BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Despite a lackluster season from both Keokuk and Fort Madison on the gridiron, the Hounds are highly motivated to keep the one trophy of the year in Fort Madison.
The two teams battle each year for the county seat, which is literally a chair that goes back and forth to the winner of the annual matchup.
The Hounds won the chair back last year for the first time in seven years with the last win over Keokuk coming in 2010.
Shiffman said, despite the rivalry, the seniors should hold the game dear to them.
“Obviously the game is important and the implications are important,” said head coach Tony Shiffman Wednesday. “But I don’t know if any of those guys are going to go play football in college so this could be the last time for them. It should be important to them and fun to them and they should enjoy the experience.”
The two teams are on similar tracks for the year with the Hounds at 2-6 on the year and the Chiefs at 1-7 with their lone win over West Burlington in week 3.
Sophomore Cory Skinner calls the plays for the Chiefs run-first offense. Keokuk’s running game accounts for about 65% of the offense. Skinner is just 47 of 128 for 462 yards and four touchdowns. He’s been intercepted 13 times on the year.
He also leads the team in carries with right at 100, but junior Braylon Martinez is the most prolific runner with 479 yards and four touchdowns. He’s also had multiple scores called back due to penalties.
“He’s a little jitterbug, so we gotta make sure we contain him,” Shiffman said. “I’ve seen him pop a run against everybody. A couple of touchdowns have gotten called back, which is unfortunate for him. He can take it to the house for sure. He’s a good football player. He’s not very big, but he’s quick.”
Junior Dylan Jeffers has 41.5 tackles on the season but 25% of those tackles have been for a loss. Shiffman said the Hounds will have to pay attention to him.
“He’s a kid we know about. We just have to make sure we have a body on him at all times. Keep him out of our backfield and off his game.”
Shiffman said he’s preparing his team for anything, considering the rivalry on the line and it being the last game of the season for both squads.
“I think so, I think if they’re smart they’ll be expecting the same thing from us,” he said.
Several seniors at the skill positions have yet to score on the season including wideouts Trey Kuntz and Sheymouhr Redd-Donald. Shiffman said there’s no specific effort underway to get them the ball in the endzone, but nothing’s off the table.
“We’re gonna try to get whoever we can get in the endzone,” he said. “The seniors would like to score, but at the end of the day, they’ll be happy with a win.”
Fort Madison senior quarterback Lennon Barker has more than 1,300 yards through the air this year, but only four touchdowns to go against six picks. Kali Maestro has handled the lion’s share of carries with 77 for 319 yards and one touchdown. Junior Diego Lozano has just 23 carries for 201 yards and three touchdowns, but is averaging close to eight yards per carry.
Lozano also leads the team in tackles with 58.5 including a dozen for losses and is tied with junior Romeo Maestro with four sacks on the year.
Dom Frantz leads a group of about five receivers with close to 20 catches each. The senior has 329 and three touchdowns. Junior Mike Mosena leads the team with 30 receptions on the year.
Shiffman said the Chiefs will be ready in their last home game of the year. The two teams played in Keokuk last year with the Hounds coming out on top 48-24 and sending the Chiefs to a winless season.
“They’re gonna be ready for us, just like we’ll be ready for them. Matchup-wise it could go either way. We just have to go out and play to our potential.”
Despite the Keokuk-Fort Madison competitive rivalry, Shiffman said the proximity and similar size makes the game interesting, but he said the kids playing for the Hounds know the kids from all the schools in the district and any of the games can be considered a rivalry.
“I think the chair is more important to the people outside the football team, than it is to the players. I think the communities care about that win.”
Despite his frustration with the season, he said this is the game for the kids to be loose and have fun.
“It’s frustrating as a coach, you want to have success for everybody, but we just gotta go out and have fun and play,” Shiffman said.
The game kicks off at 7 p.m. at Calvert Stadium on the Keokuk High School campus.