Moments after Red Bank quarterback Joseph Blackmon polished off a 10-play, 79-yard drive with a 33-yard touchdown run that put the finishing touches on the Lions' 31-12 win over Brainerd in the second round of the TSSAA playoffs Friday night, a Lions assistant coach greeted every offensive lineman with the same five words:
"That doesn't happen without you."
By that time, there was no doubt in the validity of his statement.
Led by that line, the Lions (9-0) rushed for 238 yards in the second half and cruised into the Class 3A state quarterfinals next week, when they will host Region 3 rival Loudon in a rematch of a regular-season meeting won 13-0 by the Lions. Loudon (10-1) beat Upperman 41-16 on Friday.
As for Red Bank, Lumiere Strickland led the way with 163 rushing yards and a score, and he was huge in the game-changing third quarter.
"That was the line. That was all the line," Strickland said. "They opened up all the holes. They brought it in the second half."
Blackmon, who rushed for 57 yards, threw first-half touchdown passes to Devon Benn and Jamari Jackson.
Strickland's touchdown capped a 7-minute, 15-second drive to start the second half, spanning 70 yards. Brainerd aided the drive with 25 yards in offside penalties alone, while also being called for pass interference.
Right after the score, Jake Wright's kickoff was recovered by Strickland at the Red Bank 37-yard line, a drive that ended in a Wright field goal.
Brainerd trailed 14-6 at halftime, and by the time the Panthers ran their first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, the Lions had run 20 and led 24-6.
It was the Panthers (7-5) who came out swinging early, though. Jaylan Dupree started the game with a 55-yard kickoff return, and Xiyeer Lattimore completed passes of 13 yards to Kadarius Price and 19 yards to Diamond Bates, whose catch was for a touchdown and the game's first points.
Although Brainerd is also a Region 3 member, the Lions were in a COVID-19 quarantine at the time the regular-season meeting with the Panthers was scheduled and that game wasn't made up. Red Bank was aware, however, of Brainerd's progress this year.
"We were playing a quality opponent in the second round of the playoffs with a lot of athletic ability and a good coach. We knew they were going to come out and we'd see something we hadn't seen before," Red Bank coach Chris Brown said. "For us it was a matter of settling in, making the right adjustments, kids using the calls they should use and just playing our brand of football."
Lattimore finished with 144 passing yards for Brainerd, which improved on last year's number of wins by seven.