RICHMOND — Damien Harris was the powerful workhorse and the speedy thoroughbred in leading Madison Southern to a 34-27 victory over Madison Central in front of an overflow crowd Friday night.
Harris, a junior running back who has committed to Michigan, carried 31 times for 315 yards and three touchdowns to help the Eagles beat Madison Central for the first time.
This was only the fourth meeting of the cross-county rivals since Madison Southern opened in 1988. Madison Central won the first three times in easy fashion.
But the Eagles were favored to win this matchup, mainly because of Harris. And he delivered the goods.
"Oh, man, this is unbelievable," he said. "This game has been circled on our calendar for a long time. They've always been the big dogs in Madison County, and we were looked on as little brother by them.
"So to come out with all the fans and all the support and win, it's unbelievable."
Harris was kept in check, relatively speaking, in the first half. He ran 13 times for 102 yards, including a 55-yard TD, and Madison Central was able to forge a 17-13 lead.
Harris came out for second-half warmups without his shoulder pads and jersey, and fans wondered if he was hurt. He said afterward that he had a bruised collarbone, but it wasn't going to keep him on the sidelines.
It didn't, and Harris ran wild the rest of the night.
He piled up 137 yards in the third quarter alone, including a 64-yard TD dash.
He also had a 44-yard run late in the third quarter that set up his 1-yard TD in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
Harris, a bull-strong 5-foot-11, 210-pounder with 4.4 speed, was the guy Madison Central focused on, but it couldn't stop him.
"He's a unique player," Eagles Coach Jon Clark said "(Madison Central) committed everybody in the box to stop him, with the corners crashing in, but he's always gonna get his."
Madison Central Coach Bert Browne agreed.
"He's got world-class speed, and if he gets a crack, he's gone. We didn't do what we had to do."
Harris, who has rushed for 802 yards and 13 TDs in the Eagles' three wins, stressed that it was "a team effort, with a lot of guys making big plays at the right time."
Sophomore quarterback Aaron Slone showed promise. He threw for 105 yards, including a 64-yard TD strike to J.D. Dean in the first half when the Indians were keying on Harris.
Tyler Hagan led Madison Southern's defense with nine tackles. Aaron Sipple had eight and Andrew Devere had seven.
Madison Central's offense had sporadic success with Kameron Pressnell and Zach Hardin alternating at quarterback. Pressnell passed for 72 yards, including a 68-yard TD to John Williams. Hardin threw for 70 yards, including a 12-yard TD to Caleb McClurg.
Will Hinton had a big night for the Indians' defense, picking off three passes. He returned the last one 54 yards for a score that trimmed Madison Southern's lead to 34-27 with 3:29 left.
But Madison Central's defense couldn't stop Harris on the Eagles' last possession, and he got a huge first down on third-and-3.
Clark knows that teams are going to key on Harris, "so it's a matter of us being in good shape physically in the fourth quarter. We showed we can win games late, and that's what you have to do."
Browne said he took no positives out of the loss to Madison Southern.
"We should never get beat by them, and we did. My fault."
Madison Southern 34, Madison Central 27
Madison Southern 7 6 14 7—34
Madison Central 10 7 3 7—27
MC—John Williams 68 pass from Kameron Presnell (Ben Durham kick). MS—Damien Harris 55 run (Garrison Watts kick). MC—Durham 37 field goal. MS—J.D. Dean 64 pass from Aaron Slone (kick blocked). MC—Caleb McClurg 12 pass from Zach Hardin (Durham kick). MS—Casey Dionne 9 run (Watts kick). MS—Harris 64 run (Watts kick). MC—Durham 24 field goal. MS—Harris 1 run (Watts kick). MC—Will Hinton 54 interception return (Durham kick).
Records: Madison Southern 3-0; Madison Central 1-2
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.