Hillcrest High’s offense had great success through the first four weeks of the football season, and it was largely because of the passing of sophomore quarterback Collin Sneed.
In Week 5, with the opening of Region 1-AAAA play upon the Rams and a huge opportunity against defending Class AAAA Division I state champion Greenwood, they dug a little deeper into the playbook.
Sneed completed some key passes, and Hillcrest’s defense and special teams were just that — special — but the Rams also made the most of Ki-Jana Madden running out of a full-house backfield in their 22-14 victory against Greenwood on Friday night.
“The coaches always get on me and tell me to use it a little more than I do,” Hillcrest coach Greg Porter said. “But we like to throw the ball around.
“But tonight we had to make a plan and say, ‘We’re not going to be outcoached this game. So if we need to use it, let’s put our ego and pride to the side about passing. Let’s get in our heavy formation, and let’s just play football.’ And Ki-Jana did an excellent job with it.”
Madden carried the ball only 11 times for 55 yards, but most of his attempts came at key times. Midway through the third quarter, he picked up first downs on two fourth-and-short situations.
Then, with the Rams protecting a 16-14 lead in the fourth quarter, Madden carried on four consecutive plays, gaining 2, 15, 2 and 13 yards. The last play was good for a touchdown that gave Hillcrest a 22-14 lead with 3:58 remaining.
“I was having a lot of success,” Madden said, “but if I wasn’t for that line and the guys that were blocking in front of me, I couldn’t get it done.”
Madden also got the Rams off to a good start scoring their first touchdown on a 90-yard kickoff return. Hillcrest’s other touchdown came on a 7-yard interception return by J.D. Ballenger in the third quarter, a play Porter called “the turning point.” Mark Thackston contributed a 25-yard field goal.
“This is a big victory not only for Hillcrest but for our community, for our coaches, the players, for all the alumni,” Porter said. “This program has been through a lot over the past years, and I know within the past four years I’ve been here we’ve been through a lot. Just to see us unified tonight in such an atmosphere of community support is tremendous.”