BENTON, Tenn. -- Signal Mountain lost six games early Friday afternoon and then lost a seventh Friday night.
The Eagles, who had six wins vacated officially and had a player declared ineligible by the TSSAA, ran into a rock-solid buzz saw in Polk County and dropped a 36-35 thriller to the host Wildcats. It was the teams' first meeting.
"They scored more than we did. We were out of sync offensively and playing without [receiver] Will Queen [broken hand] and our starting middle linebacker [Tim McClendon]," Eagles coach Bill Price said. "Then we get hit with the [TSSAA investigation] news Thursday and that was hard to handle.
"But make sure it's clear. Polk outplayed us."
The loss officially gives the Eagles a record of 0-2 while Polk County improves to 5-2.
"I've been here 12 years now and we've been beat by some good teams and we have beat some good teams. This has to be among the top [wins]," Polk coach Derrick Davis said. "That was a lot of Polk County pride, and this one, the boys believed a little more than I did.
"Signal played hard with what they have dealt with. You have to give them credit after what they've been through these last couple of days and the couple of guys they had out."
Polk County, always known as a physical team, proved pesky as well on Friday, tossing a hook when Signal was looking for a jab and slamming an uppercut when the Eagles were expecting the hook.
"You can't take anything from Polk," said Eagles quarterback Reese Phillips, who completed 19 of 26 passes for 192 hard-earned yards and three touchdowns, all to Jon Patton. "People can say what they want, but we're not offering any excuses. Polk played a great game."
That great game included three touchdowns from quarterback Al Akins and two from Chase Mull. Those two, catching the Eagles keying on Derrick Saxe, combined for 126 yards. It was Akins' 20-yard romp and Joseph Flores' extra-point kick that pushed the Wildcats ahead 36-27, leaving the Eagles with a nine-point deficit and just 2:27 to play.
The Eagles came back and scored on Phillips' 10-yard pass to Patton and Phillips' two-point conversion run but they did it with just 0:05 left on the clock.
It appears the Eagles will live with the six-game vacation levied by the TSSAA.
"I don't know if there is an appeal," Signal principal Dr. Tom McCullough said at halftime. "We misinterpreted a territorial issue, according to them. We believed the hardship he received from the county put in him our territory and didn't think twice about it until they came in on Thursday.
McCullough was willing to share if not shoulder the blame.
"We have to do a better job of making sure the rules are interpreted properly, and ultimately that responsibility falls to the principal," he said. "I was aware of the transfer and how we interpreted the rule."
Asked if he expected Price to be his football coach next season, McCullough said, "I'm planning on it. Bill did not make this decision [on the transfer student and his eligibility] alone. He sought advice on our staff."
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 ...