For the second straight season, a fledgling Hamilton County program hopes to be the feel-good story of the high school football playoffs.
Last year Signal Mountain rolled to the Class 2A state championship in only its second year of existence. This season, East Hamilton's third-year program went on a late-season winning streak to claim the District 6-AA title and earn its first playoff appearance and a first-round host role.
Despite a combined record of 3-17 the previous two seasons, including failing to score a touchdown in five of their 10 first-season games, the Hurricanes have won five of their last six games. That streak includes wins over perennial playoff powers Tyner and Red Bank, and they will host Brainerd on Friday in the Class 4A bracket.
"It's a huge step for us," said Hurricanes coach Ted Gatewood, whose team defeated Brainerd 22-13 earlier this season. "We started everything from scratch. We didn't have a home stadium until this year, and we took some lumps our first couple of years. But that experience, for so many young kids, is paying off now."
Eighteen Tennessee teams from the Chattanooga area qualified for the football playoffs in their respective classifications, and three area teams from Alabama will begin playing in that state's postseason on Friday, as well. Georgia high schools have one week of the regular season remaining.
Gatewood began his coaching career at Ooltewah High School in 1997 and guided the Owls to their first playoff appearance. He directed them to the postseason in four of his last five years there before going into private business. After returning to the sideline as an assistant at Ooltewah, Gatewood was chosen to start East Hamilton's program.
"I would say the two situations, at Ooltewah and now at East Hamilton, are as different as night and day," Gatewood said. "Ooltewah had an established school community, even though they hadn't had a lot of football success. Here, not only is the school new and the football team is new, but the whole community is learning to work together.
"I think the success our team is having will help bring this whole community together faster. It's something to rally around."
Facing a daunting early-season schedule that included five opponents that eventually qualified for the playoffs, the Hurricanes lost three of their first four games this year.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.