As Lumiere Strickland walked back to the home locker room after helping ignite a 24-14 win over Loudon in the TSSAA Class 3A quarterfinals Friday night, the Red Bank senior football star appreciated the magnitude of the moment.
The chance to lock in a trip to the state championship game at home next week means the world to the Lions (10-0), who took down the Region 3 rival that ended their season in the 2019 quarterfinals.
"This is amazing, everything about where we are right now," Strickland said after totaling 250 yards and two scores in the win at Tom Weathers Field. "You have to cherish these moments. It's all going to end one day. This is a special moment to have another week to go out with my guys and rock with each other on our home field one more time."
Red Bank will host Alcoa (12-1) in the semifinals next week, when Milan (12-1) hosts Pearl Cohn (9-0) in the other matchup with a spot in Class 3A Blue Cross Bowl — set for Dec. 4 at Tennessee Tech — on the line. The Lions are after the second state championship in program history and first since 2000, when the Gerald Riggs Jr. show was in town.
On the third play of the second half, Strickland hit the right sideline with stellar blocking and then turned on the jets to race past a Loudon safety for a 74-yard touchdown run to take a 17-7 lead.
Loudon (10-3) tried to answer soon after, driving to the Lions' 18 — which is where Cam Bell drew his own line. The 6-foot-4 senior defensive end was in on three straight stops: a sack, a combined tackle for loss with Alex Cagle and a stop of a run on fourth-and-4 to get the ball back for the Lions.
"We just have to stay consistent and keep grinding," said Bell, who has 10 sacks this year. "We are going to state if we do that. It's a blessing to play at home one more time."
Red Bank looked in danger of going three-and-out on offense after the big defensive stop, but quarterback Joseph Blackmon and the offensive line executed perfectly as the Lions got the ball to Strickland in space on third-and-12. The 5-10, 185-pound back took a screen pass to the left side 84 yards untouched for the score to give the Lions a 24-7 lead with four seconds left in the third quarter.
"Lumiere has elite vision and trusts his offensive linemen," Red Bank coach Chris Brown said. "He is able to see the way the block is set up and move and sets up his explosive running ability very well."
Red Bank senior edge rusher Jadon High had two sacks, including a big hit in the fourth quarter. He and Blackmon — who rushed for a 29-yard touchdown to provide a 10-0 lead with 4:53 left in the first half — have fought back from injuries to be big playmakers in the postseason.
Josh Blackmon provided a spark in the first quarter by blocking a Loudon field-goal attempt. The ensuing possession was turned into points on a 32-yard field goal by Jake Wright, who also made all three extra-point kicks for the Lions. Kel Eddins had an interception and 40 receiving yards for Red Bank.
"I can't say enough about this win tonight," Brown said. "We are really excited and are going to take in tonight's moment together. This is a special group of young men, and we are thankful for another week."