Raider defense

The Madison County defense gang tackles the East Jackson runner back for a short gain Friday night. 

DANIELSVILLE – Friday night was a glorious night for the Red Raider football team, and for Madison County High School.

The Raiders dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage en route to a 35-7 win over East Jackson, their most lopsided win of 2019. And the performance happened on homecoming, when a larger than usual crowd overfilled Red Raider Field.

Unfortunately, the night took a turn for the worse following the Raiders' last touchdown run. A physical play between two opposing players suddenly turned into a multi-player scuffle leading to the ejections of one player from each team. For Madison County, the ejected player was Douglas Willingham, who’ll miss next week’s game at Commerce. His ejection came during his best game of 2019. He rushed for 46 yards and caught one pass for 36 yards.

When head coach Chris Smith addressed his team in the post-game huddle, he couldn’t start with how proud he was of his teams 28-point victory. Instead, he had to voice frustrations about a group of players who let their emotions get the better of them.

“That’s one of the ugliest things that you don’t want to have happen,” Smith said. “We preach to our kids to maintain their composure and not get caught up in garbage like that. I don’t know what happened. You can’t do that. You have to hold your composure regardless of the situation.

“Unfortunately that didn’t happen so we’re going to lose a kid. We have to be better than that. It’s ugly for the game; it’s ugly for both schools.”

While there are never winners when the game dissolves as it did Friday, Madison County (3-2, 0-0) was the clear and decisive winner of the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Raider offensive line pushed the Eagle defense around, allowing the triple option attack to gain 355 yards and score five touchdowns. The defensive line constantly broke through East Jackson’s front, limiting their ground game to under 100 yards and never allowing quarterback Greg Huggs to become comfortable in the pocket.

“They played hard up front,” he said. “We did some good things on the offensive and defensive lines. The defense played great all night. We executed well, they (East Jackson defense) tried to throw some different things at us tonight. They hadn’t been in a four-front all year and they come out tonight in the four-front and we ran formations to keep them in that because we knew what we were doing.

“Last year, if someone had done that to us, it would have fried our brains. But we have some veteran guys up front, they recognized it and did a dang good job blocking. I’m very proud of that.”

The Red Raiders never left the battle at the line of scrimmage in doubt. East Jackson moved backwards on their first two possessions, while Madison County’s second series saw Martavian Cooper scramble 13 yards into the end zone for a 7-0 lead. The drive featured a pair of first down carries by Colby Smith, including a 19-yarder.

East Jackson had the game tied on a 61-yard run by Nino Brown, but a holding penalty negated the run and the drive stalled soon after. The Eagles faked a punt, asking Caleb Adair to pass for the first down. His throw was accurate, but a defender arrived to break up the pass.

Later in the second quarter, with the Raiders still ahead 7-0, Cole Hillsman intercepted a pass by Huggs and returned the pick all the way past the Eagles’ 15-yard line. A holding penalty backed the offense to the 26-yard line. The flag only delayed the inevitable; a 13-yard plow into the end zone by Dayton Gresham to give the Raiders a 14-0 lead going into the locker room for halftime.

The complexion of the game wouldn’t change after the break. The defense continued smothering the Eagle offense through the third quarter, and the offense began putting the game away in the fourth quarter. Colby Smith ended the third quarter with a 37-yard keeper, and he picked up the last seven yards at the beginning of the fourth quarter for a touchdown. Minutes later, Gresham shot through the line for a 24-yard romp to pay dirt. Madison County led 28-0 after those scores.

“I told him (Gresham) all week to be patient,” Smith said. “We’re going to keep pounding it and pounding it, and eventually we’re going to pop some long runs. He popped some tonight, I’m really proud of him and the way he comes to work every day.”

East Jackson’s offense finally found success on their next drive, completing passes to get into the red zone. Adair received an end-around hand-off and hit Brown in the end zone for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 28-7. The Eagles recovered the onside kick at their own 45, but they lost nine yards on the possession and failed on fourth down.

Gresham nearly scored his third touchdown of the night on the Raiders’ first play. He picked up 35 yards before defenders drove him out of bounds. Martavian Cooper received an end-around hand-off and stomped past the goal line for the final touchdown.

“We made some adjustments with our skill guys at halftime which allowed us to rip off some big runs with our triple,” Smith said. “We’re starting to do some things when we make adjustments that we’ve got to be able to do as we move into region play.

“I’m very proud of our kids. I’m excited for them. Three wins, only had two last year, but we can’t be satisfied either. We have to keep moving forward. We’ve got a big game next week against Commerce, a very good football team.”

Gresham led the Raiders on the ground with 112 yards and two scores. Cooper added 95 yards and two scores of his own. Colby Smith rushed for 102 yards with one touchdown and completed a 36-yard pass.

“Across the board, we were able to spread the ball out,” he said. “When you’re able to spread the ball out like that and make them respect every part of the game, it’s just going to make you better as you get down the road because they can’t focus on one particular player. I’m very proud of what we did with our A-backs, B-backs and quarterback, I thought they all played well.”

Madison County’s run of home games ends next week. The Red Raiders travel west on Hwy. 98 to play Commerce. The Tigers defeated Providence Christian 46-9. Madison County lost last year’s game against the Tigers 35-8.

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