After missing the playoffs in 2011, the Loudon Redskins took off to a 1-3 start in 2012. The team dropped its season opener to Lenoir City, losing to the Panthers for the first time since 2004.
Prior to the game, senior lineman Bryan McFalls said he was not sure the team would truly bounce back if they lost to their cross-county rival.
A 31-0 loss to Alcoa and 56-34 loss to CAK in Loudon's next two games left the Redskins with an uphill battle toward a return to the playoffs.
The team pulled out an 8-7 win over Sweetwater, but lost starting quarterback Trent Elliott. Travis Brewer, who started Loudon's first two games of the season, was reinserted into the position.
After struggling to find his place on offense early in the season, Brewer led the team to a win at Stone Memorial, pulling to team to 3-3 on the season.
Where the season turned was in a loss to White County. White County, 1-5 at the time of the game, pulled out a 27-12 win over the Redskins.
"It kind of opened our eyes at White County that we're a better team than that," senior linebacker Alex Silvey said. "From there on out we just kind of stepped up. We played to the ability we can play, not to the ability of the teams we play."
Loudon rolled out three consecutive wins to end the regular season, capped off by knocking off Kingston 28-0 to earn third place in the district. In the game, Brewer's maturity as a quarterback showed as he gained nearly 200 total years while throwing and running for a touchdown.
"When Trent went down, I had to show up," the sophomore said. "I had to show people I was ready to play."
The Redskins offense has grown around Brewer as well, averaging 34.7 points over the final three games and bringing in different looks.
Sophomore Tyler Ferguson, who started the season at wide receiver, has adopted the type of role Percy Harvin played at the University of Florida. Ferguson has lined up wide, beside Brewer in the backfield and has taken direct snaps at the quarterback position.
Loudon's improved offense will be key Friday night as they travel to CAK for a rematch against the Warriors.
In the first meeting between the two teams, Loudon had a clear game plan - keep the ball away from CAK's offense, which has averaged 47.6 points per game this season. For the first half of play, it worked. Loudon led 27-21 at the half before a turnover-plagued second half led to a loss.
"Ultimately, the plan would be about the same," Harig said. "If we can go to half time with the same scenario playing out that we did the first time, we'll take it."
CAK has allowed 33.3 points per game on the season, but played a decent defensive game in a three-point loss to Alcoa to end the regular season.
"They have a philosophy, and that philosophy on film against Alcoa was the same as it was on film against us," Harig said. "When they get troubled, they're going to dive at your feet. They're going to try to bring more people than you can block and, if you watch the Alcoa game, that's what they did. They started bringing stunts and those kinds of things and Alcoa tried to still continue to run the football.
"What we've got to try to do is get them in the passing game for big plays, and we did that last time," he said.
Loudon will enter Friday's game a much more confident team than when they faced the Warriors Sept. 14.
"Right now, there's a lot of people with a lot of hope," senior lineman Hunter Rogers said. "A lot of people really want to play right now. Everybody's ready to go. We've got a fire going. We're on a winning streak and everybody's ready to play. Nobody's scared of CAK."
Harig said his team's confidence is especially present on the defensive side of the ball, a unit coming off its only shutout of the season.
"That's the biggest difference and I think it can only help us going forward," Harig said.
Loudon's special teams can make a difference as well. The kicking duo of Colin Brennan and Jacob King has not only been strong on point-after attempts, but the two kickers helped eliminate the return game of Kingston with directional kickoffs.
"I thought Friday was our most complete game of the season," Harig said. "We played solid in all three phases. The week before we made big plays in all three phases, but we didn't exactly play the best we could have. It was a game you can build on. But I think going forward, to beat a CAK, we've got to take that next step. That can only come through mental focus and playing a different level than we've played all year."
CAK (9-1) hosts the Redskins (6-4) at 7 p.m. Friday. The winner will advance to meet the winner of Kingston (6-4) at Polk County (7-3). If either team advances to the third round, they will likely meet Alcoa (9-1).