BY ETHAN LILLARD
FORT MADISON – It’s been a couple of years, but the Fort Madison Bloodhounds (6-5) are back sniffing around the top of the Southeast conference leaderboards in boys soccer.
Taking on Keokuk at Baxter Sports Complex Friday, the Hounds knew a win would set themselves in perfect position to control their own destiny with two big conference games on tap next week. Both of those contest will come against teams sitting atop the Southeast in Mount Pleasant (8-3) and Fairfield (6-5).
But first, Fort Madison knew it needed to focus on the task at hand in Keokuk (1-10).
Austin Sexton made sure his teammates had nothing to worry about heading into prom weekend, scoring two first-half goals and three total for the game, leading the Hounds to an impressive 6-1 win over the Chiefs.
“He really gets things done,” Wellman said of Sexton. “He gets really confident inside the attacking third and it’s showing … it’s a really nice weapon to have.”
It took Sexton just five minutes to score his first goal Friday, picking up an assists from Javier Trejo to give Fort Madison an early 1-0 advantage. Despite the early score, Wellman wasn’t pleased with his team’s pace of play to begin the game.
“We weren’t really happy with how fast we were playing the first 12 minutes,” he said. “I think Austin made, for the most part, a singular effort after he got the ball from Javier. We weren’t playing good through the middle third and the attacking third. We just didn’t have a sense of urgency.”
The Hounds started to show some life after the opening score, as Sexton again went speeding past the Chiefs defense in the 12th minute for an unassisted goal and a 2-0 lead.
“Austin does a lot of work up front,” Wellman said. “He is very quick, he does a really good job of slowing down when he has the ball on his foot, bringing the defense in closer, and then exploding into a run towards the goal … He’s a horse up front for us.”
After getting tripped up by a Keokuk defender in the 27th minute, Miguel Trejo was awarded a penalty kick, which he sent into the top right upright to extend the Hounds lead to 3-0.
Trejo’s PK goal was the last of the first half, as Fort Madison took the ten minute halftime break with a comfortable 3-0 lead. Wellman, however, was not comfortable the lead.
“We were talking about the fact that Jamin (Klose) is very dangerous,” Wellman said of the Keokuk senior. “He can shoot from anywhere on the field … We were talking about how 3-0 isn’t necessarily a great lead against a player that can score anywhere on the field.”
The Bloodhounds came out with a purpose in the second half and executed the game plan to perfection, keeping Klose close by and in check. In the meantime, Sexton continued his onslaught of the net, canning another goal off a Brody Rung/Just Bowker assisted play in the 16th minute.
Keokuk put its first point on the board on a penalty kick just three minutes later, cutting the score to 4-1.
Wanting to get his teammates in on the fun, Sexton sent a screaming corner kick toward the box for Rung. Rung took the pass and sent it into the net for a 5-1 lead in the 21st minute.
The change of scenery appeared to be just what Rung needed. With just 11 minutes left in the match, Fort Madison’s Reiburn Turnbull sent a kick towards the goal, but it glanced off the left upright. Playing heads up off the ball offense, Rung was there for the rebound and sent the ball sailing to the top right upright, sealing the contest 6-1 for Fort Madison.
“We actually made a personnel change,” Wellman said. “We moved Austin out wide into Brody’s position and Brody moved into forward just to give us a different look and get Brody the chance to get in more goal scoring opportunities so that he can build his confidence.
“He had been on a goal-scoring drought for a little while. Thankfully he is out of that drought now.”
With prom weekend ahead, Wellman told his team a cautionary tale after the game about one of his past state-hopeful teams thats season was derailed due to players getting suspended for underage drinking. He also emphasized the importance of next week and what it means for the rest of the season and the chance of a possible Southeast conference crown returning to Fort Madison.
“We have to come with our heads right Monday so we can mentally prepare for Tuesday,” Wellman said about the upcoming contest against Fairfield. “It’s a huge week in the conference for us … We hosted Fairfield early on in the season and we lost 3-2 … We can do it, but we have to execute in order to do it.
“One of our team goals is to finish top two in the conference. They’ve done the work to put themselves in position to accomplish that goal.”
After their contest against Fairfield Tuesday, Fort Madison will travel to face another Southeast foe in Mount Pleasant Thursday.