Hurricanes overcome Owls in thriller

Hurricanes overcome Owls in thriller

November 16th, 2013 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Preps

East Hamilton's Tony Francois (22) runs towards the sidelines.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

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Standing at midfield at Monroe Stadium just moments after his East Hamilton Hurricanes had stunned the sold-out crowd and the home-standing Ooltewah Owls, Ted Gatewood exhaled.

There was the moment around him -- East Hamilton's shocking 23-16 second-round playoff win that also was the program's first against its neighborhood rival.

There was his former team behind him -- Gatewood spent almost 10 years coaching the Owls, a program that routinely has ranked among the area's best.

There was the team in front of him -- his Hurricanes fresh off an emotional roller coaster that scaled the peaks from one-sided win to painful loss to overtime to elation when junior running back Matt Milita took Hunter Moore's throwback swing pass 53 yards for the winning score with 16.7 seconds left in the game.

"What a win," Gatewood said. "Ooltewah is such a great program. They are really kind of our litmus test."

The Hurricanes certainly passed Friday night, but it wasn't easy against an Ooltewah defense that harassed Moore all night, making him work for all of his 233 passing yards and making him pay on almost every throw. Moore, who also completed a 29-yard scoring pass to favorite target Tony Francois in the first half, was sacked eight times.

"We knew we had to make a play," said linebacker Jerimiah Jackson, who had three of the Owls' 17 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. "But give their defense credit, too, for making plays. It was a tough game."

It was especially tough early for the Owls. A blocked punt on the first series set up the Hurricanes' first score, a 21-yard chip-shot field goal by Cooper Loftin, who made four field goals in the win.

Ooltewah answered, covering 75 yards on four plays to take a 6-3 lead on Brody Binder's 21-yard touchdown pass to Edward Hayes. From there, East Hamilton swarmed Ooltewah, dominating the rest of the first half in every category other than points. The final 46 plays were snapped in Ooltewah territory, but despite three trips inside the 5, East Hamilton led only 16-6 at the break.

"We stubbed our toe a little bit down there in the red zone," Gatewood said, "but that has a lot to do with their defense and the way they get after you."

Given another chance by their ferocious front seven, the Owls scored two quick TDs late in the third quarter. The first was creative -- a halfback jump pass from Hayes to Hayden Bradley. The second was opportunistic, the Owls converting a questionable fumble call into a one-play TD when sophomore Rashaun Freeman scored from 5 yards out for a 19-16 lead.

With their season on the line, the Hurricanes defense stiffened, forcing Ooltewah to go three-and-out on its final four possessions to set the stage for Milita's heroics.

All told, East Hamilton did not allow a first down on 12 of Ooltewah's 15 possessions.

"This win means everything," East Hamilton senior cornerback Tre Herndon said. "It's huge. The fans, the coaches, the players ... everyone did a great job.

"This is history."