time. But Mason Owens — fresh back from a leg injury — intercepted a pass two plays later, and that set up a 74-yard scoring play on third and long by the Highlanders. The score came on a pass from Rector to Cody Emmons, putting Scott in front 15-0.

Yet another 3-and-out by Northview led to yet another Scott High touchdown late in the second quarter. The Highlanders marched 83 yards in nine plays, with a 44-yard run by Branstetter and a 25-yard pass from Grainger Smith to Alex Chambers setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Rector to give the Highlanders a 21-0 lead.

The second half started with Scott High threatening to score again, taking the kickoff and marching crisply into the red zone. But the drive stalled there, and the ball was forced over on downs.

Northview responded with its best drive of the game, marching from the 11 to Scott High’s 22 after a fourth down conversion. But the wheels came off there, as the Highlanders stepped up in a big way defensively. First came a 2-yard loss by Hembree on first down. Then came an 11-yard loss by Nick Lay on second down. That was followed by an 8-yard loss by Sexton on third down. What started as 1st-and-10 at the 22-yard-line turned into a 4th-and-35 at the 47, forcing the Cougars to punt.

Both teams struggled to move the ball for the remainder of the third quarter and into the fourth. Northview moved inside Scott High’s 15-yard-line late in the game, but Brandon Carson recovered a fumble to preserve the shutout.

“First of all, we got a goose egg,” Terry said. “I’m going to order some pizza for this young ball club that got the shutout tonight.”