To say the past week was a whirlwind of emotions for Scotland High School would be an understatement.
The death of Scotland wrestler Tavarius Hall Monday afternoon cast a shadow which loomed over the school’s homecoming festivities all week long. But on Friday night, the Fighting Scots gave their fans a reason to celebrate, routing the Purnell Swett Rams 42-0 in their first Southeastern Conference game of the season.
“This is a win that really gives us something to help pull our community together,” said Scotland coach Richard Bailey after the game. “This is a close-knit community, and football can be a funny thing sometimes in how it can unite people.”
“It means a lot to us as players, because we wanted to win this game for the families who lost someone,” said Scotland linebacker Artemis Robinson. In addition to Hall, former SHS band member Devin Gardner was honored at the game with a moment of silence. Both students passed in the span of two weeks.
“We wanted them to know that the Fighting Scots have their back,” Robinson said.
The Scots took it right to Purnell Swett from the onset, playing arguably their best quarter of the entire season.
The first drive of the game for Scotland showcased the team’s ability to use an option-based attack to propel their running game. 20+ yard runs for Jalen McLean and Josh McPhatter (who shared the backfield) were the highlights of an eight-play opening series that finished with a Jaylend Ratliffe four-yard touchdown run.
For the Rams, Andrew Hill has been the driving force all season behind a Purnell Swett offense that prides itself on a balanced approach. But in the early minutes of the first quarter, the Fighting Scots tandem of Robinson and Robert McKoy barely gave Hill a chance to breathe, which set the tone for the remainder of the game. The first Purnell Swett play to go for positive yardage came on a one-yard Hill run with two minutes left in the first quarter.
Prior to that run, the Rams compiled -10 yards on nine plays.
On the Scots’ second series, the offense found itself facing a fourth-down situation with 10 yards needed to move the chains. Operating from the Rams’ 35-yard line, Scotland opted to go for it and the result was a reception touchdown for Tra’Shawn Gregory after a perfectly-placed deep pass from Ratliffe.
In the first quarter alone, Ratliffe was 5-of-8 for 88 yards, completing passes to four different receivers.
Things continued to get worse for the Rams after the Scots’ Shykiem Oliver recovered a Purnell Swett fumble. Starting from the Rams’ territory once again, Scotland would methodically pound the ball down the field for a one-yard McLean touchdown run.
The first quarter ended with a 28-0 Scotland lead.
On their first play to open the second quarter, Purnell Swett mishandled a snap which resulted in an eventual punt that once again gave Scotland favorable field position. And as they did in the first quarter, the Scots made Purnell Swett pay for their miscues as McLean scored his second touchdown of the game on a four-yard run.
The Rams’ best offensive series of the night came on a Scotland muffed punt, which gave Purnell Swett a fresh set of downs on their own 46 yard-line. One play later, Purnell Swett running back Cody Locklear (in for Hill after the Rams back suffered an injury) would take his first carry 41 yards deep into Scotland territory. Hill would return to the game in the second half.
The Rams moved the ball to the three yard line before a Locklear fumble was recovered by McKoy. What followed was a scary moment for Pate Stadium attendees, as Locklear remained motionless for several minutes following the lost fumble. He would later limp off the field with assistance from the Purnell Swett coaching staff.
The first half ended with Scotland up 35-0 over the Rams. In the first 24 minutes alone, Scotland collected 175 total yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
On the opening Rams drive of the third quarter, Scotland’s defense once again held Purnell Swett to a three-and-out. With his team back in possession of the football, McPhatter would finally get his chance to notch a touchdown, following a 15 yard-run with a score capping off a four play, 62 yard Scots drive. Tre Thomas also made the most of his time on the field during this same drive, taking his sole carry of the game 26 yards to the Rams’ four-yard line to set up the McPhatter touchdown run.
Shortly after the Scotland score, the refs signalled to let the clock run and the second unit for the Scots would subsequently take the field.
The Fighting Scots will travel to Pinecrest next week to take on the Patriots. And though the blowout win over Purnell Swett gave Scotland a hot start to their conference schedule, Bailey acknowledged that the battle has only just begun.
“I told my guys before the game that we will either be in last place or first place depending on how this game went,” Bailey said. “We’re in first place now, but I don’t expect us to have many more nights like this, because this is a tough conference and each week you have to be ready.”