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Passing game helps Hale County win over Houston Academy

Hale County quarterback Deacon Medders threw four touchdown passes all season for the run-oriented Wildcats.

Friday night, he threw three, and the three scores combined with a key first-quarter goal-line stand helped the Wildcats earn a 22-16 win over Houston Academy in an AHSAA Class 2A playoff opener at Northcutt Field.

Hale County (7-4) advanced to host Washington County next week. It was the first playoff win for the Wildcats since 2000, snapping a string of eight straight losses.

"This is only the seventh playoff win in school history and it is something for these kids to believe in and something to build on," Hale County head coach Joey Milligan said.

"Houston Academy is an unbelievable team and that is the best team we have beaten in the two years since I have been here."

The Raiders, the Class 2A, Region 2 champions, finished 8-2.

Hale County, behind a mammoth offensive line that includes two players over 300 pounds, dominated the smaller Raiders, rolling up 230 rushing yards on 47 carries. Medders rushed for 121 yards on 27 carries. Danny Coleman added 76 yards on 15 carries.

But it was the passing game where the Wildcats put points on the board.

Medders threw 73- and 54-yard touchdowns to Parker Dare and a 34-yarder to William Roberts. The three scores represented 60 percent of Hale County's completions on the might as they had only five overall.

The first two to Dare gave Hale County a 15-8 halftime lead, and the scoring pass to Roberts came early in the fourth quarter to boost the Wildcats up 22-8.

Houston Academy, which also posted its two scores on long passes, cut it to 22-16 with five minutes to go, but the Wildcats ran out the clock, not allowing a late comeback.

"We rely so much on the running game and a lot times you rely so much on the running game, a big pass will open up," Milligan said. "Our coaching staff picked the right time to throw as much as the right pass."

Perhaps even bigger was an early goal-line stand. The Raiders took their opening possession and moved inside the 10, earning a first-and-goal at the 4 after a 49-yard Andy Jones run.

However, the Raiders couldn't punch it in.

"Our front line of Tyler Gilliam, Austin Elliott and Nate Mims were key on that goal line stand down there," Milligan said. "That was huge."

After a first half that featured 17 combined first downs and 478 total yards, the defenses dominated in the third quarter, allowing just one total first down.

The Wildcats, though, broke through early in the fourth quarter when Medders connected with Roberts to make it 22-8 with 9:52 left.

Jones connected with Battles on a 63-yard scoring strike with 5:04 left and Cullen Armstrong ran a two-point conversion to cut it to 22-16.

However, Hale County, behind 10 straight runs by Medders, earned four first downs to milk the clock out.