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Scott High running back Brady Strunk falls forward for additional yardage during the Highlanders’ 17-6 win at Pigeon Forge on Friday, November 1, 2019 | LeEtta Boyatt/IH

PIGEON FORGE — There was a brief moment, midway through the first quarter, where Pigeon Forge broke loose for a 71-yard touchdown and briefly took a 7-6 lead. 

Except for that, Friday’s season-finale in Dolly Parton’s backyard was all Scott High, as the Highlanders ground out a 16-7 win to end the season on a high note and send their seniors out in style.

The Highlanders scored first, quickly answered Pigeon Forge’s lone touchdown with another score to retake the lead for good, and dominated the stat sheet to pick up their fourth win of the 2019 season — the program’s most since 2016, when this year’s seniors were freshmen and Scott won eight games.

As was the case in the Highlanders’ other three wins this season, their defense was key. Pigeon Forge was limited to 198 yards of offense. Remove the 71-yard touchdown play in the second quarter, and the Tigers would’ve finished with only 127 yards of offense, including just 10 passing yards. The Highlanders twice picked off Pigeon Forge quarterback Mason Shults — Alex Chambers had an interception and Rylin Duncan had an interception — and kept the Tiger’s run game in check.

Scott’s offense, meanwhile, was at times its best defense. The Highlanders put together several long, grind-it-out drives that dramatically shortened the game. There was a 12-play, 85-yard drive for a touchdown in the first half, and a 12-play, 72-yard drive ending with an Alex Rector field goal in the second half. The Tigers had time for just 34 offensive snaps on the night.

When the Highlanders went to the air, it was the tried-and-true senior combination of Rector-to-Mason Owens that made it work. Rector completed eight of 13 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown; Owens had four receptions for 70 yards and the score. 

When Scott kept it on the ground, on the other hand, it was players of the future who were the workhorses. Freshman Brady Strunk finished with a career-high 142 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, while sophomore Ashton Rowe — who was projected as a starter to begin the season but was nagged by injuries throughout — finished with 59 yards on eight carries.

“It was a great effort from all our guys,” Scott High head coach Josh Terry said afterwards. “It was a good team effort.”

The game started inauspiciously enough, with the two teams trading punts before Scott scored on a 55-yard touchdown pass from Rector to Owens with 6:16 to play in the opening period.

That started a miniature offensive spurt, as Pigeon Forge answered right back with the 71-yard bomb from Shults to Blake McCarter — with McCarter doing most of it on his own.

Scott High quickly answered, with Strunk’s 21-yard run capping the 12-play scoring drive with 9:47 to play in the first half.

From there, it was all about defense for the Highlanders. Chambers intercepted a pass deep in Scott High territory to end the first half and thwart a Pigeon Forge scoring opportunity, and the Tigers would not score the rest of the way.

Pigeon Forge marched 45 yards on its first possession of the second half — its best sustained drive of the game — but saw the drive end at Scott’s 22-yard-line when Owens and Zach Sexton stopped Brady Maples one yard short of the sticks on a fourth-and-12 play. 

From there, Scott High began a 12-play march to a Rector 23-yard field goal, which chewed more than six minutes off the clock and pushed the lead to 16-7.

When Pigeon Forge’s own 12-play drive likewise took six minutes off the clock but resulted in no points — CJ Collier made a big stop on third down, and a holding penalty negated a fourth down conversion and put the Tigers in an almost impossible fourth-and-19 situation — the clock was the home team’s biggest enemy. In all, the Tigers got just three offensive possessions in the second half.

The Tigers’ last-gasp effort ended with a Duncan interception inside their 10-yard-line — allowing Rector to simply twice take a knee and run out the clock.

Terry said the win was a nice way for the Highlanders to close out the season.

“We got over some early-season adversity,” he said. “We got over the injury bug. It was a testament to our seniors and leadership. Our guys played as hard tonight as they did in Week 1 against Cumberland County. It was a testament to our guys’ maturity as the season went on.

“They just out-lasted tonight and played their guts out,” Terry added. “The seniors went out right. I’m proud of these young men. I’m honored to be their coach.”