Some early trickery helped get Sullivan South out of its comfort zone, but it was mainly just solid play on both sides of the ball that helped East Hamilton roll to an impressive 56-20 home win in the first round of the TSSAA Class 4A playoffs on Friday night.
The Hurricanes used up nearly the entire first-quarter clock on their opening possession, which resulted in a touchdown. After Sullivan South (8-3) answered to tie the game, the Hurricanes *8-3) regained the lead, then recovered a surprise onside kick that allowed them to drive down for another score that staked them to a 21-7 lead.
The Rebels, who rely on their ground game, were then forced to go to a spread offense and throw the ball, and the East Hamilton defense was there to shut them down and help pull away to a commanding 33-13 halftime lead and earn the first playoff win for the program since 2013.
"Recovering that onside kick really seemed to take some wind out of their sails," said second-year Hurricanes coach Grant Reynolds, whose team recovered two of four onside kick attempts in the game. "We weren't going to let them keep the ball away from us all night and run the clock, so the plan was to onside kick it as many times as we thought we needed to. Once we got that first one, that really kind of helped us get going.
"I asked our team yesterday who had ever won a playoff game, and the only player who raised their hand was my son, who won one with me in Alabama before we came here. I told our kids it was going to be a great feeling to walk off this field with a playoff win, and, boy, they certainly enjoyed it. I'm just so happy for them and proud of the way we played in every phase of the game."
The Hurricanes will travel to top-ranked and reigning state champion Elizabethton, which defeated East Ridge 56-34 Friday.
Sullivan South, which will be closing its school at the end of this year to consolidate with two other schools, had narrowly beaten East Hamilton in last year's first round. The Rebels converted on fourth-and-2 in that 2019 game to allow them to run out the clock for a four-point win.
East Hamilton gained 400 yards in the first half this time, and senior quarterback Haynes Eller completed 23 of 29 for 324 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a score and has thrown for more than 1,700 yards this season. Kaunyae Burgans had 13 catches for 171 yards and three scores, and the Hurricanes also ran for 213 yards, led by Juandrick Bullard's 116 and two touchdowns.
The defense was led by Jason Brumlow and Blaine Savage, who each had more than 10 total tackles.
"We pulled out about every trick we could think of — a fake punt, a double reverse and then four onside kicks," Reynolds said. "A win like this should give us a lot of confidence moving forward, because these guys hadn't experienced it before. It was great for our school and our community to get to experience this.
"Now we get to go play a great team on the road next week, but we've given ourselves an opportunity, and this time of year that's all you can ask for."
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