In case you weren't present at Ooltewah's James N. Monroe Stadium Friday night, you missed one whale of a high school football game.
Unbeaten and second-ranked East Hamilton squared off against the host Owls in a titanic District 5-AAA battle and it wasn't decided until the final minute.
In a game where there was a little bit of everything, it was sophomore defensive back Adrian Hall who had the biggest play as his interception in the final minute saved the day for the Owls as they hung on to beat the Hurricanes by a 28-26 final.
East Hamilton, which had trailed for most of the game after building a 5-0 lead, got to within 28-26 when Matt Milita scored on a sweep from the 8 with 5:03 to play.
The Hurricane defense then had their biggest stand of the game when they stopped the Owls on their next drive, forcing a punt from the Ooltewah 37. Junior Charles Sanders broke through and blocked the punt and the Hurricanes were in business at the 33 with 1:39 to play.
Quarterback Hunter Moore connected with Tony Francois for a three-yard gain before completing another pass for a dozen yards to Tyler Lowery, which moved the ball down to the 18.
The Hurricanes had no timeouts at this point, so Moore spiked the ball to stop the clock before Milita was knocked down for a two-yard loss. East Hamilton was then flagged for offensive pass interference in the end zone, which moved the ball back to the 35.
Hall then made the biggest play of his young career as the Ooltewah fans went bananas.
For all of those dedicated folks who started gathering some two hours before kickoff, they got their money's worth as these two teams stood toe to toe and battled like a couple of heavyweight champions.
But it's the Owls who have the early lead in the district with a 2-0 record and 4-1 overall. East Hamilton drops to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in 5-AAA.
Both head coaches had said prior to the kickoff that this was going to be a great game. Mac Bryan of Ooltewah and Ted Gatewood of East Hamilton were right on the money with that prediction.
"Two pretty good teams and it was a great game," Bryan said, somewhat low-key in his post-game comments after such an emotional battle had just ended.
"I thought we had the advantage with the way our offensive line was blocking. All we had to do was hand it off to Desmond," he continued, referring to fullback Desmond Pittman, who had his best game of the year with 264 yards on 30 carries and a pair of touchdowns.
"The crowd we had deserved a game like this. As much as we emphasize offense, our defense played great. We still have a long way to go, but I'm glad that we came out on top. We weren't as consistent as I would have liked on offense, but we got the job done," the first-year coach added.
"This is what high school football is all about," said a disappointed Gatewood following the game.
"Ooltewah made some great plays defensively late, but missed opportunities early on really killed us. We had the ball down on the 1 twice in the first half and didn't score a touchdown either time, but we hung in there.
"That offensive pass interference call late was huge, but I couldn't see it from where I was standing. If my guy was aggressively going for the ball, I have no problem with it. Ooltewah is in the driver's seat right now, but we just have to pick up the pieces and learn from it. There's still a lot of football to be played," the veteran coach, who is now 0-3 against his former team, added.
The bullish Pittman, surely one of the toughest running backs in the state to tackle, came into the game averaging 164 yards per game. He almost had that many in the first half, but carried the load for the Owls offensively and basically wore down the Hurricane defenders with his punishing style.
He had a big smile on his face when the final horn sounded and chances are good that he slept like a baby once his head hit the pillow Friday night.
"I'm tired and my legs are cramping, but I'm pretty hyped right now," he said when the game ended.
"We knew that the run was going to be a big part of our offense tonight and the coaches told me to pick it up at the half. I feel like this is one of my best games, but it was just the next game on our schedule and I'm happy we won," he added.
The Hurricanes drove down to the Ooltewah 1 on their first possession, but quarterback Hunter Moore was stopped for no gain on fourth down.
Pittman gained 12 and 17 yards on his first two carries in the following drive for the Owls, but Ooltewah was flagged for holding and the ball was moved back to the 24.
A bad snap sailed way over quarterback Brodie Binder's head and he was tackled for a safety by a host of Hurricanes as East Hamilton had a 2-0 lead with 5:16 left in the first quarter.
A 26-yard field goal by Casey Malone at the 7:38 mark of the second quarter gave the Hurricanes a 5-0 lead, but Ooltewah came back and scored a pair of touchdowns in the final three minutes of the first half.
Pittman bulled over from the 2 with 3:09 showing and his two-point conversion run gave the Owls their first lead at 8-5. Jeremia Jackson then gave the Owls a little breathing room when he returned an interception 20 yards for Ooltewah's second TD with 1:28 remaining before intermission.
The difference was 14-5 at the break.
Milita had touchdown runs of 22 and 10 yards in the third quarter, wrapped around a 14-yard TD scamper by Ooltewah's Pittman and the Owls still had a 21-19 lead when the fourth quarter began.
Edward Hayes returned an East Hamilton punt 48 yards for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown with 9:13 to play. Milita's third TD of the game four minutes later kept it close, but the Hurricanes could get no closer, despite the golden opportunity in the final two minutes.
Ooltewah finished the evening with 345 total yards, including 256 on the ground and 89 through the air.
While Pittman was the rushing leader for the Owls, Anthony Turner was the leading receiver with 71 yards on four receptions.
East Hamilton countered with 58 yards on the ground and 334 through the air for a total of 392.
Milita was the leader on the ground with 78 yards on 15 carries while Francois was the leading receiver with 142 yards on nine receptions. Tre Herndon added 84 yards on four grabs while Lowery had 46 yards on four catches and Hunter Parker 37 yards on two catches.
Moore completed 24 of 43 passes for 334 yards.
Another highlight of the evening that was somewhat lost in the rest of the hoopla was the halftime announcement that longtime Ooltewah athletic director Jim Jarvis had the field named after him.
Jarvis has been involved in Ooltewah athletics and administration for some 44 years and he was one of the happiest Owl supporters when the game ended.
Ooltewah will be at home again next Friday to host Dobyns-Bennett while East Hamilton will be off next Friday before hosting Cleveland on Oct. 4.
EAST HAMILTON 2 3 14 7 -- 26
OOLTEWAH 0 14 7 7 -- 28
EH -- Safety when Brodie Binder was tackled in the end zone, 5:16 left in first;
EH -- Casey Malone 26 field goal, 7:38 left in second;
OOL -- Desmond Pittman 3 run (Pittman run), 3:09 left in second;
OOL -- Jeremia Jackson 20 interception return (Kick failed), 1:28 left in second;
EH -- Matt Milita 20 run (Malone kick), 6:45 left in third;
OOL -- Pittman 15 run (Lasio Toser kick), 3:30 left in third;
EH -- Milita 6 run (Malone kick), 0:37.7 left in third;
OOL -- Edward Hayes 48 punt return (Toser kick), 9:13 left in fourth;
EH -- Milita 8 run (Malone kick), 5:03 left in fourth.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)