HUNTSVILLE | Facing what might have been its most talented opponent of the season to date, Scott High did not flinch to start Friday's game against Gatlinburg-Pittman.
The Highlanders, kicking off to start the game, used a well-executed onside kick to win a possession, and then promptly marched 47 yards to punch the ball into the end zone and grab an early lead.
Unfortunately, the lead would not last long. Gatlinburg-Pittman snatched it away with a pair of touchdowns by Teegan Avera, who would finish the game with 162 yards and four scores on 11 carries, and from there the visitors rolled to a 51-20 win at Highlander Stadium.
But for a Scott High team looking for pieces to build on as it attempts to battle its way back after a dismal two years in Class 4A, there were several things to point to in Friday's game.
It was Tommy Fitzgerald who recovered the onside kick by Hugo Henry to start the game. The Highlanders had some success against Fulton a week earlier by using what Highlander coach Chris Harris refers to as his ogre package, a full-house backfield that is designed to lean on strength and muscle. With Gatlinburg featuring more size and strength on the interior than the Falcons did, the Highlanders approached the game by emptying the backfield and spreading the field, using quarterback draws and jet sweeps heavily in their offensive attack.
The Highlanders twice converted third downs on the opening drive, before Auton Whaley punched the ball in from two yards out to give his team the early lead.
Unfortunately, Gatlinburg needed just seven plays to tie the game. Another onside kick attempt was nearly recovered by Scott, but from there GP marched crisply to the end zone, with Avera scoring the first of his touchdowns on a three-yard run.
The Highlanders turned the ball over on a fumble inside the 20-yard-line just two plays later, and Gatlinburg turned the turnover into a touchdown, with Avera scoring on a 15-yard run.
After picking up one first down, the Highlanders were forced to punt, and Gatlinburg quickly found the end zone again, this time on a 34-yard run by Avera.
A 3-and-out by Scott gave Gatlinburg possession early in the second quarter, and GP scored on an 11-yard pass from Brady Hammonds to Whittman Whaley, making the score 28-7.
Disaster struck again for the Highlanders on the ensuing possession. A blocked punt rolled out the side of the end zone for a safety, giving Gatlinburg a 30-7 lead and a short field after the kickoff. Avera scored on a one-yard run late in the half to make it 37-7.
The Highlanders scored on the first possession of the second half with a fake punt. Anderson rolled right, then found freshman Brett Hall behind the Gatlinburg punt return team for a 69-yard scoring strike.
Gatlinburg scored on a 9-yard run by Cecilio Rodriquez, but the Highlanders scored again on the ensuing possession. It was Strunk who did the honors, scoring from a yard out to make it a 44-20 game.
Gatlinburg scored last on a 4-yard run by Hammonds, making it 51-20 with 7:10 remaining.
The clock expired with Scott High marching deep in GP territory.
Strunk finished with 81 yards on 19 carries, while completing 6 of 13 passes for 25 yards.