PIGEON FORGE — Scott High’s opening possession here Friday was a three-and-out that ended with a blocked punt that Pigeon Forge turned into a touchdown.
That four-play series was the epitome of how the entire night would go, as the Tigers (3-2) blocked three first half punts en route to a 28-0 halftime lead and a 35-6 win over the Highlanders (1-3).
Last year’s Scott-Pigeon Forge battle ended in controversy at Highlander Stadium, when an official’s inadvertent whistle costed the Highlanders a fumble recovery late in the fourth quarter that prevented them an opportunity to win the game.
This year, there would be no late-game drama. Pigeon Forge’s defense and special teams saw to that.
With the Highlanders struggling in the trenches, Pigeon Forge did not allow a first down except for by penalty until midway through the fourth quarter. And while the Highlanders did finish with 178 yards of total offense, 112 of them came in that final period, after the Tigers had jumped out to a 35-0 lead.
“Everything was just moving fast on us,” said Scott High coach Josh Terry, whose team was playing for the first time in three weeks after missing two games due to covid. “I felt like it’s one thing to be sound and sharp in practice, and another thing to be getting live bullets against a very good, well-coached team.”
That’s not to say there weren’t bright spots in the game. The Highlander defense played well at times, with Rylan Griffin snagging an interception on Pigeon Forge’s first offensive possession, and Luke Bowling recovering a fumble to start the second half.
Meanwhile, quarterback Brady Strunk completed 2 of 3 passes for 56 yards — including a 46-yard pass to Griffin in the third quarter — and finished with 106 yards of total offense and a touchdown. Phoenix Norris rushed for 69 yards on 17 carries.
But, for the most part, the game was all about Pigeon Forge. The Tigers finished with 336 yards of offense and, after the interception on their first offensive possession, scored on three straight possessions to end the first half. They ended the night without having to punt the football.
The Highlanders — already hamstrung by numbers, youth and covid — were even more short-staffed for Friday’s game. Skyler Smith, arguably the team’s top lineman, was out with an injury and his status remains questionable moving forward. Cannon Vanhook, another of the team’s top seniors, only returned from quarantine on Friday and was limited, particularly on the offensive side of the football.
“We’re down some guys. I understand that,” Terry said. “We’re young in some places and having to get old the hard way. But obviously it’s not something we’re going to sugar-coat. We’ve got some work to do.”
The Highlanders gained only four yards on three plays to start the game, before Pigeon Forge blocked the punt after a high snap slowed things down and Noah Dyer recovered it for a touchdown.
Scott High then came up a yard short of a first down and had to punt the ball. But the Highlanders quickly got the ball back when Griffin first tipped a pass and then caught it as he fell to the ground.
Pigeon Forge’s defense again held, though Scott High did pick up a first down on a fourth down offsides penalty. Four plays later, Pigeon Forge got a hand on its second punt of the night. And while it looked like the Scott defense was going to get a stop, the Tigers scored on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Tyson McFall to Judson Statham on fourth down, pushing the lead to 14-0.
A Highlander 3-and-out ended with another Pigeon Forge touchdown when Bryce Effler scored on a 13-yard run, giving his team a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Yet another Scott High punt was turned into another Pigeon Forge touchdown when Brady Maples scored on a 21-yard run.
Pigeon Forge’s final touchdown came on a 73-yard touchdown pass from McFall to Blake Hill late in the third quarter.
Scott High responded with its only score of the night, which came on an 8-yard run by Strunk after a 44-yard pass to Griffin.
Terry reiterated after the game that his team is having to grow up on the job.
“The bright spot is they have some bright futures in front of them,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade those guys for anybody on Planet Earth right now. I like what they bring as far as work goes.”
The Highlanders return home from Pigeon Forge for a 3-game home stand that begins with a homecoming game against Gibbs.
“Win, lose or draw, God’s still God,” Terry said. “I’ve got a great family at home. I don’t have to reach outside of this. (But) I love this job. I love it as much right now as I did when I took it.”