A season of much promise started with much heartache for Reese Phillips and the Signal Mountain Eagles.
Friday night, the Eagles delivered their most complete performance to date and grabbed their primary goal when practice started in July.
"Champions!" the Eagles chanted after a 61-21 win over Chattanooga Christian that secured the the 7-AA title.
The Eagles left little to chance in securing the title. Signal (6-3, 4-0) won the toss and needed exactly 19 seconds to take the lead for good after Phillips kept the ball on a midline option and raced 75 yards for a touchdown. After a CCS three-and-out, Phillips delivered a perfect strike to Madison Byrd along the sideline that became a 91-yard scoring play.
After 112 seconds, Signal had a 13-0 edge and 166 yards.
"We're getting better," Eagles coach Bill Price said. "It's always the goal to win your district, and that's five in a row for us. Now we've got the week off to try to get healthy.
"We're looking forward to the playoffs."
The postseason trip will be Signal's first since winning the 2010 Class 2A state title game. Signal missed the playoffs last year after the TSSAA forced the Eagles to vacate six games.
The journey has not been as smooth as expected in August -- early losses that ranged from frustrating to one-sided -- but Friday's reward was sweet and shared. Price pulled Phillips midway through the second quarter after the University of Kentucky commitment had piled up 85 rushing yards and 213 passing yards, including a 17-yard strike to senior Patrick Bruce that stretched the lead to 34-7.
"It's been a long drive," Bruce said, "and we have come together finally."
Bruce was one of seven Eagles to catch a pass and one of nine to score a touchdown. It was an offensive showing that was as balanced as it was blitzing, and Kaleb Menzel -- one of 12 Eagles to carry the ball -- led all rushers with 155 yards and a score on 13 carries.
"That's a good football team that's getting better," CCS coach Barry Loyal said. "Our kids fought and played hard, but when you're that balanced, it makes it tough."
The Chargers found some success with senior quarterback Levi Corbett operating their run-and-gun style. Corbett threw for 235 yards and connected with Brandt McGregor, Jay Sims and Austin Mansell for touchdowns.
But it Signal's postgame smiles that showed the promise of the postseason and the clear-eyed confidence that early-season frustration seemed as distant as summer conditioning.
"We've changed a lot and a lot of people have gotten better," said Signal senior Taylor Harvey, who joined Elijah Turnage, Ben Philyaw, Dylan Buck and Nathan Johnson to complete the list of Eagles in the touchdown parade. "That was a lot of fun."
Certainly, it was way more fun than August.