Hurricanes batter Tigers
After winning their final two games of the regular season, the Marshall County Tigers (5-6) were unable to carry that momentum into the postseason, as they suffered a 38-0 loss in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs to the East Hamilton Hurricanes in Chattanooga.
Although they only started playing football four years ago, the Hurricanes showed why they posted 9-1 record during the regular season and captured the District 6-AA title.
East Hamilton broke the game open early and built a 28-0 lead in the first half before forging a 38-0 advantage early in the third quarter to claim the first playoff victory in the brief history of their program.
Despite the lopsided loss, Marshall County coach Aaron Pitts thought his team benefitted from the playoff experience.
"It's always important to make the playoffs," said Pitts. "Considering how I came in and that the kids were trying to learn a new system, it was good for us to get a taste of the playoffs and get that extra experience. We're going to have to keep working hard in the offseason and continue to improve."
East Hamilton often moved the ball swiftly down the field and recorded seven plays of 20 yards or more en route to rolling up 426 yards of total offensive.
Despite losing starting tailback Logan Jackson to an apparent knee injury late in the second quarter, the Hurricanes churned out 262 yards rushing while averaging 7.5 yards per carry.
Jackson led East Hamilton's ground attack by rushing for 91 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. Lamond Greer also toted the ball 13 times for 85 yards and a TD, while Matt Milita added 74 yards rushing on just six carries to go along with a 48-yard catch.
Hurricane quarterback Hunter Moore completed only 5-of-14 passes, but still threw for 164 yards and a touchdown.
Wide out Jacob Noorbergen ripped off the longest play of the night for East Hamilton and hauled in a 69-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter while also scoring on an eight-yard TD run in the third period. Austin Gatewood, Jackson, and Cody Knox each had one reception as well for 22, 17, and eight yards respectively.
Except for a couple of first half drives, the Tigers found yards hard to come by against the Hurricanes fast and physical defense, as they mustered just 161 yards of total offense. MCHS also committed three costly turnovers, including two inside the red zone in the second quarter.
"Those two turnovers in the second quarter affected us a lot. Against a well coached and disciplined football team, turnovers are going to kill you," said Pitts.
East Hamilton completely stoned MCHS' ground game and limited Marshall County to just four yards rushing on 25 carries. Kevin Peterson led the Tigers with nine yards rushing on seven carries, while quarterback Austin Stacey was sacked three times and finished with only four yards on 14 carries.
"Not being able to run the ball hurt us a lot. Kevin and Malik (Crawford) were both banged up so we tried to keep everything to the outside because they were so physical upfront. Austin also had a shoulder injury, but he gutted it out tonight," said Pitts.
After hitting seven of his first 11 passes, Stacey had trouble throwing the ball the rest of the evening due to the Hurricanes fierce pass rush and completed only 9-of-22 throws overall for 107 yards while tossing one interception. Peterson also attempted two passes, completing both for 50 yards.
Crawford led the Tigers' receiving corps with four catches for 44 yards, while Peterson and Rhye Stephens each snared two passes for 20 and 17 yards respectively. O'Shea Tears, Kasey Pleas, and Payne Smith had one catch apiece for 37, 29, and 10 yards respectively as well with Smith leaving the game late in the first quarter due to a neck injury.
Tears paced MCHS' defense with 11 tackles from his linebacker position and Jalen Jones notched seven tackles. Jay Murphy and Cain Hendrix also recorded five tackles apiece, while Rekeem Alexander and Barry Mayes both had registered four tackles.
After East Hamilton grabbed a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a 22-yard touchdown run by Jackson, the Tigers drove from their own 12 to the Hurricane 2 in 14 plays on their ensuing possession with the help of a 37-yard catch by Tears and an 11-yard run by Stacey.
Marshall County, however, was unable to reach pay dirt, as Stacey lost the ball on the quarterback sneak before East Hamilton defensive back Dallas Hammond scooped up the pigskin in the end zone and returned it to the Hurricane 19.
East Hamilton then stretched their lead to 14-0 when Jackson broke loose for a 47-yard TD run early in the second quarter after a MCHS personal foul on the previous play kept the Hurricanes drive alive.
Following a Marshall County punt, Moore hit Noorbergen for a 69-yard touchdown strike down the left sideline to give the Hurricanes a 21-0 advantage with 5:43 left in the second quarter.
The Tigers advanced to the East Hamilton 20 on their next offensive series thanks to catches of 12 and 29 yards by Peterson and Pleas, but Hurricane cornerback Tre Herndon picked off Stacey at the three-yard line to snuff out the MCHS scoring threat.
East Hamilton then pushed their lead to 28-0 late in the half on a 22-yard touchdown jaunt by Greer after Milita made a 48-yard catch and run on the previous play.
In the second half, Cameron Carter hit a 31-yard field goal on the Hurricanes' first drive of the stanza to make it 31-0 before East Hamilton opened up a 38-0 cushion on an 8-yard TD run by Noorbergen with 9:05 left in the third quarter.
The Hurricanes then held Marshall County scoreless on their final two drives of the season to secure their third shutout of the season.