OOLTEWAH—The Oak Ridge Wildcats’ first season under returning Coach Joe Gaddis ended in a 25-10 loss to the East Hamilton Hurricanes on Friday.
The first-round playoff game on a cold night in Ooltewah was relatively close until the end of the third quarter, when the Hurricanes gained a 16-10 lead and started to pull away.
Oak Ridge struggled on offense throughout the game and had “no spark,” Gaddis said. The Wildcats finished the night with 183 total yards on offense, compared to 289 for the Hurricanes.
The Wildcats gave up a few chances to score in the first half, settling for a field goal inside the Hurricanes’ 20 midway through the first quarter and failing to capitalize on a fumble recovery just before the second.
“The missed opportunities in the first (half) were very frustrating,” Gaddis said.
Still, Oak Ridge scored first and carried a 10-7 lead going into halftime. But the Wildcats (7-4, 6-2 District 3) were unable to score in the second half and gave up back-to-back touchdowns that followed a fumble recovery and blocked punt. The team never regained its momentum.
Gaddis said he felt good about the game until the fumble.
Hurricanes’ Coach Ted Gatewood said his team (9-2, 5-1 District 5) didn’t panic in the first half as Oak Ridge established an early lead and the Wildcats “took a few things away.
“We knew it was going to be a tough football game,” Gatewood said.
He said the Oak Ridge turnovers in the second half were also key.
The Wildcats opened the scoring on a 22-yard field goal by Brandon Nickle with 2:47 remaining in the first quarter, after quarterback Jaylin Henderson was unable to connect in the end zone with receivers Jiminquas Johnson and Ted Mitchell.
The Hurricanes defended well after their first-half fumble recovery, batting down several long passes, including one to Mitchell on a fourth-and-10 from the East Hamilton 35.
After that stop, the Hurricanes regained the ball on downs and started a 65-yard scoring drive capped by a 40-yard touchdown run by David Whiteside. The score was 7-3 in favor of East Hamilton.
But Oak Ridge responded with a 62-yard drive of its own, and Henderson connected on a 17-yard touchdown pass to Blake Goins, putting Oak Ridge back on top 10-7 at 3:28 in the half.
In the second half, the Hurricanes tied the game on a 20-yard field goal by Casey Malone with 6:52 remaining in the third quarter.
On their next drive, the Wildcats missed a chance to regain the lead when a field goal attempt by Nickle went wide right.
An Oak Ridge turnover on a fumble a minute later set up an East Hamilton score on a five-yard keeper by quarterback Hunter Moore. The extra point was no good, and the score was 16-10 East Hamilton.
The Hurricanes then converted a blocked punt into a 36-yard touchdown run by Whiteside. They added their last two points on a safety when a snap to Henderson went through the end zone with 4:19 left in the game.
In a post-game huddle, Gaddis told his players they made some critical mistakes, and he hadn’t wanted to end the season this way.
“Losing in the first round is unacceptable,” he said in a post-game interview.
But, “You fought hard,” Gaddis told the team. “(I) love the way you fought. I’m proud of you.”
See the preliminary stats here courtesy of Mark Haste: Oak Ridge Wildcats and East Hamilton Hurricanes Preliminary Stats.
See the preliminary offensive stats for the Wildcats here, also courtesy of Mark Haste: Oak Ridge Preliminary Offensive Stats vs. East Hamilton.
Note: This story was last updated at 9:32 a.m.