By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
With Damien Harris and the rest of the Madison Southern offense piling up some very impressive numbers, the team’s defense has been a bit overshadowed at times so far this season.
But, they stepped into the spotlight on Friday night against Dunbar.
Southern’s defense stopped the Bulldogs (2-2) on the final drive of the game, allowing the undefeated Eagles (4-0) to hang on for a 21-19 win at home.
Dunbar attempted a 41-yard field goal at the buzzer, but the kick fell short.
“Our defense is outstanding,” Madison Southern coach Jon Clark said. “Everybody talks about some of our big players on offense and our offensive abilities, but our defense has been solid all year. To hold that group of athletes like that to no points in the second half is big.”
Harris had a 146 yards on 20 carries with a 77-yard touchdown run, but the Southern defense limited Dunbar to just 246 total yards and only two offensive touchdowns.
The defense came up biggest at the end.
With Southern clinging to a two-point lead, Dunbar got the ball back at mid-field with 2:26 left on the clock.
The Bulldogs got a pair of first downs, including a 17-yard run by quarterback Emory Thompson that moved the ball down to the Southern 20-yard line.
With time running out, Dunbar lined up for a field goal and Brandyn Duncan connected on the 36-yard attempt.
However, the Bulldogs were penalized for a false start.
They got one last attempt at a would-be game-winning kick with no time left on the clock, but Duncan couldn’t deliver.
“We just came together like we should,” Southern junior linebacker Aaron Sipple said. “This is a brotherhood. It really is. I’m proud of all of them.”
The Southern offense looked unstoppable in the first quarter.
The Eagles marched right down the field on their first two drives, getting a pair of touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback Aaron Slone. J.D. Dean caught an 11-yard TD pass four minutes into the game and Austin Beetlestone had a 13-yard TD catch 2:22 left in the first quarter.
“It’s a team effort. No one individual is greater than the team in our program,” Harris said. “That’s not how it is here. To get all those other guys in the action was great.”
Dunbar got back in the game on a 74-yard TD run by Thompson just before the end of the first quarter.
Southern’s lead was still just six points when Harris broke loose for his only big gain of the game. The junior scored on a 77-yard run, giving Southern a 21-7 lead.
Dunbar answered on its final possession of the half, getting a 16-yard TD pass from Thompson to Marcellis Mean with just eight seconds left before halftime.
“We knew they are a great team. They’ve got a lot of athletes,” Harris said. “But, we knew at the end of the day, if we played the way we needed to and we did the things that needed to be done, that we would come out with a win. And that’s what we did. It was a hard-fought game.”
Southern’s lead stayed at 21-13 until Duncan came up with a huge defensive play. He intercepted a Slone pass and returned it 49 yards to pull Dunbar within two points.
The defense made that lead hold up in the end.
“The last 10 years, Madison Southern loses this game,” Clark said. “We are finding a way to win and becoming a team for which winning is a habit.”
Slone was seven-of-10 for 59 yards and two touchdowns. Dean and Devante Linville each had three catches for Southern.
Thompson rushed for 121 yards on 20 carries for Dunbar.
The Eagles are off next week and will open district play Sept. 27 at South Laurel.