Kyle Funderburk, sports editor for the Madison County Journal, covers Madison County football for his readers and answered a few questions about Mary Persons’ foe in Round 2 of the state playoffs on Friday. You can find his work at www.mainstreetnews.com/madison
Q.) How much excitement is there in Madison County after the program’s first-ever state playoff win?
A.) There is a ton of excitement across the county. I saw it Friday night after the game and have experienced it through talking with people in the community. It’s also present on social media. There’s a buzz about the program I’ve never seen before.
Q.) Do you expect a lot of Red Raiders’ fans to make the drive down to Forsyth?
A.) Adults certainly, maybe not students. Most of the leaders in the student section are on the wrestling team who have a set of duals that day. Their parents, many of whom also attend games, will be watching them wrestle. Forsyth is certainly a lot closer and a lot simpler of a drive than Ridgeland was so I expect most of the football/band/cheerleading parents as well as fans to show up.
Q.) How is it that Madison County has never won a football game in the playoffs? Is Danielsville a basketball town?
A.) Basketball and diamond sport town. Basketball, softball and baseball have always been solid at Madison County. The football program has never maintained success and good athletes often left before high school to attend other schools with better programs. Cedar Shoals and Commerce for instance are only a few minutes from the county lines. Clarke Central and Elbert County aren’t much of a hike from Madison County either.
Q.) Do you expect a “letdown” after such an historic win?
A.) I don’t expect a letdown. They’ve had emotional wins all year and they never followed them with ugly performances (despite some of the scores looking ugly).
Q.) What style of offense do the Red Raiders’ play and how do you think they will try to exploit Mary Persons’ inconsistent defense?
A.) They run a flexbone triple option but can easily transition to a spread thanks to some good receivers. Primarily, they’ll look to exploit defenses the same way any triple option team would, by taking what the defense gives them. Dayton Gresham is a good fullback that warrants a lot of attention from defenses. But Tay Cooper and the other B-backs can’t be ignored either. But if the option is shut down, they won’t be stubborn.
Q.) What are the 2019 Red Raiders’ biggest strengths and weaknesses?
A.) Biggest strength is the line of scrimmage. The offensive and defensive lines are solid. Former Cedar Shoals head coach Scott Wilkins took over the O-line this year and brought in quick and obvious improvements. The defensive line can dominate any one-sided offense. Special teams is also a strength. Punter Hunter Samples is really good. As for weaknesses, they turn the ball over way too often on offense, whether it’s an interception, fumble or failed 4th down attempts. They would probably have two more wins at least with better ball control. On defense, they struggle against balanced offenses.
Q.) Is running back Martavian Cooper the Red Raiders’ top player? Who are Madison County’s other standout players?
A.) He’s certainly the top player. If you read the story from Friday, he was a huge factor. He’s a great athlete, hard to catch and hard to tackle. He’s the reason why they can transition from the flexbone to the spread so well. He is a good running back on options and sweeps, but he’s also a great wide receiver. Another standout player on offense is fullback Dayton Gresham. He doesn’t typically gain a lot of yards, but if defenses key on Cooper too much, Gresham hits the hole well and has deceptive speed. On defense, the edge rushers Zahmerius Shiftlet and Kiya Hubbard stand out, especially against pass-first offenses. Colby Smith is a great safety, probably a better DB than QB.
Q.) Do you think Madison County fans are aware of MP’s long history of football success? Would a victory on Friday be the biggest win in Madison County football history?
A.) Those knowledgable of high school football in general are aware. Everyone else just assumes Mary Persons has had more success just because Madison County has had so little. A win over MP would absolutely be the biggest in program history. First ever second round victory for any kind of postseason format in school history.
Q.) Do you have a prediction for the outcome of Friday night’s game?
A.) I haven’t had a chance to research the MP offense yet, but if they mix the run/pass well or even just mix different types of runs well, they’ll give Madison County problems. On offense, the Red Raiders will move the ball, but can they score is the question. Many of the teams’ turnovers have come on the opponents’ side of the 50. I think Mary Persons will win. They expect to make the playoffs and expect to advance. And judging by the record, Madison County is new to the second round for a reason.