Maryville College was reeling not long after the opening kickoff.
A lackluster offensive start, a touchdown on LaGrange’s first offensive possession and a successful fake punt during its second drive had the Scots looking at a potential 14-point deficit before they could even settle in.
Sophomore defensive back Haydyn Tanner helped the Scots find their bearings, recovering a fumble forced by sophomore linebacker Nico Starcher to end that series and intercepting LaGrange quarterback Caleb Speir two possessions later.
Those takeaways gave Maryville the time it needed to adjust on offense while also setting the tone for another strong defensive effort en route to a 28-10 victory over LaGrange on Saturday at Honaker Field.
“We had to have some help because we started in a funk,” Maryville College coach Shaun Hayes told The Daily Times. “We didn’t know what we were going to get because they lineup in a defense that we had to create a new name for, and they came out in base, and we were discombobulated early on.
“Those type of plays define Haydyn because when you do what is right and you invest and you’re a great kid, the next step reveals itself to you. That was a huge part of the football game.”
Tanner’s interception, which led to a 15-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Jacob Bunch that gave Maryville (2-5, 2-2 USA South) the lead for good, almost never happened.
The Knoxville native aggravated a finger injury while recovering the fumble and told junior linebacker Bo Hering on the sideline that if the opportunity for a pick presented itself, he would knock it down.
And yet, when Speir fired a pass into traffic, a throbbing finger didn’t stop Tanner from hauling it in and returning it 29 yards to the LaGrange 28-yard line.
“The offense has struggled at times this season, but for us, getting turnovers is our way of trying to bring the offense up,” Tanner said. “It’s something that gives us good camaraderie as a team.”
It was all Maryville from there.
The Scots limited the Panthers (3-4, 1-3) to 61 yards over their final 10 possessions while Bunch punched in two more touchdowns to become the first running back to find the end zone four times in a game since Charsie Robertson in 1994.
The Grainger County alum rushed for 171 yards on 27 carries — the fourth consecutive game he has eclipsed the century mark in rushing.
“Credit to the offensive line because they played their butts off today and also Coach Elijah (Rachell) because he’s been pushing me all week,” Bunch said. “We started off slow, but I just decided in my head it wasn’t going to be like that, so I stepped up the best I could.”
In a season filled with more downs than ups, the Scots found a way to pick themselves up and rally Saturday.
That denotes progress, but there are still plenty of problems to fix ahead of next week’s meeting at Averett.
“I think we’ve looked around the corner, but I’m not going to say we’ve turned,” Hayes said. “What bothers me is that we’re finding ways to win now, but we’re still not doing the simple things and being disciplined.
“We tasted it last week, and we’re playing to win together, but we have to be consistent in what we’re supposed to be doing.”