The Loudon High School Redskins dominated all three phases of the game Friday night en route to a 44-10 victory over the Lenoir City High School Panthers in a heated 94th edition of the Battle of the Bridge rivalry.
Several players for both teams received unsportsmanlike conduct and personal foul penalties during the game. Coaches from both squads were involved in a verbal altercation immediately following the game, requiring law enforcement to step in to ease the tension.
Jeff Cortez, LCHS head football coach, said the interaction was due to “a little bit of a heated rivalry.”
“It’s a rivalry game, and I’m guessing people just got fired up and somebody said something,” Keaton Harig, LHS junior quarterback, said. “It set everybody off, but we’re fine.”
The Redskins received the opening kickoff and set the tone by leaning heavily on the run game. Loudon rushed 10 times and got to the 1-yard line when the Panthers’ defense stripped LHS running back McKenzie Lunsford.
Loudon’s defense stymied Lenoir City’s passing attack three straight times and forced a short punt in LCHS territory. Two plays later, LHS senior tailback Donte Brown bruised his way in from 24 yards out to put the Redskins on top 7-0 just before the end of the first quarter.
“We felt like we had some matchups, and Coach Cortez has done a good job over the years of confusing us and bringing blitzes from different places,” Jeff Harig, LHS head football coach, said. “We just wanted to be about the players, so really, we only had two running plays — two to the right and two the left. We really wanted the matchup of our personnel against their personnel, and I felt like running the football was our best matchup. They play with those high safeties, play off their corners.”
The Redskins made quick work of the next offensive possession when Keaton delivered a 39-yard strike to sophomore receiver Semy Turner. Keaton then connected with senior Jackson Williams for 17 yards, and Lunsford capitalized two plays later by walking into the end zone.
The Panthers continued to stick to the passing game but came up empty again with three incompletions and a sack to force another punt. Zane Ward, LCHS junior quarterback, was 4-of-13 for 32 yards in the first half.
Loudon added a late 29-yard field goal just before halftime to lead 17-0 at the break.
“We didn’t really have much of a flow in the first half until right there at the end,” Cortez said. “I thought they did a good job defending us, and we dropped a couple of passes early. We didn’t have much flow.”
Despite owning the lead, Jeff Harig was disappointed in the Redskins’ seven first-half penalties.
“It’s a frustrating game, and it was a sloppy game for us,” he said. “We had opportunities, we were undisciplined with penalties, had personal foul penalties and we just didn’t play very disciplined tonight. You have that some in a rivalry game like this, but we’ve got to show more pride and execution than what we did tonight. We had a chance to get off the field over here and got a personal foul in the first half. We had a holding call on one of our guys compounded by him running his mouth to an official. We don’t act like that, and it was unfortunate that we played that way tonight.”
The Panthers received the kickoff to begin the second half, but the Redskins forced and recovered another fumble on the first play of the drive that eventually set up Lunsford’s second score of the night.
Lenoir City decided to roll in freshman quarterback Brett Cortez and shift Ward to a running back/receiver role to help spark some offense. Brett connected with Ward three times for 30 yards, and Ward broke off a 49-yard run to eventually set up an easy field goal for the Panthers.
“Zane’s a dynamic athlete, and I think that’s definitely one of the things we saw when he got the ball out in space,” Jeff Cortez said. “When Brett replaced Zane (against Heritage) when he had the cramp and Brett came in and went 2-for-3, I thought to myself, ‘The kid’s got a little something about him and this could be good for us.’ We worked a little bit of having Zane and Brett on the field at the same time and after the fumble I thought we needed something different.”
Lenoir City scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter when Ward delivered a 24-yard pass to senior receiver Xavier Patrick in the left corner of the end zone.
Loudon responded on the final drive of the game when sophomore quarterback Aaden Montooth scrambled for a 3-yard touchdown with 16 seconds remaining to secure the Redskins’ second consecutive Mayor’s Cup trophy.
Both teams will open region play Friday when Loudon will travel to Brainerd and Lenoir City goes to Soddy Daisy.