BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It could be the game of the season, but it’s only the second game of the year.
Head Coach Nick Ehret brings the much ballyhooed Central Lee Hawks down Highway 61 to take on the Bloodhounds who won last Friday for the first time on opening night since 2013 when they downed West Burlington.
The Hounds have won five games total since that season, but infused some energy into the crimson-and-black faithful with a 39-0 drubbing of Davis County last week. Head coach Tony Shiffman knuckled his desk and said everyone is healthy and ready for the game Friday night but the team is still dealing with some of the nerves of last week’s win.
“It’s kind of funny, our kids are nervous. It’s a good, positive nervousness, but I really don’t know the last time we started out 1-0. I think it’s been a few years and they’re just not used to playing in a game like this. This is a big game against Central Lee and I think they may be overthinking it a bit.”
Fort Madison is actually leading Class 3A’s District 5 in passing yardage after the first game with QB Lennon Barker throwing for 161 yards and a couple of scores last week. Coupled with Shance Redd-Donald’s 37 yard pass on the first play from scrimmage off a lateral pass from Barker, the Hounds lead the district with 198 yards through the air.
Barker’s 3rd overall in passing in the district, while Redd-Donald is far and away the district’s top receiver after the first game with 141 yards on seven receptions and two scores. He’s also a force on defense, laying a couple big hits on Mustangs in the secondary last week.
But Shiffman was happy with his quarterback’s play.
“They were a few drops in there and a few bad decisions. But I’m thankful he’s a junior. As a senior he’s really gonna be on top of things,” Shiffman said. “He made a few mental errors and threw a couple where they shouldn’t have been. But he threw for 161 yards and we threw for 119 yards in nine games last year. He’s pretty excited and you can’t fault him too much. We’re going to keep counting on him to improve.”
Senior Alex Gully also sits on top of the district carrying the football. He rushed 22 times for 161 yards and three touchdowns last week. In second is sophomore Luke Turner from Washington who carried the ball just nine times last week for 148 yards, a 16.4/carry average.
Shiffman said there’s not going to be much change in what the Bloodhounds do offensively.
Defensively, he said defensive coordinator Luke Rickelman is prepared for the Hawks. Senior Austin Gaylord accounted for 214 yards of offense against Keokuk last week, Shiffman said the Hounds need to contain the quick Hawks and keep runs short.
“They ran outside and they have the speed and quickness to do that, but we should be able to match up athlete to athlete with them. It will come down to who makes the least mistakes.
Gaylord threw for 112 yards and a couple of scores in the team’s 21-14 win over Keokuk Friday. He also ran for 102 yards to lead the Hawks on the ground. Juniors Tyler Hopp and Adam Rooney shared handoffs out of the backfield combining for 29 carries and 124 yards. The Hawks will also go to senior wide out Jared Brisby on some carries.
“We just gotta play sound defense and tackle the football. They don’t do anything sneaky or exotic. They run what they run and come right at ya. We need to force a few turnovers and make sure the 3 or 4 yard runs don’t turn into 30 or 40 yards because they have the speed to do that,” Shiffman said. “Luke’s very well-prepared. He came in Saturday and had kind of a game plan and then came back in on Sunday and fine tuned it and said here’s what we’re going to do in this situation and here’s what were gonna do in that one.”
He said one of the keys to the game will be to contain Gaylord and try to force Central Lee into a passing game and get them out of their comfort zone.
“When you run for 250 and pass for 119, you’re a running team,” he said.
Shiffman and Ehret are well acquainted.
“He was actually, at one point, going to be on staff here,” Shiffman said. “I had spoken with him about it and then a week after that the Central Lee coach resigned and he interviewed for it. He let me know right away and I told him, ‘best of luck and I hope you get it’ and he did. But he does what we do. He gets the balls to his athletes and just lets ’em play. It makes us coaches look better than we are.”
Shiffman said he doesn’t think the Hounds even know how good they can be.
“I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface on how good we can be. With the athletes we have and our bench we can be very explosive and do a lot of good things offensively.”