East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood wanted his team to work on its running game in Friday night's District 5-AAA high school football game against McMinn County. And thanks to the Hurricanes' passing game, the coach got his opportunity.
Two Hunter Moore-to-Tony Francois bombs in the third quarter helped East Hamilton build on its scant halftime lead and the 'Canes went on and defeated the Cherokees 24-12 at East Hamilton.
Although East Hamilton (6-1, 3-1) remains behind Ooltewah in the district standings, the victory helps strengthen its state playoff chances.
"Every one of them counts," Gatewood said. "I don't consider us in the playoffs until the Saturday morning when they announce it."
The 'Canes took the game's opening possession and ended up getting a 30-yard field goal from Casey Malone. And thanks to some defensive stops - the Cherokees driving it as deep as the 11 on the possession after the field goal and East Hamilton being stopped on the 2 with 43 seconds to go until halftime - 3-0 remained the score at the break.
Then first play the 'Canes had the ball in the second half, Moore gave a pump fake toward the left flank before hitting a streaking Francois down the left side for a play covering 74 yards to make it 10-0 at 8:43 of the third.
"That's where the game turned around," McMinn County coach Bo Cagle said. "We kept fighting, and we were still in it, until they got the next one."
On East Hamilton's next possession Matt Milita broke through the middle for a 43-yard scoring run.
But McMinn County (2-5, 1-2) countered with an odd score in the kicking game. Matt Derrickson picked up a 19-yard punt and weaved his way 81 yards for a touchdown, although Tre Herndon blocked the extra point leaving it 17-6.
Then on East Hamilton's second play of the next possession, Moore hit Francois down the middle of the field for a 70-yarder.
"The defense I was pleased with the whole time," Cagle said. "We gave up some big plays in the passing game, but if we take our opportunities to score, those plays aren't as big. It's the little things that's killing us."
The 'Canes went to the ground and worked on the clock in the fourth quarter. The Cherokees had controlled more of the clock over the first three quarters, which made East Hamilton's defensive work more impressive.
McMinn County's second touchdown came with 6.9 seconds to play.
"I was pleased with them," Gatewood said of his defensive players. "They're coming together and getting better and better. Sometimes we score quick and they have to get right back on the field. That's part of it, but they condition in practice for that."
Moore ended up 10-for-18 for 232 yards and Francois had four catches totaling 170 yards. Milita led the 'Canes' ground game with 79 yards on 15 carries.
D.J. Kimpson was the Cherokees' leader from scrimmage with 18 rushes for 123 yards.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.