Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.
The expression on Madison County High School (MCHS) junior Cowboy guard Travis Jay's face as he answered questions from the media told the entire story of the final minute of the Cowboys' Final Four state semi-final matchup with the Wildwood High School Wildcats. The Cowboys seemed to have the game in control, but a late game rally by the Wildcats tied the score at 63 with less than a minute to go. Then, with just four tics remaining on the clock, the Wildcats (who went on to win the state championship by defeating the Blountstown Tigers 62-56) hit a simple, yet perfectly executed lay-up to put an end to the Cowboys' season. The final score was 65-63. “This hurts, it really hurts. But [we] just have to put it behind us. [This game] will really motivate us to get better,” said a somber Jay after the game.
According to MCHS head coach Allen Demps, the magnitude of the game may have caused some “jitters” among the younger players. “I think some of the younger players had some jitters early and that caused us to get into some foul trouble. That kind of hurt us later in the game,” said Demps. Early in the game, the Cowboys did get into foul trouble, being called for a total of 18 team fouls, resulting in 19 free throw attempts for the Wildcats. The Wildcats were able to take full advantage of this, shooting 73 percent from the foul-line. This, compared to six team fouls called on the Wildcats, resulting in just three free throws for the Cowboys, who shot 33 percent from the foul-line. Uncharacteristically, the Cowboys had difficulty shooting from three-point range, hitting six of 22 attempts, or just over 27 percent.
The early moments of the game were nip and tuck for both teams, as the game saw eight lead changes in total. The Cowboys overcame an early Wildcat lead of five points with 5:12 remaining in the opening period to hold a four-point, 13-9 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Cowboys were able to build a wider lead in the second period, thanks to good defensive play and taking advantage of key forced turnovers. At the 2:12 mark in the second quarter, the Cowboys held their largest lead of the game with 14 points. By the end of the first half, that lead had shrunk to eight points with the score 36-28 at intermission. During the third period, the Cowboys held a 21-20 scoring advantage, and the score was 57-48 going into the final quarter. During the final period, the Cowboys were outscored 17-6 as the Wildcats now forced turnovers and took advantage of several Cowboy missed shots. With both the time clock and the Cowboy lead dwindling down, the Wildcats took the lead with just four seconds remaining. The Cowboys were unable to get the ball down the court to set up a last second shot and the game ended with the Wildcats ahead, 65-63.
Jay was the lead scorer for the Cowboys, chalking up another double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Tre Adams had 15 points and eight rebounds, along with five blocked shots. Ken Hawkins had 10 points for the Cowboys. Demarvion Brown, Christopher Simmons, and Vincenta Mitchell also contributed to the Cowboys' scoring efforts.
Despite the disappointing loss to end the season, the overall Cowboys season was a successful one. “I'm proud of them, they worked their behinds off all year,” said Demps to the gathered media after the game. The Cowboys finished the season with a 25-5 record, the second year in a row they have finished with over 20 wins. The Cowboys also won the District Championship for the second year in a row. This year's Final Four appearance was the first in school history. “[This was a] great year! I'm really proud of this team and what they were able to accomplish. That one game won't define what we were able to accomplish this year. This group overcame a lot and fought to the end. Now it's time to work on next year. They know now just how much it'll take to be champions,” said Demps. Perhaps one of the biggest accomplishments for this team is, they got a football town excited about basketball.