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Fayette County takes aim at 3A state title


Fayette County High School's Kyle Nalls runs the ball against W.S. Neal, November 16, 2012. (Photo by Jason Harless)


FAYETTE | The chant started as soon as JaTrae Madison scored on a 10-yard run in the fourth quarter.

“We’re going to the ’ship,” said the Fayette County fans, who journeyed all the way to Covington County to see their Tigers beat Straughn 35-14 in the semifinal round of the AHSAA playoffs.

The ’ship, short for championship, will be determined Thursday as Fayette County meets Madison Academy in the Class 3A final. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Fayette County’s last trip to the final was in 2000, but T.R. Miller claimed the title with a 28-9 victory. Madison Academy played for the crown last year in Tuscaloosa, but Handley won 20-14.

Fayette County, led by second-year head coach Lance Tucker, started the season with a 40-31 loss to Pickens County, a power in Class 1A. The Tigers won eight straight but finished the regular season with a 58-27 loss to Class 5A Russellville.

The Mustangs lost to Class 2A power Tanner. Madison Academy’s other loss was to Class 5A Cullman by a margin of 42-21.

Tucker said the Mustangs remind him of Russellville.

“They’ve got some big, strong kids up front on both sides of the ball, and they’ve got four or five really good athletes that can run,” Tucker said. “Usually if a team is big and strong you can combat that with a little speed. If they’re fast, you can combat that with a little size. They’ve got both. They’re well-coached, and they play hard. They got beat in the finals last year, so I know they’re hungry, ready to win them a state championship.”

Kerryon Johnson and Malik Miller are the top two rushers for Madison Academy. Tucker described Johnson as a “speed burner.”

“We’re going to have to tackle those guys to stay in the ballgame,” Tucker said. “Hopefully, we can do our job, but they’re so big and strong up front I don’t know if we’ll be able to slow them down.”

Kyle Nalls is a tailback in the Fayette County offense, which features multiple formations. JaTevin Madison and JaTrae Madison are wide receivers, but JaTrae Madison took a handoff and ran for the final touchdown against Straughn. Redmond, a threat as a runner and as a passer, runs the offense at quarterback.

“Any time you’ve got two wideouts that can run and catch and you’ve got a big tailback and you’ve got a quarterback that can make plays with his arm or his feet, that poses lots of problems for the opposing team,” Tucker said. “We’re blessed here to have two good receivers, a good running back, a good quarterback and an offensive line that’s young but knows their job. Offensively, we try to spread it out and keep our guys in space. So far, it’s worked a couple of times this year.”

Tucker believes his team might have another advantage. He played quarterback at Fayette County for his father, Waldon Tucker. Younger brother Luke Tucker was the quarterback when Fayette County won the Class 4A championship in 1996. Both are assistants on Lance Tucker’s staff.

“Excluding myself, we’ve got the best coaching staff in the state,” Lance Tucker said. “One thing that makes them that way is they’ve been together for so long. We all played for dad at some point in time. We’ve all grown up in the same system. When somebody says something or has a suggestion, you listen because they know what they’re talking about.”

Darnell Williams is a tight end on offense, but he hasn’t caught many passes. Williams is a leader on defense as a starting linebacker.

“I told my team we were going to go through some tough times and some good times,” Williams said. “We were going to keep our heads up and play every down like it’s your last one. I was telling everybody, ‘Just play, just play, just play,’ and finally we made it to the finals. It’s a great feeling.”

After the loss to Russellville, Fayette County started its playoff run with a 35-16 win over B.B. Comer. The Tigers defeated W.S. Neal (34-6) in the second round and Leeds (24-14) in the quarterfinals.

“We lost, we weren’t good enough, they were a better team,” said Dondre Young, a senior defensive back and receiver who will put on the Fayette County uniform one last time. “You’ve just got to pack it up and move on. It’s adversity with every team. You take it one game at a time, and it’s worked out for us. We try to set the tone, practice hard and play hard, and everything falls into place.

“Our defense is great. We’re fast. We’re strong. We get after the ball, all 11 players. They’re a good team. They’re good at what they do, just like we are. We’ve just got to go out there, follow our game plan and do what coach tells us and we’ll come out with a win, hopefully.”

Hunter Voegele is a junior who plays at tight end and linebacker. He and his teammates had to ride about five hours to get home after the semifinal win.

“It kind of didn’t sink in until really the next day that we were going to state,” he said. “We talked about it all year, and it was always our goal. When I woke up that next morning, I was like, ‘Hey, we’re going to state, and this is a big deal.’ It kind of hit me hard.

“We talked about it since last year when we got put out by Anniston, how bad we wanted to go back and go to state and how we thought we had the team that could do it. It made us work harder in the weight room and in practice. It’s all worth it now. I think it’ll be more worth it if we win.”

Reach Andrew Carroll at andrew.carroll@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0223.