Signal Mountain coach Bill Price had a look of satisfaction on his face.
Sweat was running down the sides of his face and his red shirt was probably completely drenched, but he was happier than a pig in a mudhole after watching his Eagles remain unbeaten in District 7-AA play with a come-from-behind 27-20 victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Jim Eberle Field Friday night.
It's been a roller-coaster ride for Price and his Eagles so far this fall.
They got whipped at East Hamilton in the season opener and lost three of their first four games, but that trend has been reversed and the Eagles are now 4-3 overall after winning their third straight game.
There was nothing easy about it.
"With the exception of two big plays, I thought our defense played great, but it was a great ballgame," Price said minutes after the final horn had sounded.
"Our defense played a lot better than we've been playing. We got behind early and could have dropped our heads, but we battled back and did what we had to do to win.
"Offensively, we weren't clicking on all cylinders, but Notre Dame had a lot to do with that. They are a much-improved football team. We just have to keep getting better," Price added.
Notre Dame scored first when freshman quarterback Alex Darris threw a perfect pass to Kareem Orr in the left corner of the end zone, the play covering 22 yards and giving the Irish a 6-0 lead with 2:22 left in the opening quarter after the PAT failed.
Signal Mountain countered with a couple of touchdowns in the second quarter and the difference was 13-6 at intermission.
Junior James McClellan, who finished the game with 80 yards rushing on 19 carries, plunged into the end zone from the 2 with 5:41 left in the second before quarterback Reese Phillips passed 15 yards to sophomore Harrison Moon for the go-ahead score with 58 seconds left before the break.
Ben Philyaw made it 20-6 with a 26-yard run late in the third quarter and it looked like the Eagles might be pulling away, but Notre Dame had other ideas.
Darris hooked up with Auston Banks on a little swing pass to the left that covered 40 yards before connecting with Nick Chambers on a 43-yarder for a touchdown with 42 seconds left in the third.
Chambers, surely one of the best athletes on the Notre Dame team, was looking over his right shoulder as he sprinted downfield, but made a nice adjustment and caught the ball over the top as he coasted into the end zone.
The difference was 20-13 when the fourth quarter started.
Madison Byrd was on the receiving end of Phillips' second TD throw covering 30 yards with just over a minute elapsed in the final quarter, but again, the Irish came right back.
After an exchange of punts, Notre Dame went 90 yards in just five plays to stay within striking distance following Banks' TD run from the 12.
Banks had a 49-yard sweep down the left side along the Signal Mountain bench to give the Irish a first down on the Eagle 20. Darris passed eight yards to Chris Hornsby before the sophomore speedster scored with 6:59 to play.
Notre Dame had one final shot with the ball at its own 38 with 1:35 to play, but Darris was intercepted by Diamez Frankllin on the second play and the Eagles were able to run out the clock.
While the victory was quite rewarding for Signal Mountain as the Eagles went over the .500 mark for the first time this year, it was equally as heart-breaking for coach Charles Fant and his young Irish squad.
"That was a great football game, but Signal Mountain is big and fast and they came right at us. We knew coming in that we needed to establish our running game while stopping theirs. I thought we stopped them in the first half, but they made some nice adjustments," Fant said after a post-game talk with his team.
"I hate to lose more than anyone, but I'm hoping that we can learn from a game like this. I wasn't happy with the penalties. We had four for unsportsmanlike conduct and I'll take the blame for those as there are times when we don't know how to handle success, but Signal Mountain scored touchdowns following two of them, so who knows what might have been?
"When they went up by two touchdowns, the game could have easily have gotten away from us, but I was proud of the fact that we played toe-to-toe with them in the second half. We found some stuff that worked in the second half, but it was just too late," Fant added.
While the Eagles used the arm of Phillips to generate most of their offense in the first half, they went to the senior signal caller's legs in the second half.
Phillips had completed 13 of 17 passes in the first half for 112 yards, but he carried the ball 11 times for 97 yards in the second half alone and finished as the leading rusher for the game with 101 yards.
The Eagles finished with 419 total yards, including 251 on the ground. While Phillips was the leader, McClellan was next with his 80.
Byrd was the leading receiver for Signal Mountain with seven catches for 91 yards while C.J. Johnson added 57 yards on five grabs.
Notre Dame finished with 256 total yards, including 172 through the air and 84 on the ground.
Darris completed 11 of 27 passes for those 172 yards, including five to Orr for 43 yards. Banks had two grabs for 45 yards while Chambers had one for 43 and Tim Barnes two for 33.
Banks was the leading rusher for the Irish with 63 yards on eight trips while Orr added 22 yards on seven attempts.
Signal Mountain won the first-down battle, 22-9.
Signal Mountain faces another tough game next week at home against Polk County while Notre Dame has a week off before going to Dunlap for a battle with Sequatchie County on Oct. 12.
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN 0 13 7 7 -- 27
NOTRE DAME 6 0 7 7 -- 20
ND -- Kareem Orr 22 pass from Alex Darris (kick failed), 2:22 left in first;
SM -- James McClellan 2 run (Houston McClain kick), 5:41 left in second;
SM -- Harrison Moon 15 pass from Reese Phillips (kick failed), 0:58.1 left in second;
SM -- Ben Philyaw 26 run (McClain kick), 1:29 left in third;
ND -- Nick Chambers 43 pass from Darris (Darris kick), 0:42.3 left in third;
SM -- Madison Byrd 30 pass from Phillips (McClain kick), 10:49 left in fourth;
ND -- Auston Banks 12 run (Darris kick), 6:59 left in fourth.
(email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)