The last time the Red Raiders tasted victory was pretty sweet, a second-round state playoff win, a school first. Considering all that has happened since that night in 2019, Madison County’s first victory in 2020 was similarly unique — and exhilarating.

Red Raider players ran to the end zone area in front of the Madison County band, jumping, hollering and dancing in jubilation after coming from behind in the fourth quarter and defeating Apalachee, 21-10, in the first home game of the season Friday.

“It’s awesome, man,” said a smiling head coach, Chris Smith. “As up and down as everything has been this season, from not knowing if you’re going to play to OK, we’re going to play, to OK, you have all these kids quarantined, and there’s so much uncertainty and it’s a lot of pressure for our coaches and our kids. So to come out here and get that win, it’s awesome. The kids, they needed that. It was big for them.”

It wasn’t easy.

The Red Raiders (1-1) coughed up four fumbles and trailed 10-6 in the fourth quarter.

“It was a heck of a job by our kids battling,” said Smith. “We made some mistakes early. I thought we should have scored a couple of times in the first half and we just shot ourselves in the foot.”

The game finally swung quickly in Madison County’s favor on a 60-yard scoring strike from Cooper Brown to Nolan Hill with 7:05 left in the game.

“I saw the corner, he backed off pretty far, ran the hitch, went to the outside, turned inside, saw the corner come across from the other side, I saw grass and dove into the end zone,” said Hill. “It was great. It felt great.”

Smith said Hill is a great asset to the team and showed why on that play.

“We had been running verticals the whole time,” said Smith. “I knew the corner was going to bail. If we could get it in his (Hill’s) hands, I knew we were at least going to get a first down out of it. He makes a couple of moves and showed off that he can run. He’s a great kid, glad to have him back out here. That play changed the momentum of the game.”

Brown connected with Devin Welborn on a two-point conversion and Madison County pulled ahead for good, 14-10.

“I told Devin Welborn to run a good comeback route and he put that kid on skates,” said Smith. “Turns him around in the corner, comes back and ain’t nobody close to him on the comeback route for the two and Cooper makes a big throw.”

Madison County added another score late on a five-yard run by Dayton Gresham after the offensive line wore down the Wildcat defensive front. Smith said he was proud of his players Friday, including his quarterback and his offensive line.

“Bottom line, our quarterback grew up tonight,” said Smith. “He grew up and that’s what we needed. He decided he wanted this thing. He made plays there at the end. He and our O-line. They showed up. They got after it. And we just pounded that thing on the last drive down the field. Very proud of these young men, proud of these seniors. Senior Night, you never forget that Senior Night game. To get a big win on Senior Night, that’s huge.”

Senior Martavian Cooper scored Madison County’s first touchdown of the night on a nine-yard pass from Brown with just 26 seconds to go in the first half. The PAT attempt failed and Madison County led 6-0 at intermission.

“We came out ready to play,” said Cooper. “And we had a lot of people doubting us, but we came through. We practiced hard this week. Coach told us we had a great opportunity before us and we took advantage of it.”

Madison County dominated the line of scrimmage, totaling 352 yards of total offense, compared to just 138 for Apalachee. The Red Raiders had 21 first downs to the Wildcats’ 10 and totaled 195 yards on the ground on 36 carries, a 5.4 yards-per-carry average.

Gresham led the running attack for Madison County, tallying 94 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown, while Brown ran 10 times for 83 yards, while completing 7-of-8 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

Cooper caught four passes for 79 yards and a score and Hill caught two passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.

Apalachee took the lead with 7:24 to go in the third quarter on a six-yard run by Channin Daniels, which followed a sobering stoppage of play as Wildcat senior Tauheed Ferguson was carted off on a stretcher to an ambulance with a lower-body injury.

Apalachee tacked on three points with a 23-yard field goal with 7:55 to go in the game, but Madison County grabbed the lead 50 seconds later on Hill’s long score and never trailed again.

Cooper joined his teammates in front of the band celebrating after the win. He said the Raiders have a bright outlook for the 2020 season.

“We’re going to be good,” he said. “We got a lot of young people, but we’re going to grow as a team and get stronger as a team and we’re going to be able to dominate.”

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