Hixson’s Wildcats are in the District 6-AA driver’s seat and destiny is riding shotgun.
Coach Jason Fitzgerald’s ran past slumping Red Bank, 23-0, Friday night at Hixson Community Stadium to remain in control of the district title chase with two games remaining in the regular season.
Hixson, which has won four straight games, got a safety and touchdown in a 24-second span of the third quarter and improved to 6-2 overall and 4-0 in league play.
East Ridge is the only team with one league loss. The Pioneers were idle on Friday and close out the season against Tyner and Howard.
“You always want to be in the lead,” said Fitzgerald, who directed Hixson to a second-place finish in his first season in 2012. “Right now we’re the only team that controls our own destiny with two games to go.
“That’s where you want to be. We don’t have to look to anybody else. We take care of business and we can get that prize we want.”
The Wildcats have Central and Brainerd remaining on their schedule, two teams with a combined record of 6-11 overall and 4-6 in the district.
Hixson put the Lions (2-6, 2-2) in a hole with two touchdowns in the second quarter.
After forcing the Lions to punt, the Wildcats set up shop at their own 33. Ten rushing plays later Isaiah Robinson capped the 67-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown and Luke White kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 3:29 left before halftime.
Robinson, who had about 1,100 yards rushing coming into the game, wound finish with 62 yards on 12 carries against the Lions.
Quarterback Gill Brown, who went 0-for-3 through the air, gave Hixson a two-touchdown lead with a 3-yard run to end a 50-yard, five-play drive. Again, the Wildcats stuck to the ground to deliver a hard punch to the gut to Red Bank, which has been outscored 87-6 in a three-game losing streak.
“With what we’ve been doing offensively, you can’t get in a hole like that,” Lions coach E.K. Slaughter said. “We have to keep it close and try to win at the end, but we just didn’t get that done.”
At the half, Hixson had 131 yards of offense, all on the ground, while Red Bank put up 105 but couldn’t get into the end zone despite driving to the Wildcats’ 19 and 18 on its first two drives.
The Lions, who haven’t won since beating Central, 37-14, on Sept. 20, have been shut out three times this season. In those games, Red Bank was outscored 130-0 by Hixson, Rhea County and Signal Mountain, teams with a combined record of 19-5.
Conversely, Hixson posted its first shutout victory since slapping East Hamilton around, 29-0, on Oct. 2, 2009 – a span of 42 games.
“Hixson did a good job of playing bend-but-don’t break defense,” Slaughter said.
The Wildcats’ defense started the stunning quick-strike scores in the third quarter.
After failing to pick up a first down to start the second half, Hixson was forced to punt and Brown boomed a 56-yarder that rolled dead at the Lions’ 3.
On first down, Hixson’s senior defensive end Quinton Russell broke through and tackled Shawn Caldwell in the end zone for a safety to push the lead to 16-0 with 9:43 left in the quarter.
“I was looking for the counter,” Russell said, “and for the quarterback to hand off to the running back. It all just freed up for me. I saw my opportunity and shot the gap.”
To get to Caldwell, however, Russell had to get past a notable obstacle.
“I had to fight off a block by fifty-six (Myles Smith),” Russell said. “He played a great game, but to make the play was amazing. My teammates were counting on me and I’m so glad I could come through in the clutch for them.”
After the safety, Red Bank kicked to the Wildcats and Kedrick Russell made a good return to the Lions’ 32. Brown’s pass intended for James Cole was low and incomplete. On second down, Bradley rambled 33 yards for a touchdown – a mere 24 seconds after Russell’s sterling defensive play – that put Hixson up 23-0.
“That was a real big swing,” Slaughter said.
Bradley carried 14 times for a game-high 125 rushing yards, 1 yard more than Red Bank’s entire offense managed. That helped the Wildcats’ ground-oriented offense to gain 239 yards on 37 rushing plays, an average of 6.4 yards per play.
“I think I ran good and the o-line was playing hard, too,” said Bradley, who came into the game with almost 800 yards rushing. “We were doing what we do best, and that’s run the ball and control the clock.”
Red Bank, which fumbled five times, but recovered all of them, ran 48 plays to Hixson’s 40, but the Wildcats reached the end zone with three rushing touchdowns.
That surprised exactly no one in the good crowd as Hixson celebrated Senior Night.
“The running game has carried us,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re trying to work on the passing game because we’re going to need it down the road. But our bread and butter are those two horses in the backfield.”
Together, Bradley and Robinson combined for 187 of the Wildcats’ 268 rushing yards.
“That’s a good one-two punch and we feel like teams don’t know which way we’ll go with the football,” Fitzgerald said. “They work well together; they’re good friends and don’t care who gets the ball. They’ll block for each other and they do a great job back there.”
All in all, it was a great home finale for Hixson’s 21 seniors.
“They said they were tired of what the perception of Hixson has been over the years and they’re ready to change that,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve done some good things last year and this year, but we’ve got some things we need to finish to make sure the perception is turned all the way around.
“They’ll come back Monday and get ready to play another game next Friday against a good Central team.”
Hixson has now won two straight against Red Bank after the Lions won the previous seven from 2005-11.
Quarterback Mike Robinson led the Lions’ offense with 106 yards of total offense, 72 coming on 25 rushes.
Red Bank 0 0 0 0 – 0
Hixson 0 14 9 0 – 23
HIX – Isaiah Robinson 2 run (Luke White kick), 3:29
HIX – Gill Brown 3 run (White kick), 42.7
HIX – Safety, Quinton Russell tackled Shawn Caldwell in end zone, 9:43
HIX – Kedrick Bradley 32 run (White kick), 9:19
First Downs 12 13
Rushes-Yards 42-134 38-268
Passing Yards 34 0
Total Yards 48-168 41-268
Com.-Att.-Int. 3-6-0 0-3-0
Fumbles-Lost 5-0 2-1
Punts.-Avg. 5-31.6 4-43.5
Penalties-Yds. 4-35 5-60
RUSHING — Red Bank: Mike Robinson 25-72, Shawn Caldwell 10-41, Malik Davis 7-15, Frunsez Kendricks 2-6; Hixson: Kedrick Bradley 14-125, Isaiah Robinson 12-62, Austin Gilkey 4-35, James Cole 1-29, Gill Brown 4-15, Justin Nicholson 1-4, Team 2-minus 2.
PASSING — Red Bank: Robinson 3-6-0-34; Hixson: Brown 0-3-0-0.
RECEIVING — Red Bank: Davis 2-27, Caldwell 1-7; Hixson: None.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)