With tears rolling down his face, East Hamilton senior football player Jeremiah Flemmons voluntarily stood up in the postgame huddle Friday night and poured his heart out.
Speaking after a shocking 35-21 home loss to DeKalb County in the first round of the TSSAA Class 4A playoffs, Flemmons told his teammates and coaches how much he loved them — and how he wouldn't have traded anything for being part of the program.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound star athlete did his part through the end of his time with the Hurricanes. Flemmons displayed his elite ability as a receiver Friday, hauling in a 16-yard touchdown with just his left hand to build a 21-7 lead for the home team with 7:01 left in the second quarter. It was his second score, coming just minutes after he fought for a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
"Jeremiah is a class act and is a lifer with East Hamilton," Hurricanes coach Grant Reynolds said. "He has been here through elementary, middle and high school. He is the face of our program. To see him stand up and tell his teammates how much he loves them and to thank them for helping him succeed doesn't surprise me one bit. He is one of several high-character guys we have."
Fellow senior Mel McFarland was one of the last players left on the field on a 40-degree bitter cold night. The 6-foot, 210-pound edge rusher was similar to Flemmons in leaving all he had on the field: He made five tackles for loss — including a sack — and had three quarterback hurries in the defeat.
McFarland was a crucial force for East Hamilton (8-3) all season as he finished with 40 tackles for loss and showed remarkable effort in his coaches' judgment.
"East Hamilton taught me how to fight and overcome obstacles," McFarland said. "I want everyone who comes here after we leave to always fight and never give up. I played to the best of my ability every time on that field. I can't say enough about my coaches and teammates. They cheer me on, and if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here in the first place."
East Hamilton contended for Region 3's top seed this season before winding up second to Red Bank, but the postseason run was short for the Hurricanes as Region 4 No. 3 seed DeKalb County (7-4) wanted it more Friday night.
A tough and physical group of visitors bowed their backs and scored 28 straight points, pitching a shutout during a second half in which they had three interceptions — one of which Nolan Gottlied returned for a touchdown with 4:49 remaining for the game's final margin — and a fumble recovery.
Meanwhile, the Tigers ran the ball with power, especially on the legs of senior running back Colby Barnes, who rushed for 29- and 44-yard scores from the 7:59 mark to the 6:59 mark of the third quarter to tie the game and then give DeKalb County a 28-21 lead.
Tigers senior captain Isaac Knowles had a touchdown run and made a diving, one-handed 33-yard catch down the left sideline while drawing pass interference in the first half. Knowles also broke up several passes on defense.
East Hamilton sophomore running back Juan Bullard rushed for big gains of 44 and 37 yards, but his biggest play of the night, a 65-yard screen pass in the third quarter, was called back due to a hold.
"Dekalb was just the more physical team and played with a chip on their shoulder," Reynolds said. "I am thankful for our seniors and all they have done for this program, and they deserved a better way to go out than this."