On a wet field and with defenders bearing down on him, Kaunyae Burgans provided a major turning point in East Hamilton's 34-7 nonregion home victory over Signal Mountain in Friday night's season opener.
Leading just 7-0 early in the second half, the 6-foot-3 Burgans raced up to field a punt in shoestring fashion, then soon after threw a pair of oncoming would-be tacklers out of his path before racing down the visitor's sideline with steam for a 57-yard touchdown.
"All I saw when I caught the ball was white jerseys in front of me, and I was like, 'Oh well, this is it. I have to go,'" said Burgans, whose return touchdown with 10:51 to go in the third quarter ignited an all-around strong second half for the Hurricanes.
"During practices we work a lot on our blocks on punt returns, and my guys made some great blocks after I made the first two miss. Being out here was so much fun, especially for our seniors and the community."
Operating in a triple-option-based offense, Signal Mountain received a great push from its line in the first half to clear running room for senior Casner, who had 13 carries for 95 yards by halftime.
However, the Eagles had an Andrew Eichner 13-yard touchdown run taken away due to illegal hands to the face in their first drive of the game, and they also fumbled on the Hurricanes' 7-yard line as they tried to tie early in the second quarter.
East Hamilton senior quarterback Haynes Eller is known for his big arm, but he showed off his ability to make plays with his legs to set up the first touchdown of the season.
Eller rattled off an 11-yard run on third-and-long as he broke tackles and then went up the middle as the pocket collapsed on fourth-and-13 for a 21-yard run to Signal's 9. Hurricane tailback Juandrick Bullard raced around the left end for a 6-yard touchdown two plays later for the first of his two scores, this one with 3:05 left in the first quarter.
Jeremiah Flemmons had runs of 37 and 38 yards as the versatile threat who can also play quarterback finished with six carries for 104 yards and a score.
Eller threw for 162 yards and connected with Blaine Savage for a 20-yard touchdown to take a 28-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, answering Signal Mountain after Duncan Cannon had just scored on a 3-yard touchdown run.
The Eagles had four sacks but could not build off their first-half momentum running the ball.
"A lot of times you can take wins for granted, but not now," East Hamilton coach Grant Reynolds said. "Nothing is promised. Our guys understand the importance of the game more now and the relationships you build from it. Every game is a gift. Just like life, not every day is promised. You have to make the most of the day you've got.
"I am proud of our guys. Our defense stepped up in the second half with our defensive lineman making big plays, along with some of our newer guys at linebacker, too."