Signal Mountain was determined to run the football and take time off the clock Friday night in the second half of its 28-19 non-district victory over rival East Hamilton before a standing-room-only crowd at Hurricane Hill.
“That’s our kind of football,” Eagles coach Bill Price said after the season opening game for both teams. “It was a tough football game and we just got out of there (with the win). But I’ll take it.”
Nursing a 14-13 lead after the Hurricanes’ Martez Durrah picked up an Eagles fumble and rambled 40 yards for a touchdown midway through the third period, Signal Mountain went into old-school mode after the rivals exchanged punts.
The Eagles took over at their own 33.
With players from each team battling cramps on a scorching, steamy night in which the Eagles and Hurricanes renewed their budding and competitive rivalry, Price turned the ground game over to senior running back Kaleb Menzel.
On a 15-play drive, Menzel carried eight times for 38 yards, including the final 4 for a touchdown with 9:30 left in the game that gave the Eagles a 21-13 lead.
“Skye Wilson was out with cramps,” Price said. “Hunter VanDyken was out with cramps and Kalbe had to step up and play.”
Quarterback Jack Teter threw a 7-yard pass to John Ryan Wilson on the drive’s first play and the Eagles (1-0) ran the ball 14 consecutive times.
“I think everybody out there on the field was cramping,” said Menzel, who finished with 81 yards on 22 carries and also scored the Eagles’ final touchdown on a 3-yard run. “I was definitely cramping hard, but just fought through it.”
East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood knew the Eagles would run the football, and that’s what they did. On the two key scoring drives in the fourth quarter, Signal Mountain ran the football on 22 of the 23 combined plays.
“We had to play responsibility defense against that offense,” he said. “We made some gaffes here and there, but Signal Mountain executed when they had to and we didn’t. Running the football is what they do. (Price) hangs his hat on that offensive line.”
The Hurricanes came right back with a scoring drive of their own.
Reserve quarterback Caleb Rhodes, taking over for starter Nick Woods after the sophomore suffered a right knee injury early in the third quarter, hit paydirt from 4 yards out. Rhodes was stuffed by Garland Wood trying to run for the potential game-tying two-point conversion.
The Hurricanes’ backup handled the offense well. He completed 2 of 5 passes for 35 yards and rushed five times for 6 yards.
“We have complete confidence in Caleb,” Hurricanes coach Ted Gatewood said. “No one on our team had a hiccup when it came to Caleb playing quarterback. He’s a leader, he’s got character and it showed when he went in for Nick.”
As for Woods, who was making his first varsity start, Gatewood said his young quarterback will have an MRI on Monday and he’s likely to know his status for next week’s game at Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett on Wednesday or Thursday.
“I wasn’t going to put the kid in jeopardy,” Gatewood said. “The number one thing is I won’t put a kid on the field that can’t protect himself. He’s a sophomore and a heck of a football player and he’ll be great for us.”
After a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, Signal Mountain went to work again, slamming the Hurricanes (0-1) with an eight-play touchdown drive – all on the ground – and Menzel scored from 3 yards out.
“This feels amazing,” Menzel said. “East Hamilton is one of our biggest rivalries and this is a huge win for us. This started our season off right and I think we’re on our way to the state playoffs.”
Signal Mountain, which rolled up 517 yards of total offense with 375 coming on the ground, opened the game with an 80-yard, nine-play drive on its first possession, with Teter finding John Ryan Wilson on a 25-yard pass play in the end zone.
East Hamilton 204 yards of offense, just 24 on the ground, appeared ready to tie the game up when Woods hit Matt Milita with a pass over the middle for 23 yards. Milita was stripped of the ball at the 1 and the Eagles’ Nick Spalding recovered.
On the first play, Teter hit sophomore Skye Wilson on a short pass and Wilson turned it into a sensational 99-yard touchdown to put the Eagles up 14-0 with 3:09 left in the first quarter. Wilson led all rushers with 108 yards – 103 came in the first half – on 13 carries and the long pass play gave him 207 total yards on the night.
Wilson also came up with two sacks in the second half.
“That (long pass) was the best thing I could ever do for this team,” he said. “When I caught the ball I felt like I was unstoppable.”
The Hurricanes fought off Signal Mountain’s quick start with timely defense. Sophomore linebacker Isaac Hembree recovered a Nathan Johnson fumble at the East Hamilton 38 and that set in motion a 62-yard, nine-play scoring drive.
On third-and-eight, Woods hits Jordan Gorman for an 8-yard gain and a first down. On fourth-and-one at the Eagles’ 39, Woods sneaked for 4 yards and another first down at the 35. Woods hit Gorman again, this time for 25 yards, and the Hurricanes were in business at the 10.
On the next play, Kendall Henderson, who led the Hurricanes with 33 rushing yards on three carries, scored the team’s first touchdown of the season.
Signal Mountain started its first second-half drive at its own 5 and quickly drove to the Hurricanes’ 39. Teter fumbled and Durrah, a senior cornerback, scooped up the ball and raced for a touchdown with 6:50 left in the period. The extra point kick by Cooper Loftin hit the right upright and bounced away. The Hurricanes trailed, 14-13.
“I just saw the ball coming toward me,” Durrah said. “I was going to fall on it, but decided I wanted to make a play for my team. I got the scoop and took it to the house. It just came right up for me. We work on scoop-and-score a lot in practice, so it goes back to preparation.”
With the win Signal Mountain snapped a two-game losing streak to the Hurricanes and now leads the series 3-2.
Signal Mountain 14 0 0 14 – 28
East Hamilton 0 7 6 6 – 19
SM – John Ryan Wilson 25 pass from Jack Teter (Ben Brown kick), 9:13
SM – Skye Wilson 99 pass from Teter (Brown kick), 3:09
EH – Kendall Henderson 10 run (Cooper Loftin kick), 10:24
EH – Martez Durrah 40 fumble return (kick failed), 6:50
SM – Kaleb Menzel 4 run (Brown kick), 9:30
EH – Caleb Rhodes 4 run (run failed), 6:46
SM – Menzel 3 run (Brown kick), 3:04
First Downs 22 13
Rushes-Yards 63-375 26-24
Passing Yards 142 216
Total Yards 76-517 52-240
Com.-Att.-Int. 4-13-0 18-26-1
Fumbles-Lost 5-4 2-1
Punts.-Avg. 2-39 4-37
Penalties-Yds. 7-46 8-44
Rushing – Signal Mountain: Skye Wilson 13-108, Nathan Johnson 8-97, Kaleb Menzel 22-81, Hunter VanDyken 7-48, William Franklin 8-33, Jack Teter 4-12, TaDarius Hodge 1-minus 4; East Hamilton: Kendall Henderson 3-33, David Whiteside 10-16, Caleb Rhodes 5-6, Matt Milita 1-minus 3, Nick Woods 7-minus 28.
Passing – Signal Mountain: Jack Teter 4-11-0 142, Team 0-2-0 0; East Hamilton – Nick Woods 16-21-1 181, Caleb Rhodes 2-5-0 35.
Receiving—Signal Mountain: Wilson 1-99, J.R. Wilson 2-31, Jason Morris 1-12; East Hamilton: Burton Bell 3-52, Jordan Gorman 2-38, Hunter Gregg 3-35, Rhodes 2-27, Christian Smith 1-23, Whiteside 3-19, Ben Rogers 3-17, Henderson 1-5.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)