MONTGOMERY, AL – It’s been a whirlwind summer for sophomore Hunter Hulsey.
He was the apprentice, learning how to play quarterback under Madison-Ridgeland Academy coach Herbert Davis and the coach’s son, senior quarterback Hayden Davis. He had stepped in as a freshman last year when the quarterback was lost for the season with a knee injury in the first month, but Davis was ready to resume his starting position.
That was before the senior suffered a season-ending broken foot in seven-on-seven workouts this summer, leaving Hulsey again as the starting quarterback of a team that has reached the state finals the last two seasons.
“You always prepare like you’re the starter every single day because something like that can happen,” Hulsey said. “I think it was nerves (early). Big venue. I had to settle in after the rocky start.”
He made the most of his opportunity on Friday, throwing for 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 34-2 win over Valwood School in the inaugural Southeastern Commission of Independent Schools Kickoff Classic on Friday night at Cramton Bowl.
Formed in January, 2016, the Southeastern Commission of Independent Schools (SECIS) is an academic and athletic collaboration of the Alabama Independent School Association, Georgia Independent School Association, Mississippi Association of Independent Schools and South Carolina Independent School Association.
It was the first-ever matchup between the GISA Valiants of south Georgia and the MAIS Patriots. Two more games will be held on Saturday with Escambia Academy playing First Baptist School of Charleston (S.C.) at 5 p.m. and Bessemer Academy facing Lamar School of Meridian, Miss., at 7:30 p.m.
“What a great venue,” Davis said. “This is awesome. When we drove by here and saw it, our guys were pumped. The only thing that could’ve made it better was if it was packed.”
Hulsey’s first points were not what the coach wanted to see. He danced a little too long in the pocket, then tried to scramble out of the end zone, only to be tackled for a safety by Valwood defensive tackle Earnest Carter with 44 seconds left in the first quarter.
“That’s why I was a little frustrated with him in the first half, a little antsy in the pocket, but I thought he really settled in and made some really good throws in the second half,” Davis said of his young quarterback, who completed 13 of 26 passes after connecting on only one of six passes in the first quarter. “We blew a lot of blocking assignments in the first half. We were messing up big time. We finally settled in and just came into the second half with about four plays we felt good about.”
Late in the first half, the Patriots started clicking, using a 26-yard gain on a screen pass to Andrew Berry to set up the first of two rushing touchdowns by Jake Reeves for a 7-2 halftime lead.
MRA would score on both of its third-quarter possessions but the first one set the tone as Hulsey split two defenders with a perfectly thrown pass to Clay Chance for a 31-yard touchdown.
He wasn’t finished. In the fourth quarter, he dropped one into the arms of Lee Tanner just over the outstretched reach of Cam Walker for a 34-yard touchdown pass and a 27-2 lead.
Tailback Andrew Berry led the Patriots with 69 yards on 17 carries. Jake Reeves carried the ball just three times (for seven yards) but scored twice.
Valwood, meanwhile, struggled to generate any offense. The Valiants were held to one first down in the first half and finished with minus six rushing yards.
“We knew we were a work in progress up front and right now we’re searching for the answers on the offensive line,” Valwood coach Ashley Henderson said. “Our offense kept our defense out on the field entirely too long. Our defense played their hearts out. I wouldn’t be surprised if they ran 70 or 80 plays against our defense tonight and you can’t keep your guys out there.”
MRA (1-0) will travel to ACCS next Friday while Valwood (0-1) will have a week off before traveling to Westfield Academy on Aug. 26.
MRA – 0-7-13-14—34
VS-2-0-0-0—2VS – Hunter Hulsey tackled in end zone by Earnest Carter for safety
MRA – Jake Reeves 1-yard run (Jake Reeves kick)
MRA – Clay Chance 31-yard reception from Hunter Hulsey (Jake Reeves kick failed)
MRA – Jake Reeves 4-yard run (Jake Reeves kick)
MRA – Lee Tanner 34-yard reception from Hunter Hulsey (Carson Lindsey kick)
MRA – William Milam 3-yard run (Carson Lindsey kick)
MRA – VS
First Downs 17 -- 6
Rush-Yds 28-83 – 25-(-6)
Passing Yds 175 -- 67
Passes 13-26-0 -- 11-18-0
Punts-Avg. 5-164 (32.8) --- 9-259 (28.8)
Fumbles-Lost 5-1 – 2-2
Penalties-Yds 10-76 –9-110