Standing at the back of the line waiting to run through the banner of his home opener of his senior season, East Ridge High School defensive end Jeremiah McKibben shrugged his shoulders and said simply, "You've got to do what you've got to do."
McKibben and his Pioneers teammates did all that and more.
East Ridge's football players and coaches climbed aboard the bus to go to Baylor for their first home game of the season Friday night. Raymond James Stadium, the venerable home of East Ridge football since 1959, was condemned this week, forcing this game to be moved to Baylor School.
"All week, we're so sick about hearing, 'Stadium this, stadium that,'" East Ridge coach Tracy Malone said after his team's 35-10 win over Signal Mountain. "I told them on Tuesday that this was not going to be a distraction for us."
According to a school source, Baylor did not charge East Ridge to use Heywood Stadium. East Ridge was responsible for security and cleaning the facility. The Pioneers boosters brought concessions and kept parking receipts and ticket sales, but it was still not the same.
East Ridge plans to return to Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 18 with all fans sitting in the visitors stands or in portable bleachers behind the end zones.
Malone was overflowing with his appreciation toward Baylor — "It was first-class all the way around," he said — for the gesture.
His appreciation was masked, at least early on, by the frustration of not being able to get the ball.
Signal, which fell to 0-3 for the first time in school history, sprinted to a 10-0 lead and limited the Pioneers to three first-quarter offensive plays with a balanced, ball-control offense that dictated the tempo.
"We felt good about our plan offensively," first-year Signal Mountain coach Ty Wise said. "And defensively we played well.
"We just didn't take care of the football."
A 42-yard Ben Brown field goal and Thomas Vatter's 7-yard scoring pass to Collin Weigert staked the Eagles to the quick lead. The quick start was quickly reversed.
East Ridge stopped another early Signal drive by recovering a fumble deep in Pioneers territory and jump-started its offense in the second quarter with an interception and by foiling a fake punt. East Ridge turned each of those plays into scores — a 10-yard touchdown run from Traneil Moore followed Jesse Jones' second-quarter pickoff. and Lorenzo Stewart's 1-yard score came with 36 seconds before halftime after the failed fake punt at the Signal 34.
The third quarter was a steady diet of Moore, who finished with 140 rushing yards and two scores.
"I guess he's not a secret anymore," Malone said of his bruising junior who was so overpowering that he converted a third-and-24 situation running at left guard in the power-I.
With their backs against the clock and the wall, the Eagles were forced to try to score quickly. East Ridge capitalized, as Jones and Stewart each returned an interception for a score to punctuate a very successful — and somewhat surreal — home opener played 18 miles from campus.
"Those kids have a lot of pride," Malone said after East Ridge improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2001. "They're tired of getting a bad rap from all over the county and having to hear this and that. They just wanted to play this game and show people what they are made of."
"Now, next week, we'll get on the bus and go play our next one."
That trip will be a game at Central, and if East Ridge has shown us anything, it's home is truly where the heart is.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6343.