East Hamilton has secured its first football playoff spot -- and the game will be at home against Brainerd tonight -- but the Hurricanes also won their first district title and nailed down their first winning season.
And coach Ted Gatewood would have you believe he knew it all along. Well, almost. He thought winning the district and securing the accompanying trappings was a realistic expectation.
"If you ask me now, obviously it was," he said with a smile. "If you ask outside [our] community they'd probably tell you it was a one-line comedy act because of our previous two years."
Before the 2011 season the Hurricanes had a total of three wins -- one in their inaugural 2009 season and an improvement by one last year. But the two wins could've been doubled with a couple of wins rather than losses in overtime, Gatewood pointed out.
"We saw improvement each year and it culminated this year with the kids growing and achieving," he said this week. "It's something we talked about openly, that we want to be playing Thanksgiving weekend with a chance to play in the state finals.
"We've been fortunate. We had some things fall into place, and if somebody got injured we've had others step up."
In the last three weeks of the regular season and facing its two biggest district challenges, the Hurricanes found a way to win despite losing 1,000-yard rusher Logan Jackson a handful of plays into the Tyner game.
Against Tyner they got a game-opening kickoff return and two touchdown passes, coupling them with a stiff defensive effort. Against Red Bank a team-effort comeback included a pair of fourth-quarter rushing TDs.
"We lost [defensive lineman] Mason Galanto early in the year against Brainerd and had three or four kids step up," Gatewood said. "They're playing well, and part of it is the demands and expectations the coaching staff places on the kids."
One of the few times the even-tempered coach lost his cool was at East Ridge when his team committed seven turnovers and eventually lost 23-21. It was, he says in retrospect, a hiccup.
"Everything that could go wrong did go wrong in that first half, but the kids battled back and came so close. At the end we had a chance to put it away and didn't," Gatewood recalled.
He turned the negative into a positive.
"If we take care of ourselves, then we will have a chance to be successful," he has harped since.
It appears the team has listened, and the Hurricanes will be prepared to face Brainerd a second time because of their faith in their coaches.
"The first goal was to win the district but the bigger picture is to win the state," said defensive tackle Francisco Rodriguez, a junior who began his high school career three years ago as a Hurricane. "I just wanted to have a more successful season."
His mentality and that of his teammates seemed to shift as they matured.
"The thought process changed. Guys were tired of losing," Rodriguez said. "We began to think this could be a successful program even though it's a young program."
It is still a young team with Gatewood listing just five senior starters.
The success to date has been noted but even-keeled if not even low-key. Gatewood said he'd gotten several congratulatory text messages but there hasn't been much hoopla to surround the team.
When announcements were made over the loudspeaker Monday afternoon, there was mention of the girls' soccer team winning district and region titles, but not the first word about the football success.
"The kids feel good about themselves," Gatewood said. "Maybe we'll mention it when it gets going.
"The last five weeks we have told the kids these are must-win football games. Now this is the season you played to get to. But everything remains the same. We'll carry on the way we have. The kids know what to expect and they know what our expectations are."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...