After rolling through 13 games without a loss, Saks' dream season came to an end with a Class 3A state semifinal loss 31-21 to Madison Academy. A overflow crowd filled Saks' home stadium, which hosted one of the biggest games of the season.
“Our kids have fought all year long through adversity and tonight was no different,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said. “We would have like to cash in on some of those opportunities early in the game, but we just had to keep fighting until the final horn sounded.”
The turning point came in an emotion-churning fourth quarter. Saks led 14-10 until Madison Academy drove 82-yards for a go-ahead touchdown to take the lead 17-14. Saks' Roc Green then returned the kickoff from his own 5-yard line to the Madison Academy 7. The Wildcats had first down, but couldn't manage a score on a controversy that likely will remain a point of discussion for years to come.
On first-and-goal, Devin Harris rushed for a touchdown, but it was called back because of an illegal procedure penalty. Three plays later, Saks faced fourth-and-goal from the 2. Wildcats quarterback Tre Smith kept the ball and disappeared into the pile. A second after the play was blown dead, Davontae Young appeared five yards into the end zone with the football.
However, another whistle meant Saks was denied again.
“We recovered the ball in the end zone, and there was an inadvertent whistle. They had blown the play dead,” Miller said. "We had the ball in the end zone, but … we replayed the down.”
Madison Academy coach Eric Cohu disagreed with the call as well, saying it should have been the Mustangs’ ball. Madison Academy got the ball back anyway. On the replayed down, the Mustangs stuffed Smith to forced Saks to turn the ball over on downs.
“We rose up and stopped them and marched kind of down the field and changed field position,” Cohu said. “That’s huge in a game like this.”
Although Madison Academy didn’t score on the ensuing drive, it wasn’t long before the Mustangs capitalized on a turnover. Saks coughed the ball up on the first play of its ensuing drive, and Malik Miller scored three plays later to give the Mustangs a 24-14 lead.
“We held our heads down at that point after that situation,” Miller said. “We still had an opportunity there and ended up getting a stop on that drive.”
The ensuing drive by the Wildcats showed hope, with Saks traveling well into Madison Academy territory, but an interception by Kerryon Johnson, followed by a touchdown run by Blake Wimberly put the nail in the coffin.
Saks was able to add a late touchdown, driving 70 yards on seven plays on its ensuing drive. Smith completed passes to Demetrius Powell and Devin Harris throughout the drive before hitting Darion Coleman for a 6-yard score.
Smith finished the night with 133 rushing yards and a touchdown, 148 passing yards and a touchdown and an interception on defense. Powell had five receptions for 78 yards, and Devin Harris had 61 yards on four receptions and a touchdown run. Young intercepted a pass.
Saks committed four turnovers, three in the second half, which was too much to overcome.
“I think we were inside the 20 three times and inside the 5 once and came away with no points,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said. “We moved the ball well -- we just bogged down in the red zone. You can’t do that against good teams.”
Malik Miller led the way for Madison Academy (14-0), finishing the game with 333 yards on 27 carries, adding two touchdowns. Johnson recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass.
Despite the Wildcats’ season ending on Friday, it’ll be one to remember for Saks. The Wildcats reached the semifinals for the fourth time in school history and first time since 1996.
“We should hold our heads high. We had a great season, we just came up a little short tonight,” Miller said. “I’m proud of this team and proud of the community for supporting us so well. We had a lot of great players that had good seasons individually and collectively as a team. This was a group that enjoyed being around each other and we enjoyed coaching them. It’s definitely a season we’ll remember for a long time.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star