With his team's playoff hopes resting on the outcome, Reginald Hunter took matters — and the football — into his own hands.
Only a sophomore, Hunter played with the determination of an upperclassman to help lead Hixson's fourth-quarter rally that resulted in a huge 39-38 Region 2-4A win at Central, which kept his team in playoff contention.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Hunter caught six passes for 141 yards and three touchdowns — including the game-winner — returned a punt 92 yards for another score and had an interception and 8.5 tackles on defense. All that made him the Times Free Press prep player of the week.
"He's our difference maker," Wildcats coach Gary Murray said. "He's the guy we want on the field all the time, and he knows the role he's got to play. He's young but there's a reason he's already looked at as a leader."
Hixson hosts East Ridge on Friday with the winner claiming the region's fourth and final playoff berth and the loser's season coming to an end.
Hixson trailed 32-14 late in the third quarter before Hunter's punt return for a TD sparked a furious rally. He gave the offense the ball back with an interception on Central's ensuing possession before adding another TD.
He then capped his night with a 7-yard TD catch — coming off a tipped pass — with just 2.9 seconds remaining for the winning margin.
"We knew it was win or lose as far as the playoffs," said Hunter, who has 735 receiving yards and 13 TDs this season. "We did everything we could not to give up. I felt like I was helping my team, and I think the punt return really got the whole team hype and got us going.
"We celebrated on the field, on the bus ride home, in our locker room and pretty much all night. Our confidence is pretty high now, and we feel like we've got a good chance to get to the playoffs."
Hunter's twin brother, Richard, who threw for 218 yards and the three scores, gives Hixson two talented building blocks for the future.
"Those two guys are going to be a lot of fun to watch for the next few years," Murray said. "It's great to see where they are as players, but both are also very grounded and will make for good leaders.
"Before the game I talked to the team about how people who are successful got there because they never stop trying. The one thing I learned about this team is that they will keep coming. We're treating this week's game like a wild card. It's a playoff game at home because it's win or go home."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.