By Allen Kha / Scrimmageplaycva.com contributor
MADISON — Clarke County got loose in the second half, and Madison couldn’t find a counterpunch on offense. It was just that simple.
Madison earned a hard-fought 3-point halftime lead before watching Clarke County’s option offense run rampant in the second half. The Eagles (4-2, 2-1) scored 21 unanswered points in the second half en route to a 28-10 conference away victory and seventh-straight win over the Mountaineers.
“The game boiled down to the trenches,” Mountaineers coach Stuart Dean said. “We dominated in there in the first half it seemed, and then they did in the second half. We were prepared for [the triple-option].”
Madison (3-4, 1-2), without established playmaker Travis Warren in the lineup due to a hand injury, leaned heavily on the run game to propel the team’s offense. Led by the running back combo of Maurice Gentry and L.J. Ward, the Mountaineers drove down the field on their first drive and recorded the game’s first points with a field goal.
Clarke County responded soon after with an electric score, a 55-yard run by running back David Hardesty in the middle of the first quarter.
After trading possessions for the majority of the second quarter — primary due to both defenses playing strong against the run — Madison captured its final lead of the game with 1:49 remaining in the second quarter. Gentry capped off a long drive with a three-yard touchdown run, giving the Mountaineers a 10-7 halftime lead.
“It was nice for us through to see receivers who don’t normally feature get plays and for me to pass, and our two [running backs] executing,” Madison quarterback Dustin Farmer said. “We definitely played well to start.”
Clarke County opened the second half with a vengeance. After forcing a three-and-out on the first possession of the second half, the Eagles responded with a touchdown in a sub-minute drive.
Quarterback Andrew Paice opened the two-play drive with a 46-yard pass to running back Jesse Smoot, propelling the Eagles from their own territory into the red zone. The ensuing play, however, was jaw-dropping.
From the Mountaineers’ 21-yard line, Smoot took a handoff from Paice and rolled right. As two Madison defenders pursed Smoot hard towards the edge, Smoot shifted directions — strafing the ball above his head and leaning back — to evade two defenders. Smoot then juked passed another pair of defenders, six more blue jerseys, and a Madison sideline in disbelief before scampering into the end-zone and giving his team a 14-10 lead, one the Eagles would not relinquish.
Clarke County added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter — one by Paice and another by Hardesty to extend their lead to 28-10. The triumvirate of Paice, Smoot, and Hardesty notched all four of the team’s touchdowns and over 75 yards rushing each.
The Mountaineers’ comeback attempts in the second half were foiled by a litany of mistakes — including dropped passes on third-down situations, fumbles, and interceptions — and an opportunistic Eagles defense.
Clarke County coach Chris Parker was pleased with his team’s execution on the evening.
“Ultimately, we simply executed well in the second half and didn’t make mistakes,” Parker said. “Both defenses played well, but our guys continued to execute and we didn’t turn the ball over.”
Madison, meanwhile, has a huge game next week. The Mountaineers travel down the VA-230 to face now-conference rival William Monroe next week, hopefully with Warren available.
“I’m getting my hand checked out in the middle of the week,” Warren said. “That’s the plan… to play against William Monroe. I want to play next week.”
Dean added: “No need to motivate the boys this upcoming week. It’s going to be a good one.”