Loudon High School head football coach Jeff Harig wanted to send a message to the Sweetwater High School Wildcats on Friday night in a key region bout with playoff implications on the line.
Prior to the game, the Wildcats received a town-wide sendoff in hopes of spoiling senior night for the Redskins, but it proved a failed motivational tactic after Loudon ran away with a 37-0 shutout.
“Our guys were fired up a little bit by some of the things ... the sendoff that they got,” Harig said. “I think Sweetwater really got on that bus and intended to come down here and win this game. They made it known by sending the team off and had a parade and all this stuff, and you only do that for big games you think you can win. For us, whatever you’ve got to do to manufacture ... even if it’s artificial news, to get our guys our ready. I thought we were locked in, ready to compete against a good team and for the most part, I thought we dominated that first half on both sides of the ball.”
The Redskins went to the air with three consecutive passes from Keaton Harig for a combined 36 yards before capping off the drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Smallen. The Redskins missed the extra point to go up 6-0 midway through the first quarter.
“They presented that to us because they put seven guys in the box to stop the run,” Jeff Harig said. “They played man coverage, and we were able to give Keaton enough time. A lot of times, he was getting the ball out of his hands quick and doing just enough to keep us balanced.”
The defense forced a three-and-out to set the offense up for another scoring drive. Sweetwater was called for roughing the passer, which moved the ball to midfield.
Drew Jackson then broke off a 15-yard run for the first down, but the play was negated after the Redskins were called for a helmet-to-helmet contact penalty. However, Keaton Harig responded with a 41-yard scramble to set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Jackson.
Jackson scored again on the next offensive series with a 15-yard run inside the red zone. He finished the night with 12 carries for 83 yards and three touchdowns.
“Oh yeah, I give it all to my offensive line up front,” Jackson said. “They started off strong, and I just took it from there.”
Loudon managed to extend the lead to 23-0 heading into halftime with a 25-yard field goal by Mark Ridenour.
Sweetwater put together a promising drive to start the third quarter, but the Redskins forced and recovered a fumble at midfield. Loudon took advantage and scored on the first play with a 43-yard touchdown pass from Keaton Harig to Smallen to give the Redskins a 30-0 lead.
Loudon’s defense came up with another big stop on the Wildcats’ ensuing offensive drive when defensive end Tyler Whitfield crashed through the line and took down the Wildcats’ punter on the 11-yard line.
From there, Jackson carried the ball two more times before plowing in for another 3-yard touchdown.
Although Jackson and McKenzie Lunsford paved the way on the ground, the Redskins were also successful through the air. Keaton Harig finished the night 12 of 20 for 216 yards and three touchdowns.
Smallen led all receivers with four receptions, 100 yards and two scores.
“Once again, with man coverage, Kyle’s a good athlete and can get open with man coverage,” Jeff Harig said. “If we give Keaton enough time, he’s proven to be an accurate passer. It was just a great combination for us tonight for sure.”
The Redskins move to 8-0 on the year and remain tied for first place with Red Bank High School in Region 3-3A with the win. Loudon is guaranteed a home contest in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.
“It puts us with a home playoff game and coming off a 3-8 season, to go 8-0 ... it’s one of those years,” Jeff Harig said. “You’re only as good as your last game, and I thought we really played well tonight. We set ourselves up going forward.”
“It’s great coming out here, getting a big win on senior night,” Jackson added. “Just knowing we weren’t in this situation last year, coming out here what we’re capable of ... coming out here and just dominating the way we did, it’s a great win. We know our worth. In this position where we’re at, we knew where we were going to be.”
The Redskins will have a tough challenge Friday when they travel to take on Class 5A foe Walker Valley High School.
“There’s no easy games left now,” Jeff Harig said. “We’ve put ourselves in a great position. Being 8-0 and No. 4 in the state, I can assure you Walker Valley’s going to be ready. Every team we play from this point out is going to be ready, so we just need to kind of match that intensity from our preparation and then our mental toughness as the game goes along.”