By Brian Lacy
For The Times
Cullman High committed four turnovers and could not slow down Madison Academy’s powerful running attack, as the Class 5A, No. 10 Bearcats lost 28-10 Friday night at Bill Washington Stadium.
The Mustangs’ do-it-all junior Kerryon Johnson rushed 14 times for 105 yards and one touchdown, caught four passes for 63 yards and another score and had an interception on defense.
Johnson alone makes Madison Academy hard to beat, but with sophomore running back Malik Miller adding 78 yards on 14 carries and senior La’Markus Martin rushing 11 times for 41 yards, Cullman coach Mark Britton said it was easy to see why the Mustangs are the defending-Class 3A state champions and off to a 5-0 start this season.
“The key is he’s not their only weapon,” Britton said of Johnson. “It’s nice and easy to say, ‘We’ll double-team him,’ but you’ve got 3 (Martin) out there, you’ve got 32 (Miller) out there, and I thought 6 (backup quarterback Logan Hamlett) had some good runs in the second half. They’ve just got a great squad.”
The Black and Gold moved the ball across midfield on each of their first two drives, but an interception at the goal line by Johnson ended the first, and an interception by Cole Tomlinson ended the second at the 31-yard line.
“You cant have turnovers,” Britton said. “I wish we would have been able to really establish the run more. We got a little bit one-dimensional because we weren’t having success controlling the line of scrimmage. But the turnovers really were the factor tonight. We’ve got to go back and work on that.’’
The Mustangs struck quickly after the first turnover when Tomlinson caught a short pass from Blake Coward and raced 73 yards to the end zone.
Chayse Freeman’s 34-yard field goal put Cullman on the board, trailing 7-3 with 1:18 left in the first quarter, but Madison Academy responded with a nine-play, 79-yard drive, scoring on a 13-yard pass from Coward to Johnson.
The Bearcats found the end zone on the ensuing drive when Tyler Glenn and Auston Neal hooked up for an 18-yard touchdown reception with 5:01 left in the first half.
Leading 14-10 and without Coward, who was injured in the first half, the Mustangs emphasized the running game even more in the second half. Johnson, Martin, Miller and Hamlett combined for eight consecutive running plays to start the third quarter. Johnson finished the drive with a 22-yard touchdown run.
Miller scored the game’s final touchdown with 7:52 left in the fourth quarter, capping a five-play, 34-yard drive with a 2-yard scoring plunge.
Cullman’s four second-half drives ended with a fumble, an interception and two fourth-down stops by the Mustangs.
“They put Johnson back in that three-back set and just started pounding on us,” Britton said, describing Madison Academy’s gameplan for the second half. “He’ll wear on you. He’s just such a big running back, and our defense was out there way too long. We needed to establish some offensive things. Overall, I thought my defense did a great job. They were just on the field way too long tonight.”
Glenn completed 18 of 36 passes for 191 yards and one touchdown but was intercepted three times by the Mustangs. Garrett Crider carried the ball 17 times for the Bearcats and gained 88 yards.
“As the game progressed, they were filing the box, and when they do that, we’ve got to throw the ball,” Britton said. “We had some key drops. I thought Tyler was very accurate. We didn’t make the catches when we needed to, but the turnovers are what really hurt us.”
Neal caught five passes for 81 yards to lead the Bearcats, while Mason Jones had eight receptions for 61 yards.
Cullman (4-1, 3-0) will jump back into 5A, Region 8 play next Friday at home versus Russellville.