Reinvigorated MCHS ground game spurred by unselfish running backs, motivated O-line
Fact: Madison County has had a different leading rusher three different times in five games this season.
While that nugget may interest statistics enthusiasts, the guys carrying the ball couldn’t care less who gets that honor.
“We don’t have a back sitting back there going, “‘Man, you need to get the ball to me; I need to be carrying the ball every down,’” Raider coach Randell Owens said.
The unselfish attitude in the backfield has certainly paid off.
Madison County (4-1) has won four straight games, rushing for at least 200 yards in the last three, and finds itself in a tie with Clarke Central for second place in Region 8-AAAA heading into Friday’s game with Habersham Central.
After struggling with the ground game in 2008, Madison County has been able to pound the ball in 2009, with opponents unable to key in on just one ball carrier.
Last year’s leading rusher finished with just 254 yards. This year, two players, Jamal Cooper (208 yards) and Kendrick Butler (260 yards), have already eclipsed the 200-yard mark in just five games, while Stan Maxwell (186 yards) is approaching it. Meanwhile, quarterback Jacob Owens leads Madison County with six rushing touchdowns.
The selfless attitude extends beyond the backfield.
As the Raiders have become more ground-oriented, it’s meant less opportunities for receivers like Patrick McCrary, who’s caught only two passes in the last two games.
Owens said he even apologized to McCrary during a victory over Cedar Shoals Sept. 18. McCrary, who spent most of that evening blocking against the Jaguars, told Owens he had no problem with the conservative game plan and the coach appreciates that.
“We’ve got a lot of guys with that attitude that are playing just real unselfishly right now,” Owens said.
Paired with that unselfishness is a vastly improved offensive line paving the way for the running game.
Raider linemen receive weekly grades for their performance and five received “winning grades” of 70 percent after Madison County’s 21-16 win over Salem.
Owens might have to start posting these numbers in the locker room given the recent interest. Not long after Madison County’s victory last week, players were inquiring about grades.
“‘How did I grade out?’ It’s almost like you study all week for a test and bug the teacher, ‘Did I pass?’” Owens said.
This is just another indicator that this senior-laden offensive line takes its job seriously. Owens said the unit is intent on atoning for last year.
“They knew that was a weakness last year,” Owens said. “They’ve really taken it on themselves to work to try to improve week-by-week.”
This all has created problems for Madison County’s opponents. In years’ past, Madison County has been “right-handed” or strong-side oriented. But instead of running to one side of the offensive line this year, the Raiders now attack both sides equally.
Combined with several capable ball carriers, Madison County has a broader range of attack.
“It puts you in a position where you can try to call the play versus what the defense is lined up and doing as opposed to having to sit there and say we’ve got to get it to this particular player on this side of the line,” Owens said.
Madison County hopes that trend continues into the second half of the season as the Raiders are in the thick of the region title race.
But this much appears evident through five games: The Raiders are concerned with the bottom line, not headlines.
“It just goes back to the old thought of saying, ‘It’s amazing what you can get done when nobody cares who gets the credit,’” Owens said.