The Red Bank Lions didn’t play their best game by any stretch and they weren’t overly impressive, but they did all that was necessary to win and advance to the third round of the TSSAA football playoffs.
The visiting Brainerd Panthers scored the first touchdown in the opening stanza and they wrapped up the scoring with another TD in the fourth, but the Lions scored 31 straight points in between to remain unbeaten at 9-0 with the 31-12 victory over Brainerd, ending the season for the Panthers at 7-5.
It was basically a game of two halves as the Panthers didn’t back down in the first half, playing physical football to the hilt in holding the high-octane Lions to 71 yards and three first downs. But with quarterback Joseph Blackmon tossing two touchdown passes, the Lions took a 14-6 lead into the dressing room at intermission.
The second half was ball control at its best for Red Bank as they knocked off 7:20 on an opening drive TD before recovering an onside kick and adding a 31-yard field goal for a 24-6 lead with 1:35 left in the quarter. That’s when Brainerd finally got the ball.
A fumble recovery by Red Bank’s Josh Blackmon on the second play of the fourth quarter led to a 35-yard scoring run by Joseph Blackmon for a 31-6 lead with 5:04 to play and Brainerd simply ran out of time before it got much closer.
Panther quarterback Xiyeer Lattimore, who completed three straight passes on his team’s final possession, scored the final TD on an 8-yard run with 3:46 to play.
With Brainerd out of timeouts at this point, Red Bank was content to keep the ball on the ground, taking a knee on the final two snaps to wrap up the victory.
Red Bank coach Chris Brown was just happy that his team prevailed and the season extends for at least another week.
“We knew at the start that Brainerd would play hard and we were forced to make some adjustments at the half. But we were able to settle in and take control and I’m thrilled that we get to practice again on Monday,” Brown smiled, knowing that his team will be at home again to host Loudon, a 41-16 winner over Upperman.
“It’s been a crazy season to be sure, but I’m so proud of these kids and how they’ve handled the business at hand. We’ve done a great job of managing the things we can control.
“I know we can play smarter and we can play cleaner, but I can’t fault our effort. We just want to play another game and now we’ll get that chance,” Brown concluded.
Brainerd coach Tyrus Ward had his team believing they could win this football game. Even though depth turned into an issue in the second half, the veteran coach was totally proud of the way his players competed, not only on Friday night but all season long.
“Fellows, we have absolutely nothing to hang our heads about,” he told his team shortly after the final horn had sounded.
“We played our hearts out tonight, but we’ve had an incredible season and I’m just sorry it has to end like this. We haven’t fallen apart all year and we didn’t tonight, but we missed some key opportunities in the first half and they were able to control the clock in the third quarter.
“We gave it all we had, but just came up a little bit short,” Ward added.
Jaylan Dupree returned the opening kickoff 52 yards to put his team in great field position at the Red Bank 43. Seven plays and 2:35 later, Lattimore tossed a 19-yard TD pass to Diamond Bates for a 6-0 lead after the extra point kick was wide.
Red Bank punted on its first possession before Blackmon hooked up with Devon Benn on a 51-yard scoring pass on the first play after Brainerd was stopped on downs. Jake Wright then booted the first of four extra points and the Lions were ahead by a point with 48 seconds left in the opening stanza.
A.D. Crutcher intercepted a Brainerd pass to put the Lions in business once more early in the second stanza. Blackmon then made it 14-6 when he tossed a 10-yard TD pass to Jamiri Jackson with 9:02 left before intermission.
Lumiere Strickland, who had a big second half and finished the game with 151 yards rushing on 23 attempts after gaining only eight yards in the first half, scored on a 10-yard run with 4:40 left in the third quarter after the Lions marched 70 yards in 13 plays.
Brainerd did a good job of helping on that drive as the Panthers had five offsides penalties and another pass interference flag to account for 45 of those 70 yards.
And then after Jackson recovered an onside kick, Wright split the uprights with a 31-yard field goal for a 24-6 lead when the third quarter ended.
Josh Blackmon’s fumble recovery on the second play of the final quarter led to Red Bank’s final score, a nifty 35-yard keeper by Joseph Blackmon with 5:04 to play.
Lattimore then completed three straight passes for 41 total yards before ending the 64-yard drive with a keeper from the 8 for the final margin.
Red Bank finished the game with 301 total yards, including 235 on the ground and 66 through the air.
Strickland was the leader on the ground with 151 yards while Blackmon added 48 yards and Crutcher 36. Benn was the leading receiver with the one catch for the 51-yard TD strike.
Brainerd countered with 165 total yards, including 127 through the air and another 38 on the ground.
Lattimore finished with 12 completions in 19 attempts, including seven of eight in the second half. Bates was the leading receiver with 49 yard on three grabs while Dupree had 29 yards on five catches. KaDarius Price had 39 yards on three catches and was Brainerd’s leading rusher with 44 yards on 13 attempts.
BRAINERD 6 0 0 6 -- 12
RED BANK 7 7 10 7 -- 31
Brain – Diamond Bates 19 pass from Xiyeer Lattimore (kick failed), 9:10 left in first;
RB – Devon Benn 51 pass from Joseph Blackmon (Jake Wright kick), 0:48.1 left in first;
RB – Jamari Jackson 10 pass from Blackmon (Wright kick), 9:02 left in second;
RB – Lumiere Strickland 10 run (Wright kick), 4:40 left in third;
RB – Wright 31 field goal, 1:35 left in third;
RB – Joseph Blackmon 35 run (Wright kick), 5:04 left in fourth;
Brain – Lattimore 8 run (pass failed), 3:46 left in fourth.
TEAM STATS BRAINERD RED BANK
First Downs 13 18
Rushes-Yards 20-38 47-235
Passing Yards 127 66
Total Yards 165 301
Passes (Comp-Att-Int) 12-19-2 3-7-0
Penalties-Yards 13-90 14-135
Punts-Avg. None 3-23.7
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 2-0
BRAINERD RUSHING: KaDarius Price 13 for 44 yards; Xiyeer Lattimore 5 for minus 10; Jaylan Dupree 2 for 4.
BRAINERD RECEIVING: Diamond Bates 3 for 49; KaDarius Price 3 for 39; Jaylan Dupree 5 for 29; Montez Deloney 1 for 10.
BRAINERD PASSING: Xiyeer Lattimore 12 of 19 for 127 yards and two interceptions.
RED BANK RUSHING: Lumiere Strickland 23 for 151 yards; Joseph Blackmon 15 for 48; A.D. Crutcher 9 for 36.
RED BANK RECEIVING: Devon Benn 1 for 51; Jamari Jackson 1 for 10; Lumiere Strickland 1 for 5.
RED BANK PASSING: Joseph Blackmon 3 of 7 for 66 yards and no interceptions.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)