BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Yep. There’s something special going on at Richmond Stadium and the Hound faithful are rolling right along.
Head Coach Tony Shiffman and company have brought life and excitement to the Fort Madison football scene (and by the way, Central Lee brought a little of its own) as the two combined for 92 points in a 56-35 Hounds win Friday night.
The Hounds combined eight touchdowns, four from senior running back Alex Gully, and junior quarterback Lennon Barker threw for four more. The Bloodhounds took full advantage of seven turnovers by the Hawks to roll to the win.
It was the first time the Hounds have started 2-0 dating back to the 2010 season when they finished 5-4 on the year.
It didn’t take long for the crimson and black to be standing on their feet. The Hounds kicked off and the Hawk’s Adam Rooney scampered 11 yards on the first play from scrimmage. Quarterback Austin Gaylord threw down the right hash and Shaymour Redd-Donald picked it off, patroling the right secondary, and returned it all the way to the 4-yard line before Gully punched it in on the next play.
But the Hawks, who had several long sustained drives on the night, took the kickoff and marched down the field in 8 plays using four different running backs before Adam Rooney popped it in from six yards out to tie the game at 7 all.
Senior Shance Redd-Donald brought the next kick off back over midfield to the Hawks’ 48 and the Hounds offensive line and Gully went to work again. Gully took the first two snaps of the series for six yards and then broke off the right side for a 42-yard touchdown run. An AJ Nolting extra point made it 14-7.
The Hounds got the first defensive stop of the night on the next series when they bottled up Rooney on two straight plays and then held Gaylord to a 4-yard run to force the 4-and-out.
Central Lee returned the favor on the Hounds next possession forcing the Hounds to punt on 4th down. But Shance Redd-Donald came up with two big plays in the next series, including a 9-yard sack of Gaylord on 2nd and 6. On the next play, Redd-Donald picked off Gaylord and almost returned it for a pick six, but got pulled down at the 2-yard line.
The senior, an all-district player in 2016, said this game meant a lot to him this year.
“It meant a lot. I mean, they smoked us last year. This year we came out aggressive in the first half and then even came out a bit more aggressive in the second half,” he said.
He said the success with Barker is good communication.
“I give him a little heads up before I run the route. He knows what to do and I go finish it for him,’ Redd-Donald said.
Barker said it’s Redd-Donald’s athleticism that makes the duo work.
“We’ve been at it for a long time now,” Barker said. “He’s just great at what he does, that’s it.”
Gully, who finished the game unofficially with 21 carries for 220 yards, scored on the next play for his third touchdown of the quarter and Nolting added the extra point to make it 21-7 Hounds.
After a couple of changes of possession that took the game through the first quarter and into the second, the Hounds were forced to punt on their first possession of the second quarter and the Hawks returned it to the Hounds’ 47. Then Rooney took a sweep right and found no room, so doubled back to the left and outraced every Bloodhound to the other side of the field and down the left sideline for a 47-yard touchdown run to bring the Hawks within eight, 21-13.
Fort Madison got stuck again on a four and out with Barker punting from the shotgun. But Hounds defensive coordinator Luke Rickelman figured out the Hawks next series, forcing a punt to the Hounds’ 36. The Hounds couldn’t convert a first down on the next series and punted back to the Hawks who ran two plays and coughed up a pitch that was recovered by senior Lorenzo Riles who returned it to the 8 yard line.
Gully and Barker combined for 7 rushing yards on three carries to get the ball to the one, but the Hawks defense held and they took over at the one. A turnover would once again plague the Hawks, wiping out a nifty 15-yard cutback run from Rooney that gave the Hawks a first down. But on 3rd and 11, Gaylord lofted a dump pass over the middle that was bounced around by a couple of Hounds before senior Tyler O’Tool came down with it.
This time Shiffman baited the Hawks with a play action to Gully and Barker hit Shance Redd-Donald on a floater down the right side for the pair’s first of three touchdowns on the night to give the Hounds a 27-13 lead with 1:18 left in the half. The Hawks ran a couple of plays after the kick and then let time expire on the first half.
The Hounds took the kick off at their own 15. Gully rushed for 20 yards on the next two carries, and sophomore Diego Lozano rattled off 11 yards on the next carry to get to the Hounds 45. Barker and Redd-Donald hooked up again on the next play for a 55-yard scoring strike down the middle of the field. A botched snap led to a firedrill of sorts in the backfield and holder Barker found Riles in the back of the endzone for a two-point conversion and the Hounds were in business 36-13.
Shiffman said the Barker-to-Redd-Donald dynamic is good, and bad.
“It’s a double-edge sword. It’s good that they’re connecting, but it’s bad because we have so many other options,” he said. “Every quarterback has a safety blanket and for Lennon that’s Shance right now and Shance goes up and gets it and makes plays.”
The Hawks put together another sustained drive and went 90 yards in 12 plays capped by a Rooney 15-yard run to close the gap to 36-21. But Fort Madison came right back again running Gully and Lozano five running plays before Barker and Redd-Donald hooked up again, this time on a 26-yard strike to the west endzone where Redd-Donald took a pop from a Hawk on his way down and held onto the ball falling backward and the Hounds up 42-21.
Central Lee still wouldn’t go away and used a mix of four ball carriers in six plays before Gaylord got loose down the right side for a 43-yard touchdown run to keep it a two-score game at 42-28 with most of the fourth quarter left.
“I was a little nervous with that score in the fourth quarter,” Rickelman said.
But the Hounds offensive line opened up some huge holes for Gully on the next series with a run of 15 yards on 1st and 10. Then he took the next snap, moved down the line looking for hole, and then popped through into the secondary and was off to the endzone to make it 49-28.
Gully said the offense was more productive this week than last week’s win over Davis County where he rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’m seeing bigger holes, the offensive line is popping big holes and I’m just running through them as hard and as fast as I can,” Gully said.
Following the kickoff, Gaylord dropped back to pass on a first down and O’Tool picked off the attempt moving backward on a ball thrown over his head. Gully rushed again for 12 yards on the first carry and Lozano took the next four carries a total of 29 yards before getting held to no gain on 2nd and 6. Quentin Estrada then snuck through the line and into the endzone where Barker found him all alone for the Hounds’ final score.
Central Lee again put on an offensive clinic with a 15-play, 57-yard drive capped off by a 7-yard strike from Gaylord to senior Aaron Wills moving left into the endzone.
Shiffman said he can see why Central Lee’s attracting votes for a top-10 2A team.
“Those are some really tough kids who hit hard and can play. I talked to Nick before the game and those kids he brings are tough, good football players. They’re gonna make some noise in 2A.”
He said at the outset with the scoring exchanges he was a little frustrated at execution, but he and the team settled in.
“We weren’t executing as well as we should have. But I’ve got great coaches on the sidelines and in the booth and they reigned me in and we got going on the right direction.”
Rickelman said the Hounds were able to capitalize on the Hawk turnovers.
“These guys are playmakers. When these guys saw an opportunity, they took it. This was a very good running team and they’ve got some playmakers on their side of the ball. I would have liked to hold them tighter in the fourth quarter, but I’m proud of the way these kids played tonight,” Rickelman said.
Unofficially, Shance Redd-Donald had four receptions for 105 yards and three touchdowns. Barker went 6 of 11 for 119 yards and four touchdowns on the night. The Hounds had four interceptions and recovered two fumbles on the night.
The Hounds travel to Oskaloosa on Friday night for their first road game of the season.