Though the scoreboard at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium in ratified Madison Academy’s dominance with its third consecutive Alabama Class 3A football championship Thursday, it failed to tell the story of healing that his been brought to a community this season.
Dale County (14-1) saw its undefeated season vanish in the wake of Kerryon Johnson’s six-touchdown performance, leading Madison Academy to a 70-34 win, but the Warriors’ journey to their first state final has been therapeutic.
Tragedy has befallen the rural hamlet of Midland City in devastating fashion over the last few years, shattering hopes and dreams in the process.
In the summer of 2008, head football coach Todd Horne and four coaches were involved in an automobile accident that claimed the life of Horne, a Dale County graduate.
Then, in January 2013, the eyes of the nation were focused on Midland City. A 5-year old was taken hostage when a gunman entered a school bus returning children to their homes, the heroic driver killed while defending his passengers. After a week of tense hostage negotiations paralyzed the community, authorities were able to free the boy and kill his captor.
This improbable season has served as a salve to the wounds of the past and given the residents of Dale County reason to be hopeful again.
“I was reflecting this week on how special this season has been after all this community has been through,” said Dale County superintendent Donny Bynum. “Through all of the tragedy, our people have stuck together. We knew God had his hand on us, but this football season has been an incredible journey that has brought us closer.”
“This season has been a breath of fresh air after all that’s happened,” Dale County coach Pate Harrison said. “Mr. Bynum and I were talking recently that there’s something haunting, that when things are going good, it seems like a black cloud hangs over our school. This year, we got rid of that black cloud.”
Dale County senior linebacker Colby Horne, who was sidelined with a season-ending knee injury in the last game of the regular season, was in the sixth grade when his father died in the accident. He had dreamed of playing for him, but knows he would be proud of what has unfolded this season.
“I think about him every day and we still use his favorite saying “Time to Shine” as one of our mottos. It’s bittersweet to see it end this way. I would have done anything I could to have been out there today for him,” Horne said.
“This experience has helped us heal, and it’s a reward for our people sticking together though all the hard times. We have realized that we have a lot to be thankful for,” Bynum said.
Madison Academy (14-1) sprinted to a 21-0 lead, only to have Dale County cut the margin to 42-27 at intermission.
But Johnson returned an interception 31 yards for a score on the Warriors’ opening drive of the third quarter to seal the outcome.
Johnson had touchdown runs covering 56, 53, 27, 25 yards along with a 66-yard reception. The Auburn commit gained 178 yards on eight carries, while Malik Miller added 127 yards on 15 carries.
Dale County’s Jamarius Henderson added to his record-setting season with 204 yards on 30 carries, finishing the year single-season record 3,483 yards for the Warriors (14-1).