On Friday night, Red Bank's defensive front saved its biggest stop for last.
Facing fourth-and-1 from its 6-yard line with less than 20 seconds left against visiting East Hamilton, and with Hurricanes quarterback Haynes Eller leading a potential winning drive, it was a collective effort that saved a 27-24 victory for Class 3A's third-ranked Lions.
As blue jerseys collapsed the pocket, star defensive end Cam Bell wrapped his arms around Eller for his third and biggest sack of a thrilling contest between two stellar football programs.
Bell was a force throughout the night at Tom Weathers Field as he collected five tackles for loss, and AD Crutcher, Delmontae Gustus and BJ Ragland also had sacks for Red Bank.
"We were without several starters tonight and could have cashed it in easily. Instead our kids fought their hind ends off and battled literally to the final snap. I couldn't be more proud of them," said Red Bank coach Chris Brown, who soon after had his daughter run up to give him a much-needed victory hug after an intense game in which momentum shifted sides often.
Eller and his receiving corps were outstanding in the heartbreaking defeat. The 6-foot-4 quarterback completed 26 of 35 passes for 297 yards as he spread the ball around the field for East Hamilton (3-1), No. 5 in Class 4A.
Red Bank's Lumiere Strickland was a wrecking crew early in the game as he rushed for 125 yards on just four carries in the first half. Strickland's first carry of the game went 56 yards to the end zone, and he set up two other scoring drives with a 35-yard punt return and a 50-yard run to build a 19-7 lead with 8:55 left in the second quarter.
East Hamilton answered back, though, cutting the deficit to 19-17 at halftime as a field goal was followed by a fumble recovery and then a 39-yard touchdown strike down the left sideline from Eller to Kaunyae Burgans.
The Lions (4-0) received a game-changing play from senior quarterback Kel Eddins on the second drive of the second half. He read the defense perfectly as he sped his way to a 19-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-7. He then rolled outside the pocket to find Joshua Blackmon for a 2-point conversion to give Red Bank a 27-17 lead.
"Kel is a leader and captain for a reason," Brown said of Eddins, who rushed for two scores in the win. "He is capable of great things athletically and in that locker room. His guidance, patience and not being frustrated set that play up. It ultimately put enough points up on the board to beat a very good football team and a very good defense."
The Hurricanes once again fought back.
Eller got back up right after Bell sacked him to throw a 57-yard bomb to Burgans to end the third quarter. Juandrick Bullard soon after punched in his second touchdown run out of the wildcat formation to cut East Hamilton's deficit to 27-24 with 10:59 left to play.
East Hamilton's John David Reynolds recovered the perfectly place ensuing onside kick, but Crutcher and Bell ended the series with back-to-back sacks
The Hurricanes started their final push from their own 23 with 2:05 left. Blaine Savage continued his outstanding night with a leaping 17-yard catch down the sideline, while Chandler Foster had an 18-yard catch and fought for extra yards down to the Lions' 15. Savage finished with eight catches for 90 yards, and Burgans had four for 103.