Less than 100 feet away from the Signal Mountain field where his Chattanooga Christian football team had posted the program's first-ever victory over the Eagles, coach Rob Spence asked his players to take a knee and pause to reflect on a historic moment.
Friday night, Spence and the Chargers were giving thanks for more than a well-executed offensive and defensive game plan that had powered a 24-7 Region 3-3A triumph. Signal Mountain had dominated CCS so thoroughly in the past that the continuously running clock had been invoked during every contest the two teams played.
Before offering the postgame prayer, Spence applauded his team's commitment to their collective belief that the Chargers could go on the road and play the type of game that could register a signature victory. As he was about to begin the prayer, one member of the huddle mentioned to remember Spence's father, Bob, who is in the late stages of Parkinson's disease.
Coach Spence was touched by the gesture and took the opportunity amid a great celebration to remind his players about the fragility of life and the need to cherish special moments. Following the prayer, Spence recalled the one word his father said to him before the game.
"He's not able to talk much these days, but he did say one word to me, and that was 'sideline,'" said Spence, noting his father would have liked to been on the sideline for the game. "This would make him smile, there's no question about it. This wasn't just a big win for us. This was a historic win for us. This is Signal Mountain. They are the standard that everyone measures themselves against.
"Our kids have worked hard to get to this point, and they didn't listen to the naysayers. They believed in themselves and it paid off," he added.
No one on the Chargers sideline Friday carried more poise and confidence to the field than junior quarterback Matthew Mercer, whose left arm powered the visitors to a 24-0 halftime lead by going 8-for-10 with two touchdowns and 187 yards in the air.
Mercer had two scoring strikes of more than 50 yards, hitting T.J. Smith for a 54-yarder before finding Brandon Mason from 52 yards away. The quarterback also had a huge hand in the Chargers' final TD in the last minute of the first half when he found Smith on a 33-yard screen that placed the ball at the Eagles' 3-yard line. Smith went the last 2 yards for the score.
"We've been working so hard for this," said Mercer, who finished with 210 yards passing. "We were ready for tonight. We were very focused and it was a team effort. This is a great feeling. We believed that we could win and we went out and did it."
The Chargers (3-2, 1-1) were strong on both sides of the ball, particularly in the first half when their defense held the Eagles to 89 yards of total offense, with 47 of those yards being picked up on the final play of the half.
The Chargers defense was led by the 10 tackles and three sacks of Ian Gaines, while Mason registered seven stops and one tackle for loss.
Signal Mountain (0-5, 0-2) found a better offensive rhythm in the second half, driving 80 yards to score the fourth quarter's only points behind Nathan Johnson's 17-yard run. Collin Weigert was a stalwart on both sides of the ball for the Eagles, leading the team in rushing with 48 yards and registering 16 tackles.
"We just didn't play well early in the game," said Signal Mountain coach Ty Wise. "We got behind, and our lack of execution cost us the opportunity to be in the game."
Contact Greg Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org