Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Nov 12, 2010 - Friday night Kyle Neal, left, attempts to throw the football as Zack Bowman tackles him during Signal Mountain High School's football game against Friendship Christian School in the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association playoffs.
The mental image resonated with every Signal Mountain coach, player and fan.
When Friendship Christian completed a two-point conversion with 1:27 to take its first lead of the game, every one associated with the Signal Mountain program thought of last year’s heartbreaking one-point loss at Cascade.
Same postseason round, same theme, same eerie feeling.
Different result, thanks to two passes from Hogan Whitmire to Jon Patton that totaled 65 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in Signal’s dramatic 56-43 win.
“Yeah, we all thought about [Cascade], but I was not going to let that happen again,” said Whitmire, a Class 2A Mr. Football Finalist who threw for 313 yards and delivered touchdown passes to Patton, Reese Phillips, Alex McGhee and Will Queen.
Said junior Zach Bowman: “I was terrified that it was going to be a repeat of last year. I think a big difference for this year’s team is we know what losing like that feels like and we are going to do everything not to be in that situation.”
Bowman touched the ball four times and scored three touchdowns. He had a 31-yard interception return in the final seconds that provided the final margin and made this slugfest seem a little more comfortable than it was. Bowman’s scoring runs of 37 and 16 yards capped an impressive first half for the Eagles, who led 35-14 at the break.
The halftime cushion seemed more secure after the final seconds of the second quarter when the referees ejected FCA senior quarterback Kyle Neal, who ran for 85 yards and threw for 88 in the first half.
Enter sophomore Brennan Swindoll, the Commanders’ starting free safety who took complete control of the game.
“He can play. He’s a heck of an athlete,” FCA coach John McNeal said, “and that’s a tough situation for us. We have 25 kids and one of your best playmakers is out and you have to reshuffle things. That’s not an excuse — Signal’s a great team — but that put us in a tough spot.
“I can’t be any prouder of these kids; they came in here played their guts out. I’m not going to be able to say anything to them to make the pain go away right now.”
With Swindoll doing a little bit of everything, the Commanders were within 90 seconds of serving heartbreak rather than suffering it.
Defensively, Swindoll picked off Whitmire twice in the second half to change field position.
At quarterback, the left-hander ran for 32 yards and completed 6 of 11 passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns — two to sophomore Cale Mitchell and a 36-yarder Kyle Wood. For good measure, Swindoll caught a 44-yard pass on a trick play where he wandered toward the FCA sideline as the ball was snapped to Wood.
The razzle-dazzle helped set up the Commanders’ go-ahead touchdown and set the stage for Whitmire’s and Patton’s late heroics.
“We knew on the sideline we’d have to go make a play,” said Patton, who finished with six catches for 127 yards. “We didn’t want to have a repeat of last year.”
Consider the ghost of Cascade exorcised. Consider this one a lesson about perseverance for these Eagles, who have not trailed in the fourth quarter since that loss to Cascade, who a got a Mitchell Hall touchdown run after FCA tied at 35 before rallying again for the win. And consider at least one Eagle happy that his team followed playoffs’ fundamental rule: Survive and advance.
“They are a good football team,” Signal coach Bill Price said of FCA with enough inflection in his voice to convey the drama the Eagles withstood. “We scored some points — and gave up some points — but the main thing is we won the football game.
That’s something Price and the Eagles couldn’t say this time last year.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...