If you wanted to see a great high school football game on Friday night, then you should have been at Red Bank's Community Stadium.
Host Red Bank and visiting Hixson entered the contest with identical 1-0 records in District 6-AA play with the winner sharing first place with the East Hamilton Hurricanes.
Hixson snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with an incredible fourth-quarter comeback, scoring three touchdowns in the final 10 minutes to record a stunning 36-35 victory over the Lions.
The Lions had seemingly been in control from the opening whistle. A 21-8 halftime lead increased to 35-15 late in the third quarter and very few folks present gave the Wildcat's a snowball's chance of coming back in the final 12 minutes.
But, oh what a wonderful comeback it was for first-year Hixson coach Jason Fitzgerald and his never-say-die group of Wildcats.
The rally started with 10:13 to play when junior Isaiah Robinson returned a Red Bank punt 65 yards to a touchdown. Fielding the ball on a bounce at the Hixson 35, Robinson raced to the corner and down the Hixson sideline and the Wildcat fans went crazy.
Jeffrey Walker's kick got the Wildcats to within 35-22 with more than enough time still on the clock.
Another Red Bank punt on the Lions next possession backed Hixson up to the 7. A loss of 4 on the first running play and two incomplete passes forced a Hixson punt from deep in their own end zone.
Red Bank had first down on the Hixson 30 and got 15 more on a controversial pass interference penalty against the Wildcats. Lion quarterback Hagen Wilkey was then intercepted by Allen Diaz at the 1. Combined with his return and a facemask penalty against Red Bank, Hixson had the ball again at their own 24 with 5:33 to play.
Junior quarterback Gill Brown then hooked up with speedster Allante Novene on a short screen pass to the left and the junior outraced everyone down the sideline in front of the Red Bank bench to score with 5:17 to play. The difference was 35-28 when the extra point kick sailed wide.
Still a lot of time on the clock with pressure building on the Red Bank offense. Hixson's defense stopped the Lions cold and forced yet another punt with Robinson returning it seven yards to the Red Bank 41.
Brown hooked up with Novene on the same screen pass to the left, moving from the 41 down to the 16 as the clock ticked inside four minutes.
Then on third-and-3 from the 9, Robinson exploded through the left side of the line and bolted into the end zone to draw Hixson to within 35-34 with 2:02 to play.
Hixson called a timeout to discuss the conversion, but there was never any doubt in Fitzgerald's mind that his team was going for the win and not the tie.
Brown took the snap and rolled to his right, firing a bullet into the end zone that was caught by a sliding Diaz for Hixson's first lead of the game.
Hixson's defense stood tall once more after Red Bank took possession at its own 32. Wilkey kept the Red Bank hopes alive with a 10-yard completion to Micheal Robinson on fourth-and-10, but with the ball on the Hixson 37, Wilkey's last pass fell incomplete in the end zone as the final horn sounded.
Needless to say, Hixson's Fitzgerald was overjoyed when it finally ended.
"We've been the little brother in this rivalry for a long time, but we've been trying to get over the hump and I think we did tonight," he said as sweat dripped off his chin when the game had finally ended.
"You've got to make big-time plays in big-time games and that's what we did tonight. There was never any doubt about that last conversion as we had worked to hard to play for a tie and overtime. We laid it on the line. It was time for little brother to start fighting back and that's what we did here tonight," Fitzgerald added.
Novene is probably the fastest player on either team. He's a highlight film waiting to happen when he gets his hands on the football.
"I don't know why, but we don't start off very well, but we knew what we needed to do when we came out for the second half," he began.
"That screen pass is one of my favorite plays and I feel like I can score every time I touch the ball. I had all the confidence in my downfield blocking, so I was looking for the end zone when I caught it," Novene said with a smile.
Red Bank coach E.K. Slaughter didn't have many good things to say when the game ended.
"That was just disgusting and embarrassing. It makes me want to vomit. We have to learn that when we don't play all four quarters and we don't execute in all phases of the game, you're going to lose," he began.
"We couldn't stop them on that bubble screen. I felt pretty good with our lead at the half, but Hixson refused to quit," Slaughter concluded.
Hixson finished with 381 total yards, including 163 on the ground and another 218 through the air.
Kedrick Bradley had 73 yards on 10 carries for the Wildcats while Robinson finished with 55 yards on 10 attempts. Robinson also had the two biggest TDs of the game with his punt return and that final blast from the 9.
Novene finished with 182 yards on 10 receptions, including six grabs for 152 in that frantic second half. Diaz also had one grab for 32 yards as Brown finished with 12 completions in 22 attempts.
Red Bank finished the game with 289 yards, including 149 on the ground and 140 through the air.
Darrius Akridge gained 63 yards on 14 carries with touchdown runs of 5 and 16 yards while Demetrius Williams finished with 58 yards on 11 trips.
Chris Tucker paced the Red Bank receivers with 90 yards on seven catches -- including a 12-yard TD -- while Quan Springs had 31 yards on two grabs.
Wilkey had scoring runs of 12 and 9 yards and one TD pass to Tucker that covered 12 yards.
Both teams finished the evening with 17 first downs.
Hixson, now 3-1 overall and 2-0 in District 6-AA, goes on the road again next Friday for a game at DeKalb County while Red Bank goes to Cleveland to face Slaughter's old team. The Lions are now 1-3 overall and 1-1 in 6-AA.
Defensively, Diaz had the only interception for Hixson while Robinson had one for Red Bank.
HIXSON 0 8 7 21 -- 36
RED BANK 7 14 14 0 -- 35
RB -- Hagen Wilkey 12 run (Christian Velazquez kick), 10:27 left in first;
RB -- Darrius Akridge 5 run (Velazquez kick), 9:45 left in second;
HIX -- Gill Brown 3 run (Kedrick Bradley pass from Brown), 3:46 left in second;
RB -- Akridge 16 run (Velazquez kick), 1:56 left in second;
HIX -- Bradley 14 run (Jeffrey Walker kick), 6:26 left in third;
RB -- Wilkey 9 run (Micheal Robinson run), 4:32 left in third;
RB -- Chris Tucker 12 pass from Wilkey (run failed), 1:43 left in third;
HIX -- Isaiah Robinson 65 punt return (Walker kick), 10:13 left in fourth;
HIX -- Allante Novene 76 pass from Brown (kick failed), 5:17 left in fourth;
HIX -- Robinson 9 run (Allen Diaz pass from Brown), 2:02 left in fourth.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)