Pair of aces: Johnson wins duel with Henderson in battle of top backs
AUBURN – Jamarius Henderson or Kerryon Johnson?
No. 1 or No. 1?
Choosing between the two, Dale County coach Pate Harrison pointed out, is not an easy task.
These great backs had one thing in common - both wear the same jersey number.
The 3A state championship belongs to Johnson and his teammates after Madison Academy rolled to an easy 70-34 victory over Dale County on Thursday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in the Super 7 Championships.
The title of “Mr. Football” may be a little tougher to sort out, depending on your allegiance to football in the south half of the state or the north half, the Auburn commitment (Johnson) versus the uncommitted player or a half-dozen other trivial factors.
“Y’all have got a tough decision for ‘Mr. Football,’” Harrison noted. “I don’t think there are two other players that are more worthy. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. Clay-Chalkville’s quarterback (Tyrell Pigrome) is very good. That is y’all’s job.
“But, Jamarius, I’ve never seen anybody run like he has and neither has the state of Alabama. And the thing is, we didn’t give him the ball that often until the playoffs. I knew this was a buildup for a showcase about these two backs but I really and truly thought it wouldn’t come down to them. I thought it would come down to (supporting cast players). I thought No. 1 and No. 1 would cancel each other out. And my game plan didn’t allow that to happen. I wish it was a better show. I wish we had a better measuring stick.”
As it was, Johnson looked like a man among boys, bursting through huge holes in the Dale County defense on the way to a 178-yard, four-touchdown day.
“I would say that (was the best performance by my offensive line) without hesitation,” Johnson said. “They dominated the line of scrimmage. And blocking and tackling wins games. Most of the time, I was running 10 yards in a straight line before I even had to make a cut or get touched.”
Johnson entered the game with 1,481 yards and 21 touchdowns, splitting time with Malik Miller and running behind an offensive line unmatched in small-school football.
“He’s an outstanding playmaker,” Madison Academy coach Eric Cohu said. “I had the privilege of coaching Jordan Matthews, who’s lighting up the NFL as a rookie, and I think Kerryon is every bit of an opportunistic playmaker. He knows how to take over a game. He’s electrifying, you saw that today. I’ve coached a lot of guys that are Division I-A, SEC and NFL guys, and he’s as good as any of those guys. He’s a great young man as well.”
Following an interception, Johnson burst through a huge hole in the Dale County defense and ran untouched 56 yards for a touchdown. Early in the second quarter, he showed the same burst when he caught a quick pass from Blake Coward on the left side, sprinted past the defensive back and was in the clear, jogging the last 20 yards to the end zone.
“Big players know how to make big plays when it counts,” Cohu said. “Certainly, it’s a big stage and he’s always done that, always been able to rise to the occasion competitively, and that’s probably one of his biggest gifts.”
Early in the second half, two Dale County receivers ran into each other and Johnson was the beneficiary, intercepting Trey McMillian’s pass and coasting 31 yards to the end zone.
“That was huge for us,” Johnson said. “They have a high-powered offense as well so we knew it was going to be a game of who could get the big stop. My pick was probably the easiest – the guy just threw it right to me – but the other two picks were huge. Our players went up and fought for the ball and that shifts momentum back to us.”
If Johnson was a man among boys, Henderson was a beast, looking more like Maplesville’s Tommy Agee or Lanier’s Johnny Davis as they barreled over would-be tacklers in the old days of smash-mouth football.
And, yes, one of those players he ran over during the game was Johnson, earning some respect from the high-profile recruit as Henderson finished his high school career with 3,483 yards and 44 touchdowns, unmatched in state history.
“If he’s making more plays than me, then we’re not doing as well,” Johnson said. “It was simple for me. Half the time I wasn’t even touched. With blocking like that, it makes my job pretty easy.”
Both players will be teammates next week in the Alabama vs. Mississippi High School All-Star Classic. Johnson will follow up with a national all-star game before spending a month as a sought-after recruit.
“I only have the Auburn (visit) planned, officially, for Jan. 16-18,” he said, adding he planned to add trips to “probably ‘Bama and hopefully Florida State. I’ve been hearing from ‘Bama pretty consistently. I haven’t heard from Florida State that much, but right now everybody’s trying to get into the national championship game with those two.”