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The Wins of Madison County

Madison County's swarming defense made a difference in the first-round win. (Photo - Main Street News)
I think it’s safe to say that Madison County head coach Chris Smith “got” what happened last week more than most.
 
Smith grew up in Madison County. He was an assistant coach at Madison County. He’s now the head coach for the Red Raiders. So, when his team knocked off Ridgeland in Round 1 of the Class 4A playoffs, 27-20, it was a special night. 
 
It marked the first time Madison County won a playoff game. 
 
Ever.
 
“For the first hour we were traveling home on I-75, I was returning all the texts and phone calls I had gotten,” Smith told me. “I didn’t put my phone down and my phone was blowing up. I’ve never had that happen before. I’ll say this, it was different. It was a ‘good’ different, though. I told my wife the next morning, I was texting all the way home.”
 
Smith still laughs about it, and no, he wasn’t driving. But he marvels at the response he got from every corner. One of those corners came from his own region, as all his peers reached out over time.
“The head coach of St. Pius, Paul Standard, called me to congratulate me while we were on the bus. He didn’t know at the time that it was our first-ever playoff win. And when I told him, he told the rest of his staff that was around him at the time and they all started hooting and hollering in the background. That was special. They’re first class. To have that happen, that’s something special that you can’t take away.”
It was a happy scoreboard for Madison County after the Ridgeland game.
 
The only other time that Madison County won a game like last Friday was 1982 when they beat Norcross in a region playoff, but they lost three other chances to put something other than a zero to the left of the dash when we’re talking about their postseason.
 
“It was an awesome experience,” Smith says. “We’ve been playing football for 63 years. It was a great experience for our kids. They were extremely excited. I never looked in to the stands to see how many people came to watch us play, but I definitely spoke to a lot of people after the game on the field.”
 
In his eighth year as a head coach, coaching for 22 at home so far, Smith gets to experience something that very few get the chance to where they work.
 
“It’s a tremendous feeling. I’ve been here since I graduated college. I’ve been through the highs and lows. Our facilities are really good now and it’s the icing on the cake to win a playoff game. To be able to do it with my son --  who’s a senior -- they’re a special, special class. Ever since they entered middle school to now, you had a feeling this team could etch their name in school history in a community that’s endured a lot of hard times.
 
“We have great kids,” Smith says with pride. “We have a great school system and football can be tough, and our youth programs are real successful. It’s a great place to be and to live, and we now have a 94-percent graduation rate. We’ve come a long way there. Our athletics on the whole have gotten better and football has been getting better since I’ve been here.
 
“When I played here, we were a Class AAA school. We were, kind of, the same way we are now. There are good years and bad. But we had average facilities when I was here growing up. We were behind everyone. But the School Board and Superintendents -- past and present (both alumni) -- are athletic-minded people. Everything we’ve asked for, we’ve gotten -- a turf field, a new fieldhouse, a new weight room… Anything we’ve asked, even a new film room. You can get all the kids involved now. Whatever we need, they all go above and beyond to get those materials to succeed. I’m really fortunate to say we have a board and administration to do this so we can all go forward.”
Coach Chris Smith addresses the team after the win. (Photo - Madison County Twitter)
 
Smith and his staff were back at it Sunday to get ready for Mary Persons -- who recovered an onside kick after a late score (and missed PAT) and scored again to beat Eastside. They’re getting ready for Round 2, getting travel itineraries set, where they’re eating and all those things. 
 
“I walked in to the coach’s office and saw a few of the guys sitting there,” Smith says. “And I told them that it was weird. I haven’t been in this situation before. I haven’t been to Week 12 before. But it’s a good thing for our kids, our staff, our student body and our administration.” 
 
When he looks at Mary Persons, he says they have a great football team. “Those cats can play,” he admits. “They’re very solid defensively. They play hard and run to the football. They have a big D-Line up front and are very sound in what they do and execute their game plan on both sides of the ball.
 
“When they get in the open field, they’re dangerous. They’re well-coached, and you can tell watching them on film. They just don’t give up. It’s a testament to the coaching staff. Just look back to last week and it’s a testament to how they coach and how those kids are. They kept battling and they earned themselves a victory. We’re very impressed and they’re very talented.”
 
But the Madison County Red Raiders will pack up their gear, hit the road, and go after another win in Forsyth against the only No. 3 seed hosting across the state this Friday. Madison County gets to chase after another first in their season of an ultimate first.
 
A first that Chris Smith and his staff would also call a “second.”
 
Play it safe, everyone… I’ll talk to you soon… 
 

Jon Nelson has been a television journalist for twenty-five years based in Atlanta. He graduated from Lakeside High School in Atlanta and Florida State University with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Political Science. His television career has... more