The year of 2020 has not been easy on many fronts. But Madison County got a welcome stroll on Easy Street Friday, coasting to a 38-6 win at home over East Hall, while dominating both sides of the ball.
The Red Raiders harassed the East Hall quarterback all night, with defenders in his face, dropping him for sacks and covering up receivers. On the other side the ball, Madison County gashed the Vikings time and again, with the offensive line pushing defenders out of the way and Red Raider running backs sprinting to the second level for big gains.
Red Raider coach Chris Smith was beaming with pride about his team’s performance following the game.
“We lost two more players to quarantine today, two starters,” said Smith. “Our kids didn’t bat an eye. They came in and said, ‘Coach, what are we going to do?’ I said, ‘Man, we’re going to line up and play football. We’re going to do what you’ve been coached to do. We’re going to hit these guys in the mouth and be physical and we’re going to get a win.’ And they came out and did exactly that. They responded to the call and did a great job of executing offensively and defensively. I’m just so proud of them.”
Both teams struggled offensively in the first quarter, trading turnovers in the opening minutes. Smith said his team squandered early scoring opportunities.
“We should have easily had two more scores,” said the coach. “But when we put the ball on the ground, we didn’t hang our heads. Our guys kept playing, kept grinding.”
Madison County senior running back and linebacker Dayton Gresham picked off an East Hall pass and moments later Martavian Cooper ran the ball in from five yards out for an early second-quarter score. The PAT failed and the Red Raiders led 6-0.
Gresham carried the ball in from 22 yards out on third and six with 1:50 to go in the first half, putting the home team up 12-0. He said hitting pay dirt feels pretty good.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “You do it in practice all the time. And it doesn’t really feel like nothing because nobody’s watching, but when you do it in front of stands full of people, it’s a different feeling. It’s very uplifting.”
Gresham said the offensive line has been rolling.
“Chandler Phillips, Vincente Abarca, Eli Akins, Drew Brown, everybody up there has just been working all summer, all to this point, triple option, ground and pound, that’s what it is,” he said.
The Vikings entered Friday’s matchup averaging 33.8 points per game. But the road team didn’t put any points on the board until the game was well out of reach. East Hall scored on a 54-yard bomb in the fourth quarter. The Vikings threw an incomplete pass from the Red Raider four-yard line as time expired in the first half.
Smith said his short-staffed secondary was stellar Friday.
“Our defensive guys, we’re playing two kids who haven’t played all year long in the secondary and they dang played their butts off,” said Smith. “Playing corners who haven’t been playing there. Can’t say enough about what those young men did. Trey Slayton steps in and plays a really solid football game. Vic Hajdu played well.”
Gresham said the team had a good game plan and was prepared.
“We knew what they were going to come out with and everything they did, we already knew it was coming,” he said. “And we just executed.”
Madison County rolled through the third quarter with all the momentum. Sophomore Cortez Davis showed explosive speed on several runs, scoring from 20 yards out with 7:50 to go in the third. Quarterback Cole Hillsman connected with Cooper on a 19-yard touchdown pass with 2:50 to go in the third quarter to put the Red Raiders up 24-0. Hajdu then recovered an East Hall fumble and Gresham rumbled in from 31 yards to put Madison County up 31-0 entering the fourth period.
The Vikings put their only points on the board with 9:35 to go, but Madison County answered immediately with the final points of the night, an explosive 60-yard jaunt by Davis.
Smith rolled off many names for praise after the game.
“Bottom line, it comes down to our guys up front on the offensive side, Breeze Scoggins, Eli Akins, Chandler Phillips, Drew Brown, Vicente Abarca, Ethan Bond,” he said. “Those guys get after it every Friday night. Gavin McCannon comes in in the second half at left tackle and we make a change at tight end and we just keep right on rolling.”
He praised his defensive players, too.
“The defensive side of the ball, Zahmerius Shifflet, Kiya Hubbard, Jaylon Thomas, Dylan Vining, Braxton Waller, Tyler Wright. Dayton Gresham made some big plays on the defensive side of the ball,” said Smith. “Brock McElroy did a good job in coverage. Our kids played hard tonight. And then we started rolling in the second half and built off that momentum. I’m just very proud of them.”
Gresham said it felt great to get the win after all the adversity of 2020, such as the covid quarantines.
“That just proves the heart out here, man,” he said. “The team putting everything together and all that we learned and all that we’ve grown to be throughout the season, displaying out here, despite all the arguments going on and everything on the field. We kept it straight and left everything on the field. I’m proud of everybody.”
Red Raider athletic director Mike Haynes praised Gresham after the game. An East Hall player grabbed Gresham’s facemask at the end of the game and held on, but Gresham avoided engaging in any fighting.
“That took restraint,” said Haynes.
Madison County rushed for 349 yards on the night. Gresham led Madison County with 129 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Davis ran the ball four times for 92 yards and two scores. Ty Chapel ran seven times for 69 yards. Martavian Cooper ran eight times for 27 yards and a score. He had one catch for 19 yards and a score. Cole Hillsman was one for three at quarterback, throwing the scoring pass to Cooper. He also ran for 28 yards.
JEFFERSON COMING TO TOWN
Smith and his crew have one more Friday night to put the pads on and fight for a win in 2020. Undefeated Jefferson comes to town Nov. 20.
“It’s a huge challenge,” said Smith. “You have the number-two team in the state. They’re a great team. They’re going to run the football at you. They got great athletes. And they’re going to try and out-athlete you. We got to come out, move the ball, get some first downs, run the clock.”
The coach said the game could move quickly.
“They don’t throw the ball; we don’t throw the ball much, so it should be a quick game,” he said. “We just got to hold on to the football, get first downs, frustrate them. We got to get the quarterback on the ground. Their offense runs around Malaki Starks. And he is a great player. You flip the film on, there ain’t no doubt who the best player on the field is when he’s on the field. Good young man, too. But it’s a great challenge and we’re going to enjoy the moment and get ready to play next week.”