With last week's victory at Upperman, Red Bank moved into the quarterfinals of the Class 3A football playoffs by taking down the program that beat the Lions by 29 points in a second-round matchup last year.
The Lions are headed into enemy territory again, and to reach the semifinals they'll have to get past the team that ruined their regular-season finale.
Region 3 champion Loudon (12-0) hosts runner-up Red Bank (10-1) at 7 p.m. Friday, three weeks after the Lions missed out on a No. 1 seed by losing 24-7 to the Redskins.
Red Bank senior Lucas Brown, a defensive back and wide receiver who has torched opposing secondaries for 1,043 yards on 57 catches, with 10 going for touchdowns from Madox Wilkey, is glad to have another opportunity — this one with even higher stakes.
"Loudon took the region title away from us, and we can't let them end our season now," Brown said. "We have to stand up and play our hearts out like it is the last game we will ever play. We have to fight and show what we are made of. They didn't get the best version of us last time, and we are going to have each others' backs no matter what."
With any crucial third-down situations they face — on offense or defense — the Lions believe they could not have two better leaders on the field than Wilkey and senior linebacker Clark Lockerby, who has 113 tackles this season and has ignited a fierce defense that has forced 31 turnovers.
Lockerby has forced four fumbles, recovered three fumbles and intercepted two passes. In last week's 21-14 win against the Bees he had a big hit to force a turnover on downs, and he knocked the ball loose for Rico Trimble to recover a fumble and set up a touchdown rush by Wilkey.
"Most teams fizzle out at the end of the year, but it's been so enjoyable to watch this bunch become more energized as we continue this journey further," Red Bank coach Chris Brown said. "This team enjoys fighting for each other on Fridays and is a really special collection of kids who share a common purpose. This moment is made to bring out the best in the best players, and I have the ultimate faith in Madox and Clark to get the job done every time."
In a battle between two programs that share at least one common bond in having had the late Tim Daniels as their head coach, the little things could make the difference.
With the Region 3-3A title on the line on Nov. 1 at Red Bank, Loudon led just 10-7 going into the fourth quarter but kept its composure and scored the last 14 points to win its toughest test of the season. With the Redskins boasting a mammoth offensive line and a star running back in Drew Jackson, who had the final two touchdowns at Red Bank on an 80-yard catch and a 14-yard run, the Lions know they face a tough task.
Red Bank enters with a 340-98 scoring advantage over its opponents this season, but Loudon has steamrolled to a 503-97 differential. The winner will play Alcoa (11-1) or Austin-East (9-3) in the semifinals next Friday.
"All those up-downs and hills we ran this summer, this is what it boils down to," Lockerby said. "We are still in the hunt for a state championship, and we have to line up 100% correctly. If we don't have to play against ourselves, we will be good."
From Jamari Jackson recovering an onside kick last week to Cam Bell (39 tackles, 14 for loss this season) creating heavy pressure to Lumiere Strickland making a terrific leaping grab on third-and-long on a 99-yard opening drive, the Lions know they must be locked in once again against a stout opponent.
"We all have the same goal to win a state championship, and we have busted it to get to where we are," Wilkey said. "We bust our butts Monday through Thursday for one game. We are ready to give it all we have. We are pumped. It's go time at 7 o'clock."