If there ever was a time that the Madison and South Lakes football teams met for meaningful game this late in the season, Wiley Counts wasn’t around to see it.

“I don’t think anybody would have thought we’d be playing for the top seed in our conference this year,” the Madison junior running back said. “Last year, we weren’t really happy with how things went, so we’ve been working hard to get better results, and South Lakes has been doing the same thing.”

All the extra time in the weight room, all the tinkering with their plays and personnel have produced this — Friday’s matchup between 5-1 South Lakes, owners of just one winning season in the last 10 years, and 5-1 Madison, just two years removed from a one-win campaign, with first place in Conference 6 on the line.

The teams will bring contrasting styles into Vienna. Ten different players have scored for South Lakes, which has used its speed to spread the ball among playmakers like wide receiver-defensive back Anas Fain and sophomore running back Spencer Alston.

“I think that’s part of why the kids are more excited, because it’s not just one guy carrying the ball 40 times a game; we have a plethora of guys that can make plays” Seahawks Coach Trey Taylor said. “Part of it is our game plan and matchups, and part of it is certain guys have a specialty in making plays.”

Friday, they will be matched up with a Warhawks team that is methodical in its approach. In Counts, Madison has a back who can eat up yards and clock, providing a capable complement to quarterback Jason Gastrock, who has been efficient with his passing opportunities. Gastrock has thrown just three interceptions and Counts has scored at least two touchdowns in four of Madison’s six games.

The Seahawks will lean on their ball-hawking defenders to force the Warhawks into turnovers. Last week, Fain and Sky Lubreski returned interceptions for touchdowns on a defense that’s scored five times this season. With that in mind, Counts and his Madison teammates have placed extra emphasis on sticking to what’s propelled them back into region title contention.

“We’re focused on punching them in the mouth by playing hard-nosed football,” said Counts, who has accumulated 550 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. “That’s our goal because whoever is able to play the style and way they want to play is going to have a big advantage.”

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