Photo: Hokes Bluff’s Braydon Hill makes a catch between a trio of Madison Academy defenders during the Eagles’ 12-10 win in the first round of the Class 4A state football playoffs on Friday (Nov. 10) in Madison. (Alex Chaney)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Class 4A, No. 9 Hokes Bluff’s 12-10 win over Madison Academy on Friday (Nov. 10), the Eagle sideline erupted in exuberant celebration, because this wasn’t an ordinary first round playoff win.
After last year’s postseason, this win meant so much more.
In 2016, Madison Academy erased a two-touchdown deficit to defeat Hokes Bluff, 24-21, in the Class 4A state semifinals to advance to the state championship game.
In the days leading up to Friday’s first round matchup at Bill Washington Stadium in Huntsville, Hokes Bluff coach Mike Robertson insisted revenge wouldn’t play a factor in this year’s game. But even he admitted it crossed his mind after his team held off a late rally by the Mustangs.
“I didn’t want them to get too psyched up worried about revenge instead of playing the game, but yeah, I thought about it,” Robertson said. “When the game was over, I turned around here to [assistant] coach [Jeff] Noah and I said, ‘We beat Madison Academy after last year.”
The Eagles return home this Friday (Nov. 17) to host No. 2 Rogers (11-0) in the second round.
Madison Academy (7-4) entered the contest averaging over 30 points per game, but the Hokes Bluff defense submitted one of its best performances of the season.
The Mustangs took the opening kickoff and went on a 15-play drive, but the Eagles made a stand inside their 10-yard line and forced a missed field goal.
Hokes Bluff’s first drive started on its own 20-yard line, and the Eagles marched down the field on a balanced drive between quarterback Landon Johnson and running back Darrian Meads. Johnson found receiver Braydon Hill and tight end Peyton Moore on two big pass plays to extend the drive, and the senior signal caller later found the end zone on a quarterback sneak from two yards out to give the Eagles a 6-0 lead with 11:26 remaining in the second quarter.
The Mustangs decided to test the Eagles through the air in the second quarter, but the Hokes Bluff secondary wreaked havoc on the Madison Academy passing attack. Hokes Bluff defensive back Carson Eubanks intercepted a Luke Nail pass on the second play of the Mustangs’ second drive, and linebacker Levi Taliaferro picked off Nail on the next drive.
Hokes Bluff (9-2) threatened to score before the half, but the Mustangs recovered a fumble inside the 10-yard line on third and goal. Madison Academy moved the ball down the field before the half, but Landon Johnson intercepted Nail in the closing seconds to give the Eagles a 6-0 lead heading into the locker room.
Neither offense could move the ball in the third quarter, but a trick play from the Mustangs set them up in Hokes Bluff territory heading into the final frame. The hosts made their way inside the 10-yard line, but the Eagles made another stand and forced a field goal. Madison Academy kicker Sean Dorney connected on a 29-yard field goal to close the deficit to 6-3 with 11:04 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles were forced to punt on their ensuing drive, and a bad snap on the punt set up the Mustangs on the Hokes Bluff 21-yard line. However, the Eagles forced another field goal attempt, and Dorney’s kick sailed wide right.
Meads carried the ball two straight times to start the next drive, and it appeared as if he was headed for a third consecutive carry when Johnson faked the ball and carried it around the left end on a quarterback keeper. The entire Mustang defense was fooled, and a block by Eubanks propelled Johnson around the corner as he dashed down the sideline for a 63-yard touchdown. A fake extra point was unsuccessful, but the Eagles led 12-3 with 6:43 remaining in the game.
Madison Academy’s next drive was its most successful of the game, and Jaylin Bracket capped off an 11-play drive with a two-yard touchdown run with 2:52 left in the contest.
Meads recovered an onside kick, and the Eagles went into clock-chewing mode on their next drive. On third-and-six with about two minutes remaining, Meads fought through four Mustang defenders and forced his way to a first down to secure the win.
Robertson credited his defensive coaching staff for the victory adding that the three interceptions in the second quarter were crucial.
“Our defensive staff – Coach (Brian) Sexton, Coach Noah, Coach (Jake) Ball, Coach (Taylor) Morgan – holding them to 10 points… what a job,” Robertson said. “That kind of took them out of their game because they quit trying to throw. That third quarter, they kind of ran the clock out for us. They had the long drive and we held them.”
Johnson’s long touchdown run was the turning point of the game. Robertson made the call after he thought the defense was keying on Meads.
“What a run,” Robertson said. “And he finished the run, and that’s the best thing because they’re so good on the goal line. Give our guys credit. (Madison Academy is) a good team. We knew they had gotten so much better.”
Johnson and Meads both said while they’re pleased with the win over the Mustangs, they know they have a tough task at hand next week against the Pirates.
“It feels great to be back in the playoffs and go back to the second round,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to work hard all week, watch film, prepare for what they do, and execute. We can win if we execute.”
“We’ve got to move on from this game,” Meads said. “We’ve just got to work on some stuff and execute.”
Meads finished with 97 yards on 26 carries despite the Mustang defense keying on him throughout the night. He credited his offensive line for helping him find running room during the game.
‘You’ve just got to push through it,” he said. “I’ve seen it all year, and you’ve just got to push through it and power yourself through it. The line is doing really well, and a good line just helps me move the ball.”
Johnson was 6-for-14 through the air for 83 yards and carried the ball 13 times for 61 yards and two scores. Eubanks caught three passes for 40 yards.