Loudon High School head football coach Jeff Harig got the fast start he was looking for Friday night, as the Redskins rolled past the Greenback School Cherokees 54-20.
The win marks the program’s first against the Cherokees since 2015 when the Redskins won 36-22.
“It’s great, Greenback is the No. 1-ranked team in single A,” Harig said. “This senior class is 0-3 against them. It was a big push in our offseason, you know. We talked about playing with our best effort. Everybody’s going to be needed. I’m just proud of our team, their preparation and my coaching staff having everybody ready to go.”
The Redskins got to work early on the first offensive drive with a 65-yard gain by senior Mark Ridenour on a jet sweep. Drew Jackson scored on the next play from three yards out to give Loudon a 7-0 lead 20 seconds into the first quarter.
Loudon scored again on the next offensive series after starting on its own 11-yard line. LHS sophomore quarterback Keaton Harig delivered a 26-yard pass to senior Noah Burnette over the middle to help ignite a successful drive.
The Redskins benefited from two Greenback penalties on the drive before Harig hooked up with Kyle Smallen on a 20-yard strike down the middle of the end zone to push out to a 13-0 lead.
Greenback’s offense got three plays off the ensuing series before officials sent both teams back into the field house on two occasions due to lightning.
“I felt like some of the things we had question marks on were established,” Jeff Harig said. “I thought we were more physical than they were, and our ultimate goal was to play a lot of kids to wear them down, so for them, I think that was an advantage to have those breaks. I thought our guys hung with it and kept fighting.”
Play resumed close to 10 p.m. with 9:50 remaining in the second quarter, and the Cherokees finally gained some momentum when senior quarterback Braden Carnes completed three consecutive passes to Wyatt Rutgerson for 51 yards. Rutgerson capped off the drive with a 15-yard rush into the end zone, but a blocked extra point kept the Redskins in front 13-6.
Loudon responded again with another long offensive drive, which ended with Keaton Harig’s second touchdown pass of the night, this time to freshman Semy Turner from 12 yards out to give the Redskins a 20-6 halftime lead.
“We just played good,” Keaton Harig said. “Our receivers got open, our line blocked good. Everything just worked.”
The Cherokees managed to score again to start the third quarter with a 34-yard strike from Carnes to Willis, but the Redskins didn’t lay down. Loudon scored five more touchdowns to Greenback’s one to walk away with the victory.
Keaton Harig led the Redskins offense, completing 14 of 20 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 29 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
“It was really exciting, especially winning the way we did,” he said. “With my first start being Greenback and being able to win, it’s really special. It just shows how mentally tough we are and strong.”
Greenback head football coach Greg Ryan admitted he didn’t have his team ready to play. The Cherokees recorded seven penalties for 75 yards, which is an unusual statistic for Ryan’s teams.
“We’ve got to get better, I mean, what else can you say?” he said. “Obviously, I didn’t get us ready to play. For the most part, we do defense by play recognition. So in game one, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to see. For the most part, I knew what they done. I’ll be straight up honest with you, and it’s no excuse on our guys, but in the first half ... all the big plays they got were on pick routes. You know, we’re playing man coverage, they picked us. Good for them, the referee didn’t call it. It is what it is.”
For LHS senior Jackson, this win was “a long time coming.” He finished the night with 50 yards rushing and one touchdown.
“This is probably up there with the Battle of the Bridge,” he said. “This one’s really sweet. I’ve been wanting this since freshman year. Coming out here and dominating the way we did is just amazing.”
Jackson received help in the backfield with fellow tailback McKenzie Lunsford, who led the team with 75 rushing yards and a score.
“Drew cramped up, didn’t feel his best,” Jeff Harig said. “I thought McKenzie really stepped up. He stepped up being our primary ball carrier. As the game moved on and we got consistent play, I felt like our front wore their front down. Keaton, early in the game, did a lot of our zone read where he kept it, and that set up our good cutback lanes. With the success we had throwing the ball, it really opened up that running game to finish the game off in the fourth quarter.”
The Redskins compete Thursday at home in the Battle of the Bridge rivalry game against the Lenoir City High School Panthers.
“We answered a lot of questions tonight,” Jeff Harig said. “Greenback’s a good football team, both physically and athletically. Really, I’m going to have to bring it back down to earth. We’re going to have to get focused to play because Coach (Jeff) Cortez will have them ready to play.”