The undefeated and state-ranked Red Bank didn’t play their best game at home Friday night against unbeaten and state-ranked East Hamilton, but they pulled out a win with some heart-stopping defensive plays in the waning minutes to prevail by a 27-24 final at Red Bank’s Community Stadium and Tom Weathers Field.
The Lions were playing without four injured starters, including quarterback Joseph Blackmon, but with the clock winding down and the Hurricanes driving for what could have been a game-winning touchdown, the guys in Blue somehow found a way to win.
“We didn’t play up to our standard, but when we had to make the big plays, we did,” said Red Bank coach Chris Brown after his team improved to 4-0.
“That was a great football game between two pretty good teams. I think perserverence and overcoming adversity were the keys for us tonight. That was a character win for us for sure, but I think we got the best from both teams.
“We knew what East Hamilton was capable of, so we knew it would be a close game. But we fought our tails off and I couldn’t be more proud. We were able to put enough points on the board to win against a really good football team. We had every excuse to not fight with it being a non-region game, but that’s not the route we took.
“We had to make some plays at the end to win and we were able to do that,” Brown nodded with a smile.
The Lions had a slim 19-17 lead at the break and extended it to 27-17 midway through the third quarter, but the Hurricanes cut it to 27-24 with a touchdown on the third play of the fourth stanza.
East Hamilton had one final chance as they started at its own 23 after a 31-yard Red Bank punt with 2:05 to play. They were out of timeouts, but the visitors made it interesting by driving the length of the field, only to have their luck run out when Red Bank got a crucial sack on fourth-and-2 from the 7 in the final minute.
Hurricane quarterback Haynes Eller, who passed for 306 yards on 26 completions, had four in that final drive for 49 yards, but with the game on the line in the final seconds, Eller got sacked by Alex Cagle, Seth Lacy and Delmontae Gustus with 3.3 seconds left to save the day for the Lions.
It was surely a tough defeat for the Hurricanes, but head coach Grant Reynolds just had to remind his team to keep their heads held high after coming up just a tad bit short.
“We didn’t always play smart tonight, but the effort was there,” Reynolds said by phone later.
“We had a chance to win there at the end, but we just didn’t get it done. We drove 70 yards there at the end without any timeouts and I was really proud of Haynes Eller, who really stepped up against a really good defense.
“We know that Red Bank has an outstanding football team, but we felt like we could play with them. We had a bunch of kids make some big plays tonight, but I’m just sad we came out on the short end of the score.
“That was two really good football teams out there tonight. They just made a few more plays than we did,” Reynolds concluded.
With Eller completing five passes to start the game, East Hamilton drove 72 yards in 11 plays to score first when Juandrick Bullard bulled into the end zone from the 3 with 8:07 left in the opening stanza.
Lumiere Strickland answered for the Lions with a 56-yard TD run on Red Bank’s first play and you could tell that this game might come down to the final possession before a winner was determined.
Red Bank’s A.D. Crutcher scored from the 2 on the first play of the second quarter and quarterback Kel Eddins made it 19-7 after scoring on a keeper from the 11 some three minutes later.
The Hurricanes used a 22-yard field goal from freshman kicker Ethan Hixson with 3:42 left in the second quarter and the visitors struck again 20 seconds later on a 39-yard TD throw from Eller to Kaunyae Burgans after Caleb Davenport recovered a Red Bank fumble on their first play following the field goal.
The difference was 19-17 at intermission.
Eddins scored his second touchdown of the game with a big 19-yard scamper on fourth-and-7 with 5:06 left in the third and the difference was 27-17 after Eddins hooked up with Josh Blackmon on the conversion pass.
The Hurricanes got within 27-24 when Bullard scored from the 3 to start the fourth quarter. The big play in the drive was a 57-yard pass play from Eller to Burgans.
East Hamilton drove to the Red Bank 22 midway through the final stanza, but again the Lions made a big play defensively when Eller was sacked on fourth and 15 by Cam Bell.
The Hurricane defense stood tall and forced punts on Red Bank’s next two possessions, but with the game on the line and the clock becoming a big factor, the Lion defense made the big play when they counted most.
East Hamilton won the battle of total yards with 360 to just 272 for Red Bank.
Eller had most of those with his 26 pass completions.
Red Bank countered with 280 rushing yards with Strickland picking up 135 yards on 10 attempts, including 124 in the first half alone. Eddins was next with 65 yards on 10 attempts.
Bullard was East Hamilton’s leading rusher with 50 yards on 19 attempts while Burgans had 102 yards on four pass receptions. Blaine Savage added 82 yards on seven catches while Chandler Foster had 46 yards on six grabs.
East Hamilton also had a commanding 19-9 advantage in first downs.
Both teams will be at home next Friday with East Hamilton hosting Central and Red Bank facing McMinn Central
EAST HAMILTON 7 10 0 7 -- 24
RED BANK 7 12 8 0 -- 27
EH – Juandrick Bullard 3 run (Ethan Hixson kick), 8:07 left in first;
RB – Lumiere Strickland 56 run (Jake Wright kick), 7:46 left in first;
RB – A.D. Crutcher 2 run (kick blocked), 11:54 left in second;
RB – Kel Eddins 11 run (run failed), 8:55 left in second;
EH – Hixson 22 field goal; 3:42 left in second;
EH – Kaunyae Burgans 39 pass from Haynes Eller (Hixson kick), 3:22 left in second;
RB – Eddins 19 run (Josh Blackmon pass from Eddins), 5:06 left in third;
EH – Bullard 3 run (Hixson kick), 10:59 left in fourth.
TEAM STATS EAST HAMILTON RED BANK
First Downs 19 9
Rushes-Yards 31-54 38-280
Passing Yards 306 minus 8
Passes (Comp-Att-Int) 26-36-0 2-3-0
Total Yards 360 272
Penalties-Yards 4-40 12-85
Punts-Average 6-27.0 6-30.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-1
EAST HAMILTON RUSHING: Juandrick Bullard 19 for 50; Haynes Eller 9 for minus 20; Jeremiah Flemmons 3 for 26.
RED BANK RUSHING: Lumiere Strickland 10 for 135; Kel Eddins 10 for 65; Rico Trimble 9 for 50; A.D. Crutcher 5 for 25; Josh Blackmon 3 for 7.
EAST HAMILTON RECEIVING: Kaunyae Burgans 4 for 102; Blaine Savage 7 for 82; Chandler Foster 6 for 46; Juandrick Bullard 3 for 27; Wesley Mason 4 for 25; Jackson Flemmons 1 for 6.
RED BANK RECEIVING: Lumiere Strickland 1 for minus 6; Rico Trimble 1 for minus 2.
EAST HAMILTON PASSING: Haynes Eller 26 for 36 with no interceptions for 306 yards.
RED BANK PASSING: Kel Eddins 2 of 3 with no interceptions for minus 8 yards.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)