The final questions regarding East Hamilton's readiness for the football playoffs has been answered.
Coming into Friday's District 6-AA showdown at Red Bank, the only uncertainties surrounding the fourth-ranked Hurricanes were how they would respond when challenged in a close game, and whether they could beat a quality opponent on the road.
The Hurricanes answered both in resounding fashion with a gritty 24-6 victory over the Lions, securing their second straight district championship and a likely first-round home playoff game.
"It's a pretty big deal to win the way we did," said Hurricanes senior running back Logan Jackson, who had 16 carries for 112 yards and one touchdown. "Hopefully this will keep us at home in the playoffs, but no matter what, we showed a lot about what kind of team we are tonight."
East Hamilton had beaten its previous four district opponents by at least 29 points, and its only close game this season was a three-point loss to rival Ooltewah.
The Hurricanes needed just four plays to cover 61 yards on their second possession with Jackson scoring on a 33-yard run. But Red Bank answered with an 11-play, 80-yard drive, capped by quarterback Hagen Wilkey's 4-yard TD run. But the Lions missed the extra point and East Hamilton did what it will need to do in the playoffs, countering a TD by its opponent with an impressive 11-play drive of its own.
The Hurricanes converted one third down and a fourth down into firsts before Hunter Moore passed to Quinn Griffith for a 4-yard TD.
The Hurricanes maintained the eight-point lead through the third quarter, but Red Bank set out on an 18-play, 63-yard drive that reached East Hamilton's 2 before ending on a snap over the holder's head on a field-goal attempt. East Hamilton actually held the Lions on eight plays inside the 10 on that drive, after the Lions were given new life on a pass-interference penalty in the end zone on fourth down.
"Holding them at the goal line, for that many plays, was just huge for us," East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood said. "I was real proud of how we bowed our neck and held them out there."
On the first play following the turnover on downs, East Hamilton's Matt Milita took a direct snap in the wildcat formation, faked a handoff to Jackson and sprinted 74 yards for the game-sealing score.
"I knew the defense would follow Logan wherever he went, because they had all night," Milita said. "So I just found the hole and hit it and got to high-step a little.
"We needed a tough game like this to get us ready for the playoffs. Red Bank played hard, and hopefully a game like this will help us down the line."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...