The football season ended in disappointment for the Madison Warhawks, falling 29-22 in a seesaw state-semifinal playoff game on their home field against the South County Stallions.
Then, a few minutes after emotions eased a bit, standout Madison runningback Alex Jreige reflected on what he said was a “memorable,” highly accomplished and satisfying campaign that almost didn’t occur because of the pandemic. The Warhawks (8-1) won district and region championships to qualify for the four-team Virginia High School League’s Class 6 tournament to face defending champion South County in the April 24 semifinal.
South County has won 24 straight games.
“It was the COVID season and we did so much,” Jreige said. “At first we didn’t know if we’d even play. But we prepared anyhow. We lifted weights in the school parking lot because we weren’t allowed into the building.”
Madison had hoped its ride ended with the Warhawks playing in their first state football final, and they came close. The Warhawks rallied from a 14-0 halftime deficit to take a 22-21 lead with 3:40 left in the game when Jreige threw a 19-yard halfback option to quarterback Connor Barry, who made a diving catch in the end zone. Connor Sevy’s extra point gave Madison a 22-21 lead.
“We fought back because our team sticks together and has heart. That’s what makes us good,” said the workhorse Jreige, who rushed for 127 yards on 23 carries and had a five-yard fourth-quarter scoring run.
South County answered with an eight-play scoring drive and successful two-point conversion to move ahead 29-22 with 1:31 to play. The drive was extended by a fourth-down pass-interference penalty.
Madison responded as well. A 36-yard run by Jreige moved the ball to the South County 33-yard line. An interception on the next play, in which Madison thought there was pass interference, iced the victory for the Stallions.
“We were down 14-0, clawed back and had a chance to win,” Madison coach Justin Counts said. “We stuck to our game plan of running the ball, because that’s our bread and butter. We made a lot of plays, but we left some plays out there and hurt ourselves a couple of times, too.”
Counts was referring to a first-half, third-and-long roughing-the-passer penalty against Madison with South County backed up deep in its territory. That extended what became an 18-play Stallions’ scoring drive to give them a 14-0 lead. Earlier in the first half, Madison was stopped on a fourth-and-inches from the South County 16-yard line.
“I blame myself on that run,” Jreige said about the failed fourth down.
Madison rushed for 186 yards and passed for 149 for 335 total.
John Klein caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Barry, who was 9 of 15 passing for 130 yards and he rushed for 49 more. Brendan Wyka had three catches for 19 yards and Ben Eldridge three for 64.
Klein had 11 yards rushing and caught one pass.
Madison’s other points were a third-quarter safety that cut the lead to 14-2, gave the Warhawks momentum and ignited their comeback. Sevy kicked two extra points.
South County had 338 total yards, 249 passing.
On defense for Madison, Chris Blanda had an interception he returned 29 yards. Blanda, Justin Williams and Kieran Leogue broke up passes. Austin Wysocki had a sack and Kyle Porter, Kevin Chadwick, Ryan Salvosa, Nick Ceynowa and Donavin Hansberry were among the leading tacklers.
Madison’s John Hurley had 113 yards in kick returns.
NOTE: The teams combined for 209 yards in penalties, 125 for Madison.