Ted Gatewood did not hesitate for one second when asked if his Red Bank football team could be one win away from a trip to Finley Stadium for the Class 4A BlueCross Bowl without senior AD Crutcher.
After all, Crutcher has run like a raging bull this postseason, gaining 437 rushing yards in wins over Macon County, Stone Memorial and East Hamilton.
"There is no doubt about it. We couldn't be in this spot without AD," said Gatewood, who is in his 19th season as a head coach, but first at his alma mater. "I have never coached another kid with as much football knowledge. He truly understands the game. Not just what his responsibilities are, but the coaching points for what we are trying to accomplish.
"He comes to us after games and can sit down and tell us areas where he or the team can be better and how they will do it. He is one of the catalysts of this football program and has done a great job with everything we've asked of him."
Senior star defensive back Jaden Baccus -- who has 12 interceptions over his last two seasons -- says that Crutcher is a "top-level" player who can do damage against any team.
Crutcher has cut, juked and powered his way past opposing tacklers for over 3,000 total yards and 37 touchdowns over his last three seasons. This season he has led a young offense, in which he was the only senior to have an offensive touch in last week's 28-6 quarterfinals road win over East Hamilton. In that game, Red Bank started three 15-year-old offensive linemen and had sophomore receiver Logan McGinnis lead the team with four catches.
"We are playing with a lot of pride and are very connected on all levels," Crutcher said. "To make it to the state championship game at Finley Stadium would mean a lot because we haven't been there in over 20 years. Everybody has been bought in the whole year and we can't let that go to waste right now."
Red Bank (11-2) will host undefeated Anderson County (13-0) at Tom Weathers Field in a state semifinals showdown which matches perhaps the best defense in Class 4A and top offense.
The Lions have not let an opponent total more than 250 yards in a game all season, while they have forced 34 turnovers and have not lost a game when they have a takeaway. They have only allowed more than two touchdowns in a game once all season, which was in a road loss to Fayetteville where Red Bank turned the ball over five times and had just one first down.
Crutcher plays a crucial role on defense too as he made the move from linebacker last season to safety this year. His technique stands out along with his big hit ability and closing speed.
The home defense will have to be crisp yet again as they face an Anderson County attack led by senior quarterback Walker Martinez who has thrown for a state-best 50 touchdowns and completed 75 percent or more of his passes in seven games.
"We love our defense. Red Bank has been known for having great ones over the years and this is one of our best ever we think," said Crutcher, who has been selected to play in the Tennessee East vs. West All-Star game. "Jaden is a ball hawk in the secondary and our pass rush is something special led by Kobe (Smith). Cam (Jackson) is also a great leader and has a lot of heart up front."
Aside from starring on both sides of the ball at pivotal positions, Crutcher is also Red Bank's long snapper.
"AD does so much for this program," Gatewood said. "I came here when he was a freshman and saw right away he was a special talent. To see him grow up and develop into the leader and player he is now is special. He is mentally and physically tough. You put that together with his football knowledge and you have a phenomenal leader."
One win away from getting to travel less than 10 miles to Finley Stadium to play for the state championship game, the Lions know what is riding on Friday's outcome.
"We want to be a light in our city," said Baccus, whose eight interceptions this season have come despite missing the final two regular season games and first two playoff matchups with a broken hand. "Everybody sees us and Tyner still standing, and our motivation is just to show out and put Chattanooga on the map. There is nothing more we want than to take this thing all the way."
Contact Patrick MacCoon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.