After a slow start in the first half Thursday night, Loudon High School head football coach Jeff Harig challenged the team to flip the script in the second half against a physical Gatlinburg-Pittman High School squad.
The Redskins responded to the call and pulled away in the second half en route to a 43-22 win over the Highlanders to remain undefeated.
Despite having a six-day turnaround from a 35-21 win Sept. 3 over Daniel Boone High School, Harig credited the team for resilience and the ability to grind out a win in the face of adversity against an old rival.
“It was difficult and I think it affected some of our preparation, but at the end of the day I thought we played to our strengths,” Harig said. “Obviously, putting the ball in Keaton’s hand, protecting him just enough to get it where it needs to go — that’s the plan.
“It may not look great all the time because he kind of goes off script, but that’s all kind of part of the plan, too,” he added. “I think we’re hard to defend when we get in that no-back, up tempo and get things rolling. It was another opportunity to grow and fight through adversity, and I thought we did that because we didn’t give up on the plan.”
The Redskins’ struggled to find rhythm on both sides of the ball early in the first quarter as the Highlanders posted 144 total offensive yards compared to the Redskins’ -10.
After giving up an early touchdown lead, Loudon responded in the second quarter when senior quarterback Keaton Harig broke off a 58-yard run to set the Redskins up in the red zone. Keaton then delivered a 5-yard touchdown strike to senior Kaden Dockins in the corner of the end zone to tie the game at 7-7 midway through the second quarter.
The Redskins caught a break on the Highlanders’ next offensive series when they failed to convert a fake punt, which put Loudon in favorable field position to score again.
Three plays into the Redskins’ drive, Keaton connected with sophomore receiver Jackson Collins from 20 yards out to take a 14-7 lead heading into halftime.
“One thing about Gatlinburg-Pittman is they didn’t have much of an identity on offense, so it was definitely something we had to prepare for and spend a lot of our time on,” Jeff said. “They mixed some things up and had us second-guessing our plan, but once we calmed down and at the end of the day they dominated in the first quarter and it was only 7-7 at the end of the first quarter. Once we were able to get things stabilized, eventually our athleticism, especially on offense, was going to take over.”
The Redskins came out firing early in the third quarter as Keaton delivered his third touchdown pass of the night to junior receiver Semy Turner from 32 yards out to take a 20-7 lead.
The Highlanders struck back with another touchdown at the 4:55 mark to cut it to a one-possession lead.
The momentum then shifted back to the Redskins late in the third quarter when the defense came up with a safety after a holding call in the end zone. That ultimately set up another quick scoring drive that was capped off by a short swing pass from Keaton to Dockins, who then turned up field and darted 68 yards for the end zone to extend Loudon’s lead to 29-14 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Redskins didn’t let up in the fourth quarter.
Keaton completed two more touchdown passes to Josh Gonzalez and Braeden Fray to end the night 16-of-24 for 298 yards and six touchdowns through the air.
“They came out in a new defense and we kind of adjusted to that, and that fake punt they didn’t really change the momentum of the game and we were able to score really quick,” Keaton said. “We started changing our scheme up and and wanted to take shots deep, but we just couldn’t block them because they started blitzing. We just started taking that, reading their blitzes and I just threw it to guys and they made the plays.”
With a trip to Signal Mountain High School looming Friday, the coaching staff feels confident heading into what will be a pivotal Region 3-3A matchup.
“The kids continue to play hard and it turned out in our favor,” Jeff said. “We’re a very opportunistic, big-play offense and we play a really tough defense.”