CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the first time in six years, players were chanting, coaches were hugging and fans were high-fiving after an Eastern Hancock playoff game.
In one of the biggest upsets across the state Friday night, the Royals outplayed previously unbeaten Class A No. 5 Hagerstown from the opening whistle, prevailing 42-14 in the opening round of Sectional 37 play in Charlottesville.
The jovial postgame atmosphere was the scene Pat Echeverria envisioned when he took the EH coaching job before the 2011 season.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of the guys.”
Next Friday, Eastern Hancock (5-5) will travel to Northeastern (6-4), which defeated Tri (0-10) 22-0 Friday night. It will be EH’s first trip to the sectional semifinals since 2006, the year of the blue-and-white’s last sectional crown and also the program’s most recent postseason victory prior to Friday night.
During his team’s Wednesday practice before playing Edinburgh last week, Echeverria noticed a change in his team’s attitude.
“All of the sudden I felt like a light bulb came across all our kids’ heads,” he said. “They started to figure out not only what they were supposed to do, but why they were doing it.”
The Royals seemed to forget their respective heads to begin the game.
EH received the ball first and went three-and-out, doubling the bad start with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.
Hagerstown (9-1), boasting Class A’s sixth-highest scoring offense (41.4 points per game), took over in Royal territory and scored in six plays, with the last being a 4-yard run by quarterback Cole Bartlett, who rushed and passed for over 1,000 yards this season.
But EH kept its cool, moving methodically down the field until running back Spencer Gilbert announced his arrival.