Signal Mountain and Notre Dame both have good football teams with explosive offensive units that can put a lot of points on the board in a hurry.
They both also have pretty good defensive units that too often don't get enough credit for the work they do. But they're the ones who stepped up big in a key District 7-AA battle at Signal Mountain Friday night.
Taking advantage of two interceptions and a fumble, the host Eagles scored 17 second-half points and hung on to win by 20-13 over the Fighting Irish, snapping a four-game win streak for Notre Dame.
Kareem Orr returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and Alex Darras booted a 33-yard field goal in the first minute of the second quarter as Notre Dame raced to a 10-0 lead.
Houston McClain booted a 32-yard field goal with 30 seconds left in the second as the difference was 10-3 at the break.
Signal Mountain coach Bill Price must have said the right things to his defense as their intensity level picked up even more in the second half.
The Eagles got another field goal from McClain, this time from 31 yards with 5:06 to go in the third to make it 10-6 before taking the lead for the first time on a 1-yard plunge by bullish James McClellan with 2:24 left.
McClellan's TD was set by by an interception by Ryan Claxton, who returned it from the 45 down to the 13 where the Eagles punched it in on the fifth play of the drive.
McClellan, who topped the 1,000-yard mark in the game, added his second TD on another 1-yard plunge with 5:08 to play to give the Eagles a seemingly-comfortable 20-10 lead, but Notre Dame answered with another Darras field goal of 37 yards to get within a touchdown with 3:24 left.
Notre Dame's defense, surely dog-tired after a long second half, somehow stopped the Eagles once again to force a punt, but the Fighting Irish started from their own 14 with 1:35 to play and no timeouts.
Chris Feemster intercepted a Darras pass with 21 seconds left to seal the win for the Eagles.
"I know it hurts, but we gave it all we had and that's all I can ask from you," Notre Dame coach Charles Fant told his team following the game.
"Turnovers and not executing on offense hurt as that's the tale of the tape, but high school football isn't always about wins and losses. We made a lot of mistakes, but we still have an unbelievable football team. Our defense never quit," the popular coach continued.
"The third quarter is where we lost it tonight. Special teams have made some big plays this fall, but they let us down tonight. We finally found a way to move the ball, but it was simply too late. We can't afford to give a team like Signal Mountain the ball in the field position they had and expect to win," Fant added.
A muffed punt midway through the third quarter was the first big boo-boo for the Irish special teams and Signal Mountain's Chris Moore recovered at the 13.
Notre Dame's defense stood tall once again and didn't allow a touchdown, but McClain's second field goal drew the Eagles to within 10-6.
Claxton's interception three plays later put the Eagles back in business and the lead had changed hands less than three minutes later.
Notre Dame was forced to punt on its first possession of the fourth quarter and another botched play was big in favor of Signal Mountain.
The snap was on the ground. By the time the Irish punter recovered, Eagle defenders were all around. Somehow the punter got his foot on the ball, but the shanked punt caromed off a teammate's helmet and Signal Mountain's Jared Menzel recovered at the 43.
McClellan's second touchdown capped the nine-play 43-yard drive and put the Eagles in the driver's seat.
Notre Dame never fully recovered.
"This was a big game for us to win tonight," said Signal Mountain coach Bill Price.
"Both teams have scored a bunch of points, but our defense was the key for us. We scored just enough to win. I like close games like this as they can only make us better. We lost a game like this against East Hamilton, but we were able to pull this one out.
"Those turnovers were huge, but it was our defense that created those mistakes," Price added.
Jacob Wright is a defensive tackle for the Eagles who had at least four tackles for lost yardage and one batted pass. In general, he made life miserable for Notre Dame.
"Our whole defense played well tonight, but we were motivated. We want to win our district and host a playoff game and that's why this was such a big game for us," Wright explained before heading toward the dressing room.
Signal Mountain ended the game with 289 total yards, including 210 on the ground and 79 through the air.
McClellan, who entered the game with 941 yards, finished with 66 yards on 23 carries and two TDs, giving him 1,007 yards and 10 TDs for the season.
Diamez Franklin also finished with 66 yards on 15 carries while Kaleb Menzel picked up 53 yards on 13 attempts.
Quarterback Jack Teter didn't have to throw much, but he completed seven of 11 for 79 yards, including a long of 32 to Harrison Moon. McClellan had one grab for 22 yards while Franklin also had one for 16.
The Eagles finished the game with 13 first downs.
Notre Dame was limited to just 184 total yards, including 114 through the air and 70 on the ground.
Auston Banks, held to just 14 yards on 10 first-half carries, finished with 69 yards on 16 carries, including a long of 35 yards early in the fourth quarter.
Orr had four catches for 82 yards while Brandon Harris had three grabs for 26 yards.
Notre Dame finished with eight first downs.
Signal Mountain, now 5-2 overall and 3-0 in District 7-AA, has next week off before hosting Chattanooga Christian on Oct. 18.
Notre Dame is now 4-2 overall and 2-1 in 7-AA. The Irish travel to Benton next week for a big non-district game with Polk County.
NOTRE DAME 7 3 0 3 -- 13
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN 0 3 10 7 -- 20
ND -- Kareem Orr 99 kickoff return (Michael Quatrano kick), 11:40 left in first;
ND -- Alex Darras 33 field goal, 11:37 left in second;
SM -- Houston McClain 32 field goal, 0:30.4 left in second;
SM -- McClain 31 field goal, 5:06 left in third;
SM -- James McClellan 1 run (McClain kick), 2:24 left in third;
SM -- McClellan 1 run (McClain kick), 5:08 left in fourth;
ND -- Darras 37 field goal, 3:24 left in fourth.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)