Facing a potential homecoming disaster, the Signal Mountain Eagles did not give a rip.
Because they had a Rip.
Rip Hutcherson's 9-yard touchdown run with a little more than a minute left lifted the Eagles to a 17-14 win over still winless but ever-improving East Ridge.
"That was a man's run right there," a relieved Josh Roberts said after his Eagles improved to 2-4. "Our line has been really good all season, and we wanted to lean on them late, but Rip was not going to be stopped."
Said Hutcherson: "I just put my head down and ran. There was no way we were going to lose."
Before the senior's touchdown run, East Ridge controlled the pace and score by being patient and opportunistic.
After Pete Sesterhenn's 28-yard field goal gave the Eagles an early 3-0 lead, the Pioneers frustrated and flummoxed them with a relentless defense. Despite gaining fewer than 100 yards on offense, the Pioneers (0-6) forced five turnovers and created the game's first touchdown with a big play on special teams as T.J. Jolmes blocked a punt and returned the ball 28 yards to score.
After another turnover by the Eagles — their 20th through six games — Marquell Sails hit Tyree Smith for a 27-yard touchdown pass to give the Pioneers a 14-3 lead that seemed almost Everest-like for most of the comfortably cool night on Signal Mountain.
"We need to learn to finish, but that's on me, as much as anyone," East Ridge first-year coach Chad Barger said. "We've got to learn how to protect a lead. We played hard, but I don't know if we played smart, and that's on me as well."
The Eagles got a chance to rally because of a defense that allowed just two first downs.
"It starts with intensity," said Hutcherson, who along with seniors Malik Aljack and Luke Alexander as well as Josh Thompson anchored a front seven that had East Ridge moving backward as often as it moved forward.
A touchdown connection between quarterback Cash Keene and Blake Wolfard early in the fourth quarter closed the gap and set the stage for Hutcherson's winning score.
"Sometimes you have to win ugly," Coach Roberts said walking off the field.
Winning pretty or winning ugly, nobody gives a Rip as long as you win.
Contact Jay Greeson at email@example.com.