Heritage survives ‘dogfight’ at East Hamilton

Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Heritage's Landon Cansler (5) breaks a tackle during Friday's game at East Hamilton.

When the Heritage High School football team finally marches home next week, it will do so undefeated.

On the heels of a season-opening win at rival Ringgold, the Generals crossed the state line Friday night and dispatched East Hamilton, 24-9. The Hurricanes dropped to 1-1.

"Super thankful," said Heritage coach E.K. Slaughter, who called East Hamilton "a really good football team with really good athletes. That was a dogfight."

Heritage running back Paxton McCrary rolled for 213 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. The defense made it stand up, keeping quarterback Juan Bullard and his mates out of the end zone for the game's first 44-plus minutes.

"That's the formula this year," Slaughter said. "We've got a really good defense, good special teams and kids at quarterback [Kaden Swope] and running back who are threats with their legs, so let's just go pound that thing."

The two teams traded first-quarter field goals as East Hamilton's Ethan Hixson hit from 38 yards five minutes in and Chipper Grayson made a 44-yarder four minutes later.

The Generals got the ball three plays into the second quarter and proceeded to grind out a 12-play, 79-yard drive. McCrary carried seven times for 56 of those yards, helping set up Swope's 28-yard scoring pass to Max Owens with 2:50 left in the first half. Grayson's kick sent Heritage to halftime with a 10-3 lead.

East Hamilton got a couple of field-goal opportunities in the third quarter but couldn't cash in. McCrary dealt the Hurricanes what felt like a gut punch when he scored with 8:09 left, but Bullard responded, driving the Hurricanes 80 yards in 10 plays. Bullard, who finished 112 yards on 23 carries, covered the last 7 yards himself, scoring with 4:16 left to pull East Hamilton within 17-9.

The Hurricanes tried an onside kick, but the Generals recovered at the hosts' 49. On the next snap, McCrary motored for 32 yards. The dagger came three plays later, when McCrary scored from 3 yards. Grayson's point after with 2:12 left accounted for the final score.

After the game, players and fans from both schools gathered at midfield to pray for East Hamilton defensive coordinator Gerald Jones, who had a heart attack last week at halftime of the opening win at Ooltewah. Jay Fowler of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, who led the prayer, told the crowd that Jones had been moved from intensive care to a private room earlier Friday and watched the game on television.

"Seeing that group of people on the field keeps everything in perspective," Slaughter said. "Tomorrow's not promised to anybody. We're going to celebrate this win, but at the end of the day it's just a game."

Contact Bob Gary at bgary@timesfreepress.com.