BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – At 3-1 the Fort Madison Bloodhound football program is still getting used to having success.
Aside from a lopsided season opener against Davis County, the Hounds have had their hands full and are learning again what it’s like to challenge opponents week to week.
This week the Mt. Pleasant Panthers come into town with a 2-2 record falling to Oskaloosa last week 14-35. Junior Levy Puig led Mt. Pleasant on the ground with 40 yards on 17 carries. Quarterback Zach Beason had 12 carries for 17 yards. He also completed nine passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. On the year he has 714 yards through the air with four TDs and five picks. Last year the Panthers slapped a 34-0 win on the Hounds.
Head Fort Madison Coach Tony Shiffman said the Panthers will come at Fort Madison and try to spread the offense out.
“They remind me a little of Oskaloosa. They’re going to spread the ball out and get it to their guys and try to make some plays,” Shiffman said. “It’s going to be one of those games that’s gonna to be a slugfest. I like those games being an old offensive lineman.”
The Panthers held the high-powered Oskaloosa offense to 35 points, but also held a potentially explosive Washington offensive squad to just 16 two weeks ago.
Shiffman said that’s a testament to the Panthers defense to be able to slow down those teams. But he said he doesn’t plan on changing anything up in the Hounds offense.
“WBND did a good job, probably the best we’ve seen last week, at shutting down Shance (Redd-Donald), but then that opened up Lorenzo. And that opened up Gully later in the game. I’ll been saying that all season. We want to have you pick your poison. For the first two weeks it was a big Shance and (senior running back Alex) Gully show and last week it was Lorenzo getting 100 yards,” Shiffman said.
Redd-Donald had his lowest output of the season last week against West Burlington, but Shiffman said as competitive as the senior wideout is, he just wants to win.
“As hard as he is on himself, he just wants to win. We’ve joked about that a couple times but he doesn’t care if he gets any touches if we win. He wants the ball for sure, but he understands not forcing it either,” Shiffman said.
The Hounds had great success running the football in the first two games but the last two Gully hasn’t reached the 100 yard mark against some tough interior defenses from WBND and Oskaloosa.
Shiffman was quick to take the blame despite Gully having a touchdown and 90 plus yards in the last two games.
“A lot of its my fault,” Shiffman said. “Against Osky we got down so quick and got away from the run game and then last week against WBND our game plan was not to run the ball a lot but to throw it more. I told him this week we’re going to try and get him 20 and let him run. So that’s not on him, that just on us and our play calling.”
With scoring seven touchdowns in the first two games, Gully certainly got the attention of the district coaches and has found running a bit tougher, but Shiffman said it comes down to execution and working the game play. He said he doesn’t plan on deviating from what’s been working.
“I don’t think so. I think he’ll get his yards because we’ll still block up front well and he’ll still put his head down and run over some people,” Shiffman said. “In this offense that we run, I look and see these teams that have 300 or 400 yards a game on the ground, but I’m happy with 200. We don’t have to spread the ball out as much as in past years,” Shiffman said.
Gully comes into the game with 75 carries for 519 yards and nine touchdowns. Sophomore Diego Lozano is next with 16 carries for 92 yards and one touchdown as Gully’s relief.
Junior signal caller Lennon Barker has been steady with the ball for Shiffman’s offense, throwing for 655 yards on 40 completions. He’s connected on eight touchdowns against two interceptions. Last week Barker had a couple of runs that kept drives alive carrying seven times for 36 yards.
Shiffman said Barker carried a few more times because the offense opened up in the read-option sets.
“He did a good job of pulling it in and reading it. He’s going to get better and better every week,” Shiffman said. “He wants to learn and get better and not keep bad habits, and bad habits at this point in the season is a lame excuse. But he’s had a good week of practice and he didn’t have as many bad balls this week as he’s had in the past games.”
“It’s one of those things that’s a process. He has to trust his guys and I can look at film from last year where he would take a snap and get hit right away and he needs to trust that these guys are going to block for him. I think he’s going to have a really good second half.”
On defense, Shiffman said Rickelman is preparing to face the spread offense, but the Hounds just need to stick to fundamentals much like they did last week with two big goal line stands against the Falcons.
“it’s fundamental football whether you’re blocking on a veer or defending in a spread. We have to do the things we need to do. They might get a pass here and there or run here and there, but you move on. As long as the drive ends in a punt we’re ok,” he said.
He said the Panthers have athletes and good receivers and Levi Puig ran well last week.
“They have some athletes that can make plays. Mount Pleasant can definitely get out there and run and sling it,” Shiffman said.
The Hounds will rely on the productive defensive line and Lozano at linebacker. Lozano had 8.5 tackles last week, including 2.5 for a loss.
“He had a good game this past week. We dedicated the game to a family member and he was pretty emotional and he had a good game for that person and he’ll keep getting better, too.”
Friday’s game is Hot 97.3 Tailgate night at Richmond Stadium. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m.