By Chris McCarthy/Editor
With just over 19 minutes remaining in Hokes Bluff’s Class 4A football semifinal against Madison Academy last Friday (Nov. 25), the Eagle faithful could sense the program’s first state championship appearance since 2001.
Darrian Meads’ 5-yard touchdown run on the opening possession of the second half provided Hokes Bluff with a 21-7 lead with 7:04 left in the third quarter. It was the Eagles’ third straight touchdown after falling behind early 7-0.
Meads’ score turned out to be the high-water mark for Hokes Bluff, however. While the Mustang defense limited the Eagles to seven total yards and one first down the rest of the way, the visitors scored the game’s final 17 points to post a 24-21 victory.
Madison Academy (11-3) will play Handley (12-2) in the 4A state title game this Friday (Dec. 2) in Auburn.
The winning points came on Sean Dorney’s 30-yard field goal with 1:35 left in the fourth quarter. Dorney’s kick capped a 56-yard, nine-play drive that included a successful fourth down conversion attempt at the Eagle 23-yard line.
Starting at the their own 33 with only 1:35 on the game clock, the hosts eventually moved to the 47. That’s where their season ended when Bronson Schad’s interception secured the win.
“We couldn’t get a first down and get any momentum back (in the second half),” said Hokes Bluff head coach Mike Robertson. “[Madison Academy] made some plays and we didn’t late in the third and in the fourth quarter. We couldn’t run the ball and they got us in third and long a lot. But give credit to [Madison Academy]; they were pretty physical and did a good job up front. They also did a good job with their coverages and we couldn’t get anybody open. Holding them to 24 points, I think we did a pretty good job defensively. But the biggest thing is that we gave them the ball back too many times.”
Meads finished with 64 yards on 22 carries. Landon Johnson completed 11 of 18 passes for 100 yards. He also rushed for a pair of scores.
For the Mustangs, Grayson Edgemon was 20 of 29 in passing for 189 yards, while Ferdinand caught seven passes for 82 yards. Jordan Garrett rushed for 44 yards on 13 carries. Madison Academy had a 285-to-163 advantage in total yards.
Hokes Bluff’s first drive of the game was started by Braydon Hill’s interception on the third play from scrimmage. Hill’s big play went for naught when the series ended with a missed field goal.
The visitors fared better on their second possession. Madison Academy went 80 yards in 16 plays to score on Edgemon’s 2-yard TD pass to Jayln Nelson. Dorney converted the PAT for a 7-0 lead at 2:27 of the first quarter.
It didn’t take long for the Eagles to respond. On the next play from scrimmage, Johnson found Hill near midfield, and the latter made it to the Mustang 14 before being tackled. On the first play of the second period, Johnson took it in from the 1, and Andrew Colley’s extra point tied the game.
The Eagles quickly got the ball back when Levi Taliaferro recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Meads then ran three straight times for 30 yards to move Hokes Bluff to the Mustang 1, from where Johnson did the honors for a 14-7 advantage at the 10-minute mark of the second frame.
Following an exchange of punts, Hill’s second pick with 2:41 left in the first half preserved Hokes Bluff’s seven-point lead at halftime.
The Eagles stretched their lead to 21-7 midway through the third quarter before the Mustangs started their comeback. On its first possession of the second half, Madison Academy drew within seven points when Edgemon and Jaelin Ferdinand hooked up for a six-yard touchdown pass. The Eagle offense could not get a first down over the next two possessions, and the Mustangs drew even on Edgemon’s nine-yard TD pass to Ferdinand at the 10:52 mark of the fourth period.
The Hokes Bluff offense continued to struggle, and Dorney’s field goal in the waning minutes ended the Eagles’ season at 9-5.
“We’re disappointed, but we’re thankful for how far we got, especially for our seniors,” said Robertson. “When you get this far, you want to go on and finish it. But this team has overachieved all year, and we came close tonight, so I’m very proud of our guys. I’m also proud of our coaches (Jeff Noah, Jake Ball, Brian Sexton and Taylor Morgan). They did a super job all year and deserve a lot of credit for how far we’ve come.”