WINDER - After the seniors on the Apalachee football team rung the victory bell in the end zone following the team's 55-35 win over Madison County, the Wildcats were one toll closer to their goal for the season - playoffs.
This year's matchup on Senior Night was a far cry from the two teams' last meeting in 2001: a 36-3 win for the Red Raiders, but Apalachee (6-3) still needs to win next week at Salem to make playoff dreams a reality,
This time around, the Wildcats got out to a 35-7 halftime lead with huge contributions from Jon Lee. The running back rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns, including the team's first on a critical third-and-long play - a 24-yard TD to match his jersey number. His second came on the team's next drive; he made Madison County tacklers miss left and right, as he rushed for 74 yards in the score.
His last TD came when the Wildcats took advantage of mistakes by the Red Raiders. Apalachee's drive took over seven minutes and might have ended in a field goal with 10 seconds left, except for a critical personal foul penalty. During the assessment, Madison County was also charged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which gave the Wildcats a first down on the 1-yard line. Apalachee took advantage and Lee had the honor of bringing in an extra seven points.
Coach Shane Davis said the moment was important for his team in the game.
"It was huge - we scored in the second half again, but it gave us momentum going into halftime," Davis said. "We were worried and they always say not to take points off the board, but it worked."
In the second half, Madison County cranked up their offensive efforts thanks to Aldreakos Allen, who caught seven passes for 187 yards and two TDs, and Jamal Cooper, who brought in three catches for 148 yards and two TDs. Quarterback Jacob Owens finished the night 15-for-24 with 420 passing yards, two interceptions and a sack.
Apalachee seniors Chaun Gresham and Qucravion Ash picked Owens, Gresham in the first half to put in a 20-yard TD and Ash to set up the team for a TD in the second half.
That one was rushed in by senior offensive lineman Chris Pharr, a goal Lee said his teammate has been talking about ever since they first met.
Still, the achievement isn't enough for Pharr.
"We need one more win to go to the playoffs for the third year in a row," he said. "We want to make it a tradition for always."
To do that, the team will rely next week on Lee and running back John Ansley, who rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the win. The two backs accounted for 372 of the team's total 470 rushing yards.
Ansley's highlights came in the second half - his first a 29-yard run on the team's opening drive of the second half and the second a 1-yard run to close the third quarter.