We said it after Oneida’s 50-21 loss to Williamsburg on Aug. 20, and we’ll say it again after Scott High’s own season-opening loss: The game wasn’t necessarily as bad as the final score indicated.
On the same night that the Indians were bouncing back from their opening-game disappointment with a 17-14 win over rival Greenback, Scott High fell at Coalfield in its first game of the season, 35-7.
At first glance, the game wasn’t close. It ended the same way as Oneida’s game in Corbin, Ky.: with a running clock in the second half.
But a breakdown of the game reveals a much closer contest than the final score and the running clock indicated.
Consider this: It was a 14-0 game at halftime. It could’ve easily been 14-14. Or even 14-7 in Scott High’s favor.
The Yellow Jackets’ only sustained scoring drive of the first half — one of only two in the entire game for Coalfield — saw them cover 58 yards in 12 plays on their second possession. But it was an improbable drive in some ways. The ‘Jackets twice converted third and long before scoring on fourth and long.
On third and seven, quarterback Cole Hines was forced to scramble and managed to rip off a big gain. Then, facing third and 10, Hines was able to convert a 16-yard pass to Landon Gaylon. The Yellow Jackets scored on a 20-yard pass play on fourth and 12.
Credit Coalfield for making big plays on offense when it mattered most. The point of this analysis isn’t to suggest that the Yellow Jackets weren’t the better team. But the fact remains that Scott High’s defense played itself into favorable positions, only to give up big plays at the most inopportune of times.
For the game, Coalfield finished with just four more first downs than Scott — 14 to 10 — which is more balanced than you’d typically expect in a game with a four-touchdown spread.
Turnovers played a key role in Friday’s game. Three of Coalfield’s five touchdowns were scored off turnovers. The first was an interception just three plays after the Yellow Jackets’ touchdown that set them up inside the Highlanders’ 10-yard-line.
Again, it took a fourth down conversion for the Yellow Jackets to find the end zone, this time on fourth and goal from the 1-yard-line.
So Coalfield scored twice in the first half, and converted on fourth down on both scoring plays — after using two third-and-long conversions to set up the first score and an interception returned to the 8-yard-line to set up the second.
The Yellow Jackets had 14 points at halftime. Change the outcome of few enough plays to count on one hand, and they might have been shut out in the first half. They weren’t, because they made the plays they needed to make.
And that includes on defense. Scott had two golden opportunities to score in the first half. The first came on a fumble recovery inside Coalfield’s 20-yard-line. But the Highlanders had a first down false start penalty that placed them behind the sticks, and ultimately settled for a field goal attempt that was blocked.
After a three-and-out by the Yellow Jackets, Scott High was on the move again. A nice punt return by Rylan Griffin set things up nicely, and the Highlanders eventually moved inside Coalfield’s 5-yard-line, facing a second-and-short from the four. Coalfield’s defense bowed its back — again making the plays that mattered most when they most mattered — and turned the Highlanders away on fourth down.
The biggest stat of the first half? Fourth down conversions. Coalfield was 2 of 2. Scott was 0 of 1. And as the Highlanders headed to the half, the folks in red could only wonder about what might have been.
Things got out of hand in the third quarter. Coalfield picked up 46 yards on its first two offensive snaps of the third quarter, sparking a 78-yard-drive that resulted in a touchdown.
But again a mistake plagued Scott High. At the end of a nice play that would have been a third down conversion, the Highlanders fumbled the ball back to Coalfield, and the Yellow Jackets were again able to turn the short field into points for a 28-point advantage.
Following another five-yard penalty that placed the Highlanders’ offense behind the sticks, Scott was forced to punt the ball again, and Coalfield’s offense — which was by then clicking on all cylinders — quickly covered 50 yards to complete the 35-point advantage needed for a continuous running clock.
Typically, though, a 35-point lead and a running clock means one team has thoroughly dominated the other. That simply didn’t seem like the case in Friday’s game. The end result is the same: A “W” for one team, and an “L” for the other. But as was the case in Oneida’s season-opener, the game was a good reminder that games aren’t always what they appear to be on paper.
Ultimately, there were two issues that plagued Scott High perhaps more than others in Friday’s opener: The Highlanders are hamstrung on offense. There’s no way you can’t not be when you’ve lost as many players in key positions as late in the preparation stages as the Highlanders have. And the Highlanders are hamstrung by a lack of depth, with only 33 players on the roster. The shortage of players on offense manifested itself in the first half, when the Highlanders were shut out despite having opportunities to score. The shortage of players overall manifested itself in the third quarter, when Coalfield began to hum offensively against a Highlander defense that was worn out.
Oneida responded to its first-week struggles with a big win over an old rival. Unfortunately for Scott High, its schedule gets brutally difficult after this; the Highlanders will host one of the best Class 4A teams in the state in South Doyle this week. And the roster problems aren’t going away. You don’t just pick up players in the middle of the season — though the Highlanders will hope that injured junior runningback Will Young is eventually able to rejoin the team, which will certainly help.