— See a photo gallery from Friday night's action on The Madison County Journal Facebook page
By Dallas Bordon and Zach Mitcham
One play when it counts — the Raiders got just that Friday night in their 15-14 win at Oconee County.
Actually, how about two?
Trailing 14-0 early in the second quarter, the Red Raiders rallied to take a late lead on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Wesley Johnson to Malik Freeman with 3:21 left to play. That score was followed by a clutch two-point conversion run by Freeman.
“Malik got behind him and I told the quarterback if they bail with Malik, throw it in the flat to Cameron (Stevenson),” said Red Raider head coach Chris Smith of the late touchdown. “If he gets his pads downhill, he’s got a chance to score. But they sucked up (toward the line) and he got it over his head to Malik. It was a great throw by Wesley Johnson.”
Johnson said converting on fourth-and-goal was a thrill.
“It was awesome; we just came up with a play on the spot and we were trying to do a run off of our option,” said Johnson of the winning touchdown pass. “I saw Malik turn his head in the corner of the end zone and I was gonna’ hit my receiver.”
Oconee County was called off sides on the point after attempt, which moved the ball half the distance to the goal line. Smith then rolled the dice and sent out Freeman who ran a sweep around the corner and into the end zone for the two-point conversion that eventually gave the Raiders the one point win.
“Anytime they jump off sides and we get the ball on the foot and a half, we’re going to go for two,” said Smith. “I’m just going to put it on our guys up front. I think we can get a yard and a half. That was our thinking when we went for it.”
Johnson said the road crew up front paved a good path for Freeman.
“The line really got a good surge; they had it all night and Malik is one of our best power guys,” said Johnson, who split time at quarterback with Ethan South Friday. “I just gave him the ball and let him do his work.”
Madison County struggled to hold onto the football early, fumbling the ball away twice, which led to two Warrior touchdowns.
But the momentum swing and turning point of the game came when Xavier Duncan bolted 70 yards for a touchdown with 9:43 left in the first half, cutting Oconee’s lead to 14-7.
“They had me wrapped up and I had a good lineman (Vince Hix) come up, he came and pushed him off of me. And I just broke it to the outside,” said Duncan.
Duncan praised the coaching staff for the conditioning they’ve put the team through.
“We go out to practice every day and coach runs us,” said Duncan. “We condition every day. I love him for that. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have seen the end zone tonight.”
Duncan said it felt good to get the win. He said he felt like Oconee County had kind of written off Madison County.
“They thought they were going to go ahead and write it down in the papers, that they were going to come out here and drag us down, but we weren’t going to let that happen,” said Duncan. “It’s a new year and we’re just proud to have coach Smith as a leader and all these coaches. I love ‘em to death and I wouldn’t trade them for anybody.”
Smith was greeted with hugs and handshakes after the game. So were his players. And smiles were everywhere as the loud Madison County student section let players hear some appreciation.
The coach said the win was “huge.” He gathered his team in a post-game huddle and praised their grit, asking them, “It feels good, doesn’t it?”
Smith said his team showed real heart in fighting back from the deficit.
“We maintained our composure,” said Smith. “We had some mistakes and we overcame them and that was big for us, because in the past, we let those mistakes beat us. We told them at halftime, ‘Guys, if you keep pounding on these guys, we’re going to win. We can beat these guys up front, if you keep pounding away at them.”
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