OOLTEWAH, Tenn. (WRCB) -- East Hamilton has enjoyed countless big moments in its quick rise as a high school football power.
Already in their first five years of varsity action, the Hurricanes have won district titles, advanced to the state quarterfinals and had players sign Division I scholarship offers.
But the one thing Ted Gatewood's club has yet to do: beat arch rival Ooltewah.
"It's exciting to play in this game. It's great for the fans and it's great for high school football as it builds into a bigger rivalry," Gatewood said. "But in order for it to be a true rivalry, you have to get that record to even up a little bit.
"We haven't held up our end of the bargain so far."
That's the task for East Hamilton this week in a visit to The Nest to face the Owls in the Friday Night Football Game of the Week.
Emotion runs deep on both sides since most of the East Hamilton players grew up playing for Ooltewah before the new school opened. Last year's meeting was the closest yet, with the Owls hanging on for a 31-28 win.
This year's matchup is bigger than ever with the second-ranked Hurricanes (4-0, 1-0 in 5-AAA) moving up to join Ooltewah (3-1, 1-0) in District 5-AAA. This year's winner won't only enjoy bragging rights, but also the inside track to the league title.
"I just think it's going to be a great football game between two great teams," said Ooltewah quarterback Brody Binder. "A lot of us know each other, which makes it that much more fun. Being out there playing against guys you know, it makes you want to win it even more."
East Hamilton rode the legs of running back Logan Jackson to the 4A state quarterfinals a year ago, but this year have found greater success in the air. Quarterback Hunter Moore has thrown for 781 yards and racked up ten touchdown passes in the past two weeks alone, with 420 yards and six of those scores going to Tony Francois on just ten catches.
"It's definitely been exciting, but I haven't really changed my approach much," Moore said. "Our gameplans are still really balanced, but we just have some great playmakers who have been able to make a difference."
Ooltewah's attack has been focused more on the ground thanks to the powerful legs of Desmond Pittman. The workhorse senior tailback has crossed the one-hundred yard mark in each of the Owls' first four games, which is starting to open up more opportunities in the passing game for veteran signal caller Brody Binder.
"When we haven't been able to make the plays down the field, like last week in the first half against Tyner, we just try to put the ball in Desmond's hands a little bit more," Bryan said. "Usually that's been big in helping us stabilize everything a little bit.
"We've played some really good football, but there hasn't been a time where everything is clicking at the same time. However, that rarely happens in the pros, let alone high school football."
An electric crowd is expected in Hooterville after last year's standing-room only crowd on Hurricane Hill. Both teams are doing their best to push past the hoopla and hype, but admit it's tough to do it while walking the halls of their schools.
"People keep on talking about it and tweeting about it, but we can't pay attention to that noise," Francois said. "Our focus is on the game and what we have to do."
Bryan believes that won't be much of a problem once the lights come on and the whistle finally blows.
"We hope people are standing on each others shoulders trying to find a way to see this game because that kind of atmosphere is great for our players," Bryan said. "They work hard and put in the time, so they deserve an atmosphere like that.
"That's why you play the game."
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. Paul Shahen and Jordan Tippit will be live from Ooltewah with full coverage starting at 11:10 p.m. Et on Week 4 of Channel 3's Friday Night Football.
Can't find what you're looking for?