Photo: Sardis High’s Drew Vaughn looks to avoid Madison County’s Anthony Horton during the Lions’ 21-14 victory on Oct. 21. (Huck Treadwell/Sand Mountain Reporter)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
The Sardis Lions punched their ticket to the postseason for the first time since 2014 after they defeated Madison County, 21-14, in a pivotal Class 4A, Region 7 showdown last Friday (Oct. 20) in Sardis City.
After the Sardis defense forced a punt on Madison County’s opening drive, the Lions marched down the field with a balanced attack. Facing a fourth-and-nine on the 13-yard line, the Lions lined up to kick a field goal.
But Sardis head coach Gene Hill called a fake, and holder Lukas Morris rolled to his right and delivered a 13-yard touchdown strike to receiver Patrick Bright for the opening score of the game. The point after attempt failed, but the Lions led 6-0 with 3:38 remaining in the first quarter.
“We’ve worked on that all year, and it’s the first time I’ve gotten to run it,” Hill said. “I told the coaches when we got down there, ‘We’re going to run it.’ I’ve been wanting to run it all year. I’d like to put it on tape for everyone to see it. Of course, we’ve got a lot of fakes out of that, but that’s my fake. We’ve been running that thing for 100 years. It’ll work nearly every time.”
The Tigers – whose backfield consists of two SEC commits – responded quickly on their next drive. Running back Matthew Flint, a Tennessee linebacker commit, broke loose for a 39-yard touchdown on the sixth play of the drive. The extra point gave Madison County a 7-6 advantage with 1:27 left in the opening frame.
The Lions (5-3, 4-1) went three-and-out on their next drive and were forced to punt the ball back to the Tigers. Madison County was without its starting quarterback, so Tennessee running back commit Tae Provens moved over to signal-caller to lead the offense. Provens and Flint took turns moving the offense down the field before Flint found a seam and scored on a 49-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 14-6 with 7:51 left in the first half.
Both teams exchanged three-and-outs before the Lions started their fourth drive of the night on their own 13-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Sardis running back Drew Vaughn exploded through the hole for a 74-yard run to move the Lions into the red zone.
Quarterback Logan Gaskin snuck into the end zone on fourth and goal for a 1-yard touchdown to close the gap to 14-12. He ran in the two-point conversion attempt to tie the game with one minute left until halftime.
The defenses for both teams tightened in the second half, and while the offenses went on long drives, the teams exchanged punts throughout the third quarter.
Sardis started the fourth quarter with the ball, and on the fourth play of the drive, Gaskin connected with receiver Jacob Ross on an intermediate route. Ross broke a tackle and outran the Tigers’ secondary for a 53-yard touchdown. The extra point gave the Lions a 21-14 advantage with 11:07 remaining in the game.
The Tigers (4-4, 2-3) had four possessions for the remainder of the game, but the Sardis defense didn’t yield a single first down. The Lion offense didn’t score either, but they were able to run the clock down to preserve the victory.
Hill said he and his staff made defensive adjustments after giving up two scores that led to the second half shutout.
“This bunch scared me as much as anybody that we’ve played simply because they’ve got three or four skill guys that are well above average and, of course, their SEC-caliber guys,” he said. “And it showed in the first half until we made some adjustments. That’s what I was so concerned about. But our defense rose to the occasion and we did enough on offense to get the win.”
Hill thought that the fake field goal completely changed the game and felt like his team needed a spark after last week’s 31-21 home loss to DAR.
“That was a huge, huge play,” he said. “Especially coming off of what we did last week being a downer. I told the coaches that we had to get off to a good start. If we don’t hit that fake field goal, it could be a totally different game.”
Gaskin finished the game 9-for-16 in passing for 108 yards and a touchdown and carried the ball nine times for 26 yards and a score. Vaughn rushed 20 times for 123 yards, while Ross caught two passes for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Flint carried nine times for 107 and two touchdowns, while Provens was held to 77 yards on 22 carries.
Sardis travels to take on Randolph next week. The Lions can capture the region championship with a win over the Raiders. A loss could send Sardis to the third seed depending on if Madison Academy wins or loses.
Hill said his team needs to clean up some issues on special teams heading into the Randolph game.
“We’ve just got to keep on keeping on,” he said. “I thought up until last week that we had gotten better every week, and I feel like we did this week from last week to this week. If we just keep doing that, we’ll be all right.”