Trailing at halftime with an offense searching for rhythm, East Hamilton used defense and special teams to make sure its march through the postseason continued.
The host Hurricanes recovered a fumble, blocked a punt, recorded a safety and held Oak Ridge to 36 yards in the second half as they won 25-10 in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs Friday.
The Hurricanes (9-2) travel to neighboring rival Ooltewah for a second-round matchup. Ooltewah defeated East Hamilton by two points in the regular season.
"Our defense did awesome," said senior linebacker Austin Gatewood, who blocked the Wildcats punt. "We just kept flying around. We knew something was going to break loose."
Oak Ridge double-teamed the Hurricanes' playmaking receiving duo of Tre Herndon and Tony Francois. Their explosive downfield attack was neutralized.
A Jaylin Henderson touchdown pass to Blake Goins gave Oak Ridge (7-4) a 10-7 lead with 3:28 left in the second quarter.
East Hamilton turned to its defense to make plays.
"Our number-one goal in the second half was not to panic," Hurricanes coach Ted Gatewood said.
Quarterback Hunter Moore put them ahead 16-10 near the end of the third quarter with a 5-yard TD run. Moore's score, which gave East Hamilton the lead for good, was set up by Bailey Lenoir's fumble recovery.
The Wildcats' next drive stalled and Austin Gatewood blocked the ensuing punt. One play later, sophomore tailback David Whiteside scampered up the middle for a 36-yard score.
"In the second half, we had too many mistakes," Oak Ridge coach Joe Gaddis said. "With the early turnover after we stopped them and the blocked punt, those two plays were huge."
Whiteside accounted for the big plays on offense, amassing 113 total yards including a 40-yard touchdown run. Herndon ended with 90 yards on seven catches.
Moore completed 16 of 31 passes for 153 yards and one interception. He also rushed nine times for 35 yards and a fumble.
So will East Hamilton take a "just another game" approach to its backyard rematch with Ooltewah?
"Everybody in Chattanooga and Hamilton County is going to take care of the hype," said Coach Gatewood, who previously coached at Ooltewah. "What we've got to do is execute and focus on getting better."
Added Moore: "We'll be trying to focus on our game plan, not thinking about who we've got. But in the back of our mind, we know who we've got."
Contact Tim Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org
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