BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It’s gonna be a game of here’s what we do, see if you can stop us.
The Fort Madison Bloodhounds will travel to Bracewell Stadium Friday to take on the Burlington Grayhounds for the first time since 2015 when the Bloodhounds walked out with a baseball-ish 5-3 win. Burlington had just 142 yards of offense in the game.
But the Grayhounds of 2018 have the state’s leading rusher in Class 4A in senior Taven Harris who’s racked up 709 yards on 78 carries for a blistering 9.1 yards per attempt. However the Grayhounds are 1-2 on the season with losses to Ottumwa and Clinton. They recorded a 31-6 win over Keokuk in week 2.
Fort Madison Head Coach Tony Shiffman said it’s no secret what Burlington will do offensively and the Bloodhounds will have to be stout on defense to contain Harris and force Burlington into passing situations. The Grayhounds have completed eight passes in three games for just over 100 yards.
“He’s a load. He’s third overall rushing in the state,” Shiffman said of Harris. “They know he’s their guy and he’s going to get the ball. They put a lot of faith in their offensive line and they won’t try to hide it or sugar coat it. They’re going to give him the ball 25 to 30 times and it’s up to you to stop it.”
Shiffman said he issued a challenge to the Bloodhound defense to stop Harris and make BHS play a different game, but he said he won’t put any special defenses in place to slow Harris.
“I told the kids, he’s gonna get his yards, but we’re not going to make any wholesale changes defensively, we just have to get better,” Shiffman said. “We just have to get better at tackling and getting angles and not getting blown off the ball.”
The Bloodhounds were able to contain Tyler Hopp at Central Lee and contained a young West Burlington run-oriented offense, but gave up two 100-yard rushes last week at Clear Creek Amana outside Iowa City.
“We’ve seen good running backs, the Hopp kid from Central Lee and we did a good job against him. West Burlington, granted they’re very young, is a run-heavy team and we responded well against them. But we just have to get better at stopping the run.”
The Hounds are mirroring that philosophy on offense by just doing what’s been successful.
Lennon Barker has thrown for more than 700 yards in three games with 58 completions on 105 attempts, two scores, and two picks. The senior has moved the ball around to eight different receivers led by Dom Frantz, who has 235 yards and two TDs on 14 catches. Shaymour Redd-Donald has 15 catches and 214 yards and newcomer Michael Mosena has 138 yards on 14 catches. Senior Trey Kuntz is also in double digits for catches with 11.
“Lennon is a perfectionist and, when things don’t go perfect, he gets flustered. We’ve improved week-to-week and he needs to let stuff go and move on to the next play. You can see he wants to do right, but it doesn’t happen overnight.”
On the ground, Fort Madison has relied heavily on junior Kali Maestro with 129 yards on 28 carries, Junior Diego Lozano has 111 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns. Brock Califf and Keaton Poe also have carries on the season.
Shiffman said his Hounds need to continue to develop confidence and have fun.
“We can’t play with arrogance, we need to get the train rolling again,” he said. “We’re not going to Iowa City – not going to Cedar Rapids – not going to Solon or Des Moines. This is Burlington. They know these kids and played against these kids and we should be confident about being able to win.”
Redd-Donald and junior Jayden Fedler are both practicing this week. Both were dinged up against Clear Creek Amana and didn’t finish the game, but Shiffman said they should be full strength on Friday.
Shiffman said as bad as last Friday’s 38-0 loss to Clear Creek looked on paper, the Hounds did some good things defensively, but didn’t help themselves on offense.
“Defense is always 11 guys doing their job,” Shiffman said. “They just have to be stout at the line, get off at the snap, and play better as a unit. When they do that, we’ll respond.”
Juniors defensive end Quentin Schneider and inside linebacker Lozano lead the Hounds in tackles, followed by inside linebacker Sam Hayes. The three have combined for about 47 tackles on the year. Schneider had seven tackles for loss. Junior Romeo Maestro has 12.5 tackles, but six were for a loss and three of those were quarterback sacks, including a safety.
Harley Pennamon, Danen Settles, and Nick Carter also have more than 10 tackles each for Fort Madison. Schnieder and Pennamon both have one interception each.