Red Raiders 49, Trojans 20
Difference maker: Malik Freeman’s ability to make plays with his hands and feet proved to be critical for Madison County. He pulled down a pair of jump balls for touchdown receptions early, then broke free for a 23-yard touchdown run late in the first half. Freeman had 125 total yards (67 receiving, 58 rushing).
Stat that matters: 35 points in a 13 minute, 20-second span. The Red Raiders went from a 14-13 lead to a 49-13 edge thanks to five touchdowns in a span starting at the 6:08 mark of the second quarter and finishing at the 4:48 mark of the third quarter.
Turning point: RaShawn Gresham’s 95-yard kickoff return touchdown, followed by a North Hall fumble near midfield and Freeman’s touchdown run helped turn a back-and-forth contest into a decisive Madison County victory.
Who’s next: North Hall (0-7, 0-4 Region 8-AAAA) hosts winless Monroe Area next Friday, while Madison County (5-2, 3-1) welcomes Stephens County, which is 4-0 in region play.
A special teams breakdown and a lost fumble Friday turned the tide quickly against North Hall.
For nearly a quarter and a half, the winless Trojans (0-7, 0-4 Region 8-AAAA) were playing pretty much even with Madison County. But RaShawn Gresham’s 95-yard kickoff return touchdown and a lost fumble that led to another score put North Hall in a 28-13 hole by halftime en route to a 49-20 loss at The Brickyard.
“We felt all week we had a really good chance as long as we stayed mentally focused, which has been a struggle from time to time,” said first-year North Hall head coach David Bishop. “We came out trading scores with them and looking about as sharp as we’ve looked all year. When you’re inexperienced, sometimes it takes one little mistake.”
The defeat ended North Hall’s playoff hopes in Region 8-AAAA while keeping the Red Raiders squarely in contention for the second playoff seed from the region as they surpassed their 2013 win total.
The game-changing sequence began after Maddox Turner’s 31-yard touchdown run cut the Trojans’ deficit to 14-13 with 6:21.3 remaining in the second quarter and the Red Raiders (5-2, 3-1) partially blocked the extra point to maintain their edge.
Following Gresham’s score on the ensuing kickoff, a fumble recovery by Madison County’s Beau Gentry at the North Hall 49 set up a Malik Freeman 23-yard touchdown run 11 plays later. That made it 28-13 with 1:13.4 to go in the half.
“We’re moving the ball down the field, and when we fumble and turn it over, it just seemed like it changed the whole emotion of the team,” Bishop said. “It changed the whole focus of the team, and from that point forward, we just never looked the same again.”
North Hall’s defensive stop on a fake field goal in the final moments of the first half kept the game from getting away momentarily.
Freeman had touchdown catches of 24 and 32 yards from Ethan South prior to his running score, with Drew Atha finding the end zone on a 1-yard first-quarter run for North Hall.
Both of Freeman’s touchdown grabs came on jump balls, the second against double coverage.
A 24-yard scoring run by South, a 4-yarder by K.J. Burton the play after an errant Trojan snap on a punt attempt and a 34-yard touchdown run from Gresham in the first eight minutes of the third quarter broke the game open by pushing it to 49-13.
“Madison probably doesn’t get near as much credit as they deserve,” Bishop said. “They’re a very talented football team. We told our kids, ‘You make a mistake, you’re going to pay for it because they’ve got so much talent.’”
Kyle Bacus added a 2-yard touchdown run for North Hall with 3:59.3 left in the contest.
“The only thing that has made us successful over the years is the ability to continue to fight,” Bishop said. “And right now, we’ve got to learn that and continue to be able to do that Monday through Friday.”
Freeman finished with three receptions for 67 yards and seven carries for 58 yards. Gresham totaled 60 yards on seven carries.
“We made so many mental mistakes,” Bishop said. “And it became back-to-back-to-back. And you just can’t win football games that way.”
Turner paced the Trojans with 86 yards on 12 carries, including 49 yards on a trio of runs on the drive he capped with a touchdown.
Madison County finished with 393 total yards, including 273 rushing yards on 45 carries.
North Hall tallied 215 of its 255 total yards on the ground.
Bobby Mendenhall paced the Trojans defense with nine tackles (six solo), with Sam Jackson tallying eight tackles (all solo).
North Hall hosts winless Monroe Area next week, and Madison County welcomes Stephens County.