As the seconds winded down on the scoreboard Friday night, Loudon High School Redskins fans gave a standing ovation as the football team rushed the field to celebrate a 24-7 victory over the Red Bank High School Lions.
The win marks the Redskins’ first region title and undefeated regular season since 2014 — the final year of head coach Jeff Harig’s first tenure.
“It’s huge,” he said. “We came down here two years ago and felt like, ‘OK, we’re here to compete for the championship,’ but we weren’t very competitive. We played a lot of sophomores ... so this senior class, it’s huge. Nobody believed in us, and we believed in ourselves and felt like we were capable of coming down here and winning. I think we showed everyone how good of a team we are.”
After forcing two stalled drives against Loudon in the first quarter, Red Bank put up the first points of the night just before the quarter’s end when running back Lumiere Strickland punched his way in from nine yards out, capping a 13-play drive to give the Lions a 7-0 lead.
The Redskins relied heavily on the run game on their next offensive series and found success with McKenzie Lunsford’s four carries for 33 yards. Those runs set up a 24-yard field goal by Mark Ridenour to cut the Lions’ lead to 7-3 early in the second quarter.
Red Bank threatened to score again late in the second quarter, but Ridenour came up with a key interception just before the half.
The Redskins strung together several potential scoring drives, but six penalty calls in the first half kept them at bay and forced Harig to deliver a clear message to his team at the break.
“We had penalties, and we opportunities to make plays when the opportunity was there,” he said. “It was 7-3 ... I don’t know if it was the tale of two halves, but we ended up executing a little better in the second half and our kids made plays. I think we adjusted to the speed of the game, and we calmed down and started running the ball. Our kids, you could see their confidence grow the more that second half went on and we were playing at a pretty high level at the end of the second half there.”
Jackson and the rest of the team took Harig’s message to heart.
“I just think in the second half, the coaches just came and talked to us,” Jackson said. “We knew what we had to do, and we just came out and executed.”
Red Bank received the ball to start the third quarter and got off to a promising start after a facemask call on the Redskins during the kick return set the Lions up at midfield.
From there, the Lions rushed the ball seven consecutive times to reach the red zone before a stuffed run, delay-of-game penalty and incomplete pass forced Red Bank into a fourth-down situation.
The Redskins came up with a big stop on a RBHS quarterback Maddox Wilkey keeper, setting the Loudon offense up on their own 22.
LHS quarterback Keaton Harig started the ensuing drive on a strong note with two passes to Drew Jackson for a combined 44 yards before capping off the drive with a 20-yard strike over the middle to Ridenour for the Redskins’ first touchdown of the night.
“At that point, we hadn’t scored,” Jeff Harig said. “We had moved the ball nice, but we had to settle for a field goal. I think that changed the whole game. It gave our kids excitement. We went out and played a lot better, defensively ... played fast. I don’t know how many first downs they had after that moment, but I thought our defense played really well in the second half.”
Red Bank responded with a 13-play drive to finish out the third quarter, but the Redskins again stonewalled another score after blocking a 27-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the game at 10 to start the fourth quarter.
The Redskins immediately took advantage of the turnover when Keaton Harig delivered a short swing pass to Jackson, who then turned up field and left the entire defense behind for an 83-yard touchdown to push Loudon ahead 17-7.
“I was just trying to run as fast as I can,” Jackson said. “I knew they were right on my tail, so I was just trying to get in the end zone before they could.”
The game continued to spiral out of control for the Lions after starting on their own 18-yard line, thanks to a deep kickoff by Ridenour. Following three unsuccessful plays, the Redskins forced a fumble on fourth and one.
The Loudon offense took over on the Red Bank 27-yard line and continued to ride the hot hand in Jackson, who rushed back-to-back for 24 yards and another score.
Jackson finished the night with 15 carries for 128 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He also recorded four catches for 129 yards and a score.
“We had been saving him all year for this moment,” Jeff Harig said. “You give him the ball seven, eight times a game and you start using other players, but I thought our offensive line did a great job. He took some and made some guys miss. Keaton made some plays through the air and running the football to stay out of down-and-distance situations that were not good for us. Second and four is a good thing for us, second and six is good ... first and 15, first and 20 is not. When we had successful drives, we stayed ahead of the down-and-distance and kept them guessing defensively.”
The No. 1-seeded Redskins will host the Alvin C. York Institute Dragons on Friday in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.