White County vs. Madison County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: White County Stadium, Cleveland
Coaches: Madison County, Chris Smith; White County, Bill Ballard
Records: Madison County (3-1, 1-0 in Region 8-AAAA); White County (2-2, 0-1 in Region 8-AAAA)
Key players: Madison County, RB C.J. Winding (5-9, 175 Jr.); QB Jacob Olson (6-1, 180 Jr.). White County, CB/RB Maurice Sutton (6-0, 195 Sr.); OL/TE/DT Sean Freeman (6-1, 220 Sr.); DE/WR/TE Tucker Cook (6-3, 195 Sr.).
Read the high school previews of Week 6 here:
White County coach Bill Ballard watched so much film in the past two weeks on Madison County that he now knows the jersey numbers of several key Red Raiders by heart.
The coach, in his fourth season at White County, is hoping that the long hours spent studying over the bye week will translate into the Warriors’ first region win of the season tonight at White County Stadium.
“They’ve got a lot of talent and have the ability to score with so many different players,” Ballard said after his team’s practice on Thursday. “10 (senior receiver Sam Bartlett), 20 (sophomore receiver Dylan Gentry), 19 (quarterback Ethan South), they’ve got a bunch of players that can score on any play. We’ve certainly been watching their stuff after being off for two weeks.”
The Warriors (2-2, 0-1 in Region 8-AAAA) have been resting up after a 42-10 loss to Buford on Sept. 19, which was preceded by two comfortable wins over Jackson County and Pace Academy.
Ballard will be looking for his team to avoid dropping into a 0-2 hole in region play. The last time that happened was in 2011, Ballard’s first season as a head coach in Cleveland. The Warriors finished 3-7 that year.
Meanwhile, Madison County will come to town riding the momentum of last week’s 19-6 win over Monroe Area in which sophomore running back K.J. Burton ran for two touchdowns to hold off the Purple Hurricanes.
The Red Raiders (3-1, 1-0 in Region 8-AAAA) have used a deep roster to put points on the board.
Quarterback Ethan South has been instrumental in the Red Raiders’ option offense, with the ability to make deep runs outside of the pocket. He scored on a 50-yard keeper against Johnson in the opening week, and reached the end zone twice against Jackson County.
He’s been sharing snaps with Cade Hancock, a more traditional throwing quarterback, who has found receivers Malik Freeman, Dylan Gentry and Cameron Stevenson on touchdown drives.
The key for Madison County, according to head coach Chris Smith, is to let the game dictate who he brings in to play.
“We’ve been playing it by ear,” Smith said before the team’s Thursday afternoon practice. “Ethan’s our set option guy and we feel comfortable with him in the ballgame. And Hancock’s a thrower, so we see what we’re having success with and try not to be stubborn and stick with something that might not work.”
Madison County will be facing its most dynamic threat so far this season in the form of Warriors running back Maurice Sutton. The senior carried the Warriors with 126 rushing yards, two touchdowns and two picks in last month’s win over Pace Academy. Fullback Max Taylor also made several notable carries to help score against Buford’s vaunted run defense a week later.
Combined with the game management of quarterback A.J. Vandiver, White County has the triple option necessary to break for big yardage.
“Our kids played real hard [against Buford] and did the best we could against them,” Ballard said. “We’re just a little mountain school that’s going to play as hard as we can each week.”
Smith said his team was encouraged by picking up its first region win against Monroe Area last week, adding that both White County and Madison County “have a great opportunity to control our own destiny” in Region 8-AAAA.
As his players prepare to take the 70-minute bus drive up from Danielsville, he told the team to not let the win get in their heads. Madison County’s three wins have come against teams that have a combined 2-13 record. Today will be the first meeting between the two programs since Sept. 4, 1981. The Red Raiders hold a 5-1-1 series record dating back to 1957.
“It’s a lot of confidence to start off region like that, but they know they have to stay grounded and not get too high on Friday night,” Smith said. “We’re preparing them mentally for what’s going to be a hard-fought football game.”
The Red Raiders have been scoring in bunches so far this season. They tacked 31 straight points against Johnson, scored 21 unanswered to take the lead in an overtime loss to Eastside and led by three touchdowns over Monroe Area heading into the fourth quarter.
“This could well be a game of momentum,” Ballard said. “They’ve jumped on people a couple times, so I hope we survive that initial charge.”