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September 25, 2012

PREP FOOTBALL: Bearcats looking ahead to Mustangs after tough loss vs. rival

CULLMAN — Mark Britton and the Cullman football team had all weekend to digest last Friday’s 21-14 road loss to top-ranked Hartselle.

By late Monday afternoon, the coach was fine with talking about the latest matchup between the two schools, which was typical of the foes’ historic rivalry.  

Britton knew the Bearcat offense could’ve used a few first downs to keep its last drive going. He knew the defense “needed to find a way to stop them,” referring to the Tigers’ game-winning drive that was capped off on a touchdown run by Blake Slayton with only 3 seconds remaining. And even before the loss — but certainly after it — he knew Hartselle had “an outstanding team.”

“They’ve got a 19-game winning streak now, which is long as anybody in the state,” Britton said. “I guess if you would’ve asked me a week ago if we could play them right down to the wire and have the last play of the game make the difference, I would’ve gladly taken it. I would’ve been satisfied. But in this business, it’s hard to be satisfied.”

And that was that on what the coach would say about last Friday.

From then on, Britton’s focus shifted to the future — as it should. He’s well aware Cullman can’t allow last week’s loss to linger with Madison Academy traveling to Oliver Woodard Stadium this Friday night.

“Win or lose, you’ve got to move on,” Britton said. “You’ve got to go and get focused on the next opponent. We’ve got such a tough schedule that if you dwell on that one too long, then Hartselle can beat you twice if you let them. I let the kids kind of dwell on it till we watched film on Sunday afternoon and then we tried to put that game behind us.”

One would think the Bearcats could rest easy with a week off from a rigorous Class 5A, Region 8 schedule, especially with the 3A Mustangs coming to town.

But Madison Academy isn’t your average 3A team.

The private school narrowly lost to Handley 20-14 in last year’s state final and is already off to a hot 3-1 start this season with wins over Lauderdale County (24-10), Clements (55-0) and Deshler (28-7). The No. 4 Mustangs’ only blemish thus far was a close 13-7 defeat at the hands of 1A No. 1 Tanner in Week 1.

“We’ve got a huge challenge,” Britton said. “We’re telling our kids not to let that 3A come up and bite you. They’ll be right there among everybody we’ve got on our schedule. There are a lot of 5A teams that are not as talented as Madison Academy.”

The Mustangs’ young roster is anchored by a pair of speedsters — Kerryon Johnson and Malik Miller — that Britton claimed is “the best tandem of running backs we’ll probably see this year.”

Through four weeks, Johnson hasn’t struggled to show why he’s already received interest from Alabama and Auburn. The electric sophomore has 481 rushing yards, seven touchdowns and even returned an interception 98 yards for a score in Madison Academy’s win against Lauderdale County. Johnson had 181 yards on the ground and touchdown runs of 34 and 54 yards last week versus Deshler.

“They may be 3A, but they’ve got 6A talent,” Britton said. “We’ve played 5A and 6A football, and we haven’t found a running back that’s comparable to this guy. He’s really, really good.”

Cullman’s coach isn’t overlooking Miller, the Mustangs’ No. 2 back, either. Like Johnson, the 6-foot, 210-pound freshman, who also plays outside linebacker, is already being heavily recruited by Southeastern Conference schools like Alabama, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

“He looks like an SEC running back, and those are the folks that are looking at them,” Britton said. “You’ll see both of those guys in the SEC somewhere on Saturdays.”



% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at robk@cullmantimes.com.

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