BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
KEOKUK – The Fort Madison Bloodhounds survived what can only be described as the goofiest first two minutes of football most of the spectators had ever seen, to wrap up the 2018 season on a winning note.
The Hounds disposed of a spunky Keokuk Chiefs team 35-14 to wrap up Class 3A District 6 football action for both the teams. The Bloodhounds finish the season 3-6, a game off the 4-5 inaugural season for Head Coach Tony Shiffman. The Chiefs finish the season at 1-8.
The Hounds were preparing for the Chiefs to throw everything at them in both teams’ final game, but botched an opening game onside kick. The Chiefs recovered at the Hound 49-yard line and, after an Eddie Lee 2-yard loss on the first carry, quarterback Cory Skinner mishandled the snap on 2nd and 12 and the Bloodhounds’ senior Sam Avery recovered at the Hounds’ 39.
Lennon Barker then took a shotgun snap on the Hounds first possession, rolled right, and threw an interception at the the Chiefs’ 31.
The Chiefs’ Braylon Martinez took the first snap after the pick and bounced to the right sideline and shot 54 yards to the Hounds’ 15. Two plays later Skinner hit Martinez for a 14-yard touchdown to put Keokuk up 6-0 at the 10:15 mark. The two-point conversion failed.
The Chiefs tried another onside kick, but Harley Pennamon covered the ball at the 50. Barker found Parker Denning for a 6-yard gain on 1st and 10 and then hooked up with senior Trey Kuntz, but the Chiefs sniffed out the play and brought Kuntz down for a 3-yard loss to the Hounds’ 47. With Fort Madison facing a 3rd and 7, Barker looked to Kuntz again in the right flat and Kuntz kept his feet slipping between two defenders and then raced down the right sideline for the touchdown with 9:19 still remaining in the first quarter. Senior AJ Nolting added the extra point and the Hounds were up 7-6.
Fort Madison kicked to the Chiefs’ 31 and sophomore Skinner went to work on the Hounds’ defense, hooking up with senior Dalton Boudewyn on a 27-yard pass play on 1st and 10. Skinner then took the next two carries for six yards to the Hounds’ 36. On 3rd and 4, Skinner found Tyjai Mueller on a short gain, but a roughing the passer penalty gave the Chiefs a 1st and 10 at the 11. Skinner carried for five yards and then got nothing on 2nd and 5. Junior Diego Lozano got a hold of a very quick Martinez in the backfield for a 1-yard loss forcing a Keokuk timeout.
On 4th and 6, Skinner took a shotgun snap and, with a little time, found sophomore Anthony Potratz in the back of the endzone. The two hooked up again on the 2 point conversion on a Potratz sliding catch, to put the Chiefs up 14-7.
Keokuk opted for a regular kick off and the Hounds’ Mike Mosena returned the ball to the 34. The Hounds then marched 66 yards on 12 plays highlighted by a Barker-to-Dom Frantz 25-yard gain on 3rd and 7 to the Chiefs’ 41.
After junior Kali Maestro got nothing on 1st and 10, Barker was sacked for a 10-yard loss, but then found Kuntz again for a 34-yard gain on 3rd and 20. Fort Madison didn’t get much on the next two plays, but Barker found Denning streaking across from left to right and hit him in stride before stepping out at the three for a first down. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty pushed the Hounds to 1st and goal from the 18. Two Barker incompletions had the Hounds at 3rd and goal from the 18. After Shiffman called a time out, the Hounds set up a play where Parker again was streaking from left to right, but this time in the back of the endzone and Barker found him for the score. Nolting’s PAT was blocked and the Chiefs held a 14-13 advantage with 2:48 left in the 1st quarter.
The Chiefs took the next possession and ran 13 plays and moved the ball to the Hounds’ 35. On a 1st and 15 from the Chiefs’ 36, Skinner rolled back and found Martinez streaking behind the secondary and lofted a pass over the defense that bounced off Martinez’s helmet as he tried to adjust to the arching throw. Skinner then kept the ball and right read and gained a yard. On the next play, Skinner threw to the right sideline, but the Hounds’ Sheymouhr Redd-Donald jumped the route and made a diving catch sliding out of bounds at what appeared to be the 1-yard line, but officials ruled he had landed on the goal line and the Hounds had it 1st and 10 at the 20.
The Bloodhounds ran into their first punting situation on the next possession after Barker was sacked for an 8-yard loss on 3rd and 11. The Chiefs couldn’t make any hay with the stop and were forced into a three and out punt to the Hounds’ 50. Fort Madison ran five plays and then returned the ball with a punt to the Chiefs’ 31.
Keokuk ran three plays and got a first down when Skinner and Potratz connected for an 8-yard pass play. Skinner went to the air again to the right sideline but Redd-Donald got in the way again and pulled the ball away before landing out of bounds in front of the Keokuk bench for his second pick of the game. Barker found Mike Mosena on a bubble screen to the left on 1st and 10, but turned the ball over on the next play when Mueller stepped in front of a Barker pass and picked it off at the Chiefs’ 35-yard line.
After a 5-yard holding penalty on Keokuk had the Chiefs at 1st and 15, Skinner let one fly to Mueller who had gotten free down the middle of the field. Redd-Donald knocked Mueller off the route, but was called for pass interference on the play that could have resulted in a touchdown. The Chiefs took the ball at the 25 1st and 10, but the Hounds defense would hold when senior Nick Carter picked off a Skinner pass in the endzone with about 58 seconds left in the half.
With a 1st and 10 at the 20, the Hounds went to work through the air trying to salvage some points before halftime. Barker threw incomplete to the right and then an illegal substitution on Keokuk gave the Hounds a 1st and 10 at the 35. Barker skipped a low pass to Denning that went incomplete, but Maestro took a carry 12 yards on the next play. Shiffman called a timeout with 24.8 seconds left in the half. Barker again threw incomplete on 1st and 10, Maestro carried for a yard to make it 3rd and 9. Barker found Redd-Donald to the right for a seven yard gain to the Hounds’ 42.
The Hounds lined up in their usual spread formation and Barker took the snap and rolled just slightly to his right and lofted a pass to the back endzone pylon where Parker Denning raced under it making a catch over his shoulder for a touchdown with no time left to give Fort Madison a 19-14 lead. The two-point conversion attempt failed.
Shiffman said the Hail Mary at the end of the first half was the turning point of the game.
“It was a pretty even and crazy game up until that point, but I think it took the air out of ’em,” he said.
Keokuk had a good drive to start the second half including a 14-yard run by Martinez, who finished with 90 yards on the ground in the game. But on 3rd and 6 from the 35 Skinner was looking for Mueller who slipped in his pattern and Will Larson had an easy interception that he returned to the Hounds’ 44. The Hounds then put their longest drive of the game together taking almost six minutes off the clock, culminating with a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Barker into the north endzone. Again the point after was no good and the Hounds were up 25-14.
Fort Madison, looking to take advantage of the momentum tried their own onside kick that bounded around a couple of Chiefs before Keaton Poe slid under and recovered the ball. Barker went right to work through the air with a quick 9-yard strike to Kuntz and then went off tackle for six more yards. But three of the next four throws were incomplete and the Hounds turned the ball over on downs at their 25.
The next four series resulted in punts for both teams. The Hounds turned the fifth series over on downs and Keokuk tried a fake punt on the sixth series of the second half, but Lozano sniffed it out and brought Skinner down for a loss. Fort Madison wouldn’t get anything going with a quick three and out and then the Chiefs turned the ball over on downs. Fort Madison took the ball and went seven plays before Barker slid in from the 3-yard line for the Hounds’ last touchdown.
AJ Nolting would add a field goal in the final seconds to set the final score.
Denning finished with 113 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions to lead Fort Madison in receiving.
“I just wanted to do everything I could to help the seniors win the game. That’s what this was all about,” he said. “We worked on some different routes this week in practice and their corners were a bit softer than we were used to this year. But I just wanted to do everything I could for the seniors tonight.”
Barker said the passing game came easier tonight, despite being flushed out of the pocket on a regular basis.
“We were able to get a lot of stuff short…short…short and then we were able to get the long passes in, so the passing game came along tonight.”
He said the season wasn’t what he anticipated for the Hounds, but he said winning the final game of the season and keeping the County Seat trophy at Fort Madison felt pretty good.
Shiffman said the game was crazy at the beginning but the Hounds were able to settle in.
“Yeah, one of the assistants came up to me and said that was probably the craziest first couple of minutes of football they’d ever seen, but then we settled in and really did some good things tonight,” Shiffman said.
“Parker had a really good night tonight, Shey had two interceptions, Trey had over a hundred yards and touchdown and Diego Lozano had 12.5 tackles and eight of those were for losses. That’s just phenomenal. We got some things done tonight for these seniors and I’m happy for them.”
Redd-Donald said he was disappointed in the season as a whole, but wanted to have a clean game tonight.
“This isn’t what I had in mind for my senior year,” Redd-Donald said after the game, “But I came tonight to give it my all and help the team finish with a win and for the other seniors.”
Barker finished with 20-44 passing for 271 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Lozano led the team on defense. Maestro led the Hounds on the ground with 24 yards on 11 carries.