I said prior to Scott High’s game against Austin-East that the Highlanders might have faced as much adversity this season as any team in Tennessee high school football.
Then came their game against the Roadrunners, and even more injuries for the Highlanders. By the second half, both senior quarterback Alex Rector and senior wideout Mason Owens — who had connected for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Cumberland Gap and had scored Scott’s only touchdown against the Roadrunners — had joined the walking wounded on the sideline. Rector suffered a dislocated shoulder, which will likely cause him to miss this week’s game against Kingston — yet another critical blow for the Highlanders. Owens is expected to be available against the Yellow Jackets, but perhaps not at 100 percent after spending the week in a walking boot after suffering a sprained ankle.
The number of injuries are astounding, almost mind-boggling. Throw in the off-the-field developments that caused Highlander head coach Josh Terry to dismiss three players from the team — two of them starters who had played valuable roles — prior to the September 27 win over Cumberland Gap, and by the time Friday’s game against Austin-East ended, the Highlanders were down to just three of the starters who were on the field first in the season opener against Cumberland County in late August.
“It’s one of those years, man, where it just feels like nothing is going your way from an injury standpoint,” Terry said. “But guys are stepping up and giving me everything they’ve got with a bunch of young guys having to step in and play early in situations where in a perfect world obviously they’ve got more time to get comfortable and grow before being thrown out there. But it’s been a struggle, no question.”
The troubles started before the season had even begun. Junior Alex Chambers, who who had been expected to play a big role both in the secondary and the passing game, broke his leg and will miss the entire season. Sophomore Ashton Rowe, projected to be the team’s starting runningback, suffered a shoulder injury in fall camp and missed the Highlanders’ opener against Cumberland County. He has since been injured again and has not played in two weeks.
The Highlander staff patiently awaited the arrival of a healthy Noah Buttram after he was sidelined by injuries as a freshman, knowing he is a playmaker who could be a key part of their offense. Buttram moved to the quarterback position this year and quickly proved what his coaches saw in him, with a standout game against the Jets. He was feared to have broken some ribs a week later. X-rays were negative, but he suffered a broken ankle a week after that, an injury that would keep him out for the remainder of the season.
One after another, additional injuries have followed. By the second half of Friday’s game against A-E, freshman Brady Strunk was taking snaps at quarterback. He wasn’t even on the radar as a varsity QB when the season began; he was expected to quarterback the JV team and play a key role as a running back for the varsity, but was thrust into the position after Rector’s shoulder injury.
The injury situation is so bizarre that it seems to have transferred to the coaching staff. Assistant coach Mark Proffitt has sported a bandaged hand at the past couple of games, and running backs coach Wesley Smith was on crutches at Friday’s game after a knee injury.
“Everybody’s getting hurt,” Terry said.
Harris Keeton, long-time color commentator alongside his brother, Rick Keeton, on WBNT’s Scott High football broadcasts, joked after Friday’s game that the rash of injuries have made him nervous.
“I sorta slow down outside the gate and say an extra little prayer before I come in,” Keeton said.
In spite of the injuries, the Highlanders are 3-4 on the season. They were 1-6 at the same point last year. That may be a minor miracle, given the way the season has played out. With several of the injured players expected to return over the next couple of weeks, the Highlanders have an excellent chance of getting to at least .500 before the season ends, and they still control their own destiny for a playoff berth going into this week’s game against Kingston.
Plea pays off? Several people have opined in recent weeks that Oneida’s Jim May Stadium just isn’t as loud as it used to be. Kevin Acres, the Indians’ public address announcer, gave those concerns a voice last week, penning an op-ed in the Independent Herald in which he pleaded with fans to “get loud again.” Acres’ request seemed to pay off. The crowd was louder and obviously more into the game against Rockwood on Friday, especially in the second half.
“It was so long we couldn’t make our calls out there a lot of times,” Oneida head coach Tony Lambert said. “I was getting raspy trying to make our calls, yelling at our players and getting frustrated when they wouldn’t look back at me. And I thought anybody could hear my big mouth.”
The Indians will need the same type of energy next week, when Meigs County visits Dr. M.E. Thompson Field. The game will be for the Region 2-2A championship, and the Tigers will be favored to win the game, entering as one of the top teams in the state.
“We set a goal every year — every year … every year — give yourself a chance to win a region championship,” Lambert said. “They can’t take it away from us. We know what’s out there: Meigs County. There’s nothing else that needs to be said. They’re playing Oneida for the region championship.”