East Hamilton’s Tre Herndon is a special player, and he proved that on Friday, providing a pair of pivotal special teams plays late in the Hurricanes’ 14-12, season-opening victory over host Signal Mountain.
“Signal Mountain came to play tonight, I have to say that,” Herndon said. “They played. We just had to play harder and execute; do our thing out there, and when it came crunch time, make a play.”
That he did. Twice.
The first instance came after what felt like a huge momentum shift in favor of the Eagles. Just minutes earlier, Signal Mountain’s Diamez Franklin had hauled in a 26-yard touchdown reception, providing the team’s first points of the evening with 10:43 remaining in the final quarter.
And while head coach Bill Price’s gutsy two-point conversion attempt came up empty — leaving his team trailing 7-6 — that often-talked-about but never-quantified “Mo” definitely seemed to be on the home team’s sidelines.
The ensuing kickoff return — crunch time — was when Herndon first struck.
“I saw the lane, cut it, and it was just six from there,” he said.
The 90-yard return for a score was just the prelude to the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Vanderbilt commitment’s encore, though.
With 44 seconds to play, Signal Mountain’s Houston McLain lined up for a 37-yard field goal attempt — one that, if good, would’ve most likely served as the difference maker in the closely-contested struggle.
The senior kicker, who’d missed his only other attempt of the evening — a 51-yard, first quarter try — didn’t even get the chance to redeem himself, though. Herndon came flying in off the edge, blocking the potential game-winning try and securing the East Hamilton victory.
“That’s it right there: special teams,” East Hamilton head coach Ted Gatewood said. “That’s why [Herndon] is who he is. He’ll be the first to tell you, we have contributors all over the field making plays, but he made two there that you couldn’t draw up. We had to have them, and he did it.”
The Hurricanes (1-0), who throttled Signal Mountain 55-14 in last year’s season opener, didn’t have near as easy of a time with the Eagles this time around. The win was every bit as sweet, though.
“I wouldn’t say it’s more satisfying,” Herndon said, “But 14-12, that’s a close game. It felt great coming through, making that block, executing in crunch time. That was huge for us.”
Added senior linebacker Austin Gatewood: “This was awesome. It was a little stressful, but it’s great. It was an awesome game. We battled through adversity and just kept fighting.”
The Eagles (0-1) churned out 284 yards on the ground in the losing effort, the majority of which came from senior fullback James McClellan. The bruising 6-foot, 250-pounder powered his way through the Hurricanes defense throughout the contest, piling up 153 yards on 32 carries.
“Oh he’s big, he’s a big guy,” Herndon said. “We definitely had to plan for that; plan for gang tackling him as a team. We found a way to do it. He still got a lot of yards on us and we’re going to have to work on that, but we slowed him down as much as we could.”
Signal Mountain’s prolific passing attack from years past was nowhere to be found on Friday, though. Junior quarterback Jack Teter, the replacement for former Eagles standout Reese Phillips, completed just one of his five pass attempts for 26 yards — his lone completion being the fourth-quarter strike to Franklin.
Franklin finished with 98 yards on 18 carries, while East Hamilton senior Matt Milita ran for a game-high 110 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Hurricanes quarterback Hunter Moore was 8-of-14 passing for 82 yards, and the senior’s favorite target, Tyler Lowery, finished with four receptions for 49 yards.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
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