Immediately following a tough 24-14 quarterfinals loss to the Red Bank High School Lions, Loudon High School head football coach Jeff Harig huddled the team at midfield as tears filled the eyes of nearly every player.
He apologized for the loss, but he also congratulated players and coaching staff for putting together one of the most successful seasons in program history.
"You look at that, I mean, this senior class is 23-3 in the last two seasons — lost to two good teams, including a very good state championship Alcoa team and this Red Bank team," Harig said. "I believe this Red Bank team is better than last year because they're just more physical, and our guys gave it all they had but it just wasn't enough. You'd like to go out and play your best game, but tonight we didn't."
Similar to the previous meeting, the Redskins had several opportunities to score early in the first half but came up short due penalties and self-inflicted wounds.
A 51-yard touchdown run by LHS quarterback Keaton Harig on the Redskins' first offensive series of the game was wiped out due to an illegal shift, which eventually led to a blocked field goal attempt.
Red Bank responded in the second quarter with a field goal and a 29-yard touchdown run by quarterback Joseph Blackmon to lead 10-0. However, Loudon answered with a nine-play scoring drive that was capped off with a 1-yard punch into the end zone by McKenzie Lunsford to cut the Lions' lead at halftime to 10-7.
Mistakes and missed assignments plagued the Redskins in the third quarter.
The Lions scored two unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter — a 75-yard run by Lumiere Strickland and an 84-yard pass from Blackmon to Strickland.
"We made some uncharacteristic mistakes, especially at critical times," Jeff said. "You've got to give credit to Red Bank, though, because they made some plays there and made us miss. Up front, they had control of the game but we did enough to hang around, did enough to play hard. Obviously, the big screen play to (Strickland) ... you just look at the big plays and the big plays were just huge in their favor. We had one for points and got called back for a penalty early. Other than that, they had a lot of big plays. You can't win football games in that way."
The Redskins struck late in the fourth quarter when Keaton delivered a 13-yard touchdown pass to Justin Farmer.
With the loss, Loudon ends the season with a 10-2 overall record.
"I think we played pretty good as a team," Jesse Robinson, LHS senior lineman, said. "Like coach said, in two years we've only had two teams be good enough to beat us. I take that as a win in my books, and I think we did what we could but just didn't come out strong enough. We know how to fight through all the hard stuff because we've been there."
Loudon proved one of the best eight teams in Class 3A for a second consecutive season despite the outcome and challenges this year presented with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There's no shame in 10-2," Jeff said. "I thought our guys, in light of all that's going on in our world, to be able to get through during this pandemic, being able to get through and have this experience ... in time they'll look back on it and have fond memories about it."