Asked at season's beginning what Hixson's team goals were, senior receiver Allante Novene kept it simple: a winning season.
When wins have been hard to come by, expectations do not get lofty.
Time to set some new goals.
Hixson earned a spot in the TSSAA playoffs for the first time since 2005 Friday night with a 40-30 District 6-AA win over visiting Brainerd. With one league game remaining next week against Central, the Wildcats (6-3, 5-1) wrapped up second place in the league standings.
And while Novene and his teammates wanted more wins than losses, first-year Hixson coach Jason Fitzgerald thought more could be in store if the players believed enough.
"That's exactly what these kids did. They bought in to what we were trying to do, and now they've been rewarded for it," he said. "We knew this could be a pretty good team."
The first half Friday was a shootout, with the Panthers leading 30-20 at halftime. Brainerd had 178 yards rushing at that point.
"I challenged their manhood," Fitzgerald said of his halftime discussion. "They responded just like I hoped they would. We came out and played better in the second half.
"I love that about this team. In the past, when a Hixson team got down, they stayed down," Fitzgerald said. "This year we're not going to quit."
Quarterback Gill Brown cut the lead to 30-26 with 4:19 left in the quarter, and then the Wildcats took the lead for good, 33-30, on Eric Jones' 6-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
Following a Novene interception, Hixson put the game away with a 10-play drive that ended with Jones powering in from the 1 with 1:21 remaining.
Brainerd (1-8, 0-6) got three first-half touchdowns from quarterback Sam Caffey -- on a 3-yard run and then scoring passes to Kaylen Stewart of 20 and 11 yards. William Womack scored the Panthers' other TD on a 14 yard run.
Brown hit Novene on a 46-yard pass to open Hixson's scoring, and K.C. Shelton ran an interception back for a score, giving Hixson a 14-6 lead in the opening quarter.
The Wildcats' Isiah Robinson carried the ball 20 times for 165 yards. The Panthers finished with 221 yards rushing behind Caffey, Marcus McMillan and Jacoby Ramsey.
Shelton finished with 12 tackles for Hixson, while Kedrick Bradley and Dylan Bargerstock each had seven. Novene also recovered an onside kick for the Wildcats. Brainerd's defense was led by JiMichael Corbin with eight stops and Womack with six. Ramsey intercepted a pass.
Brainerd closes the season next week at East Ridge.