BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
WEST BURLINGTON – “Wholly smokes”.
Those were the words of Fort Madison Bloodhound head coach Derek Doherty after Friday night’s 26-14 win over West Burlington on the road.
Not because the game was really a fairly evenly matched football game, but because defensive end Romeo Maestro recorded three sacks, one on a jarring hit that sent the ball 12 yards into the endzone where senior Diego Lozano recovered to put Fort Madison up 20-8.
The senior had three against the Falcons in Fort Madison last year and finished the night with eight solo tackles and 11 assists, five of which were for losses.
“Wholly smokes. He played really well,” Doherty said. “I don’t know what it is, but he shows up and shows out when he’s here.”
With less than four minutes to go in the first half and West Burlington looking at 2nd and 14 from their own 19, trailing 13-8, Falcon quarterback Anthony Hoffman dropped back and looked left, but Maestro came from the right and hit Hoffman at about the 13. Maestro’s jarring hit knocked the ball free and it bounded a full 14 yards into the endzone where Lozano jumped on it for the score.
West Burlington Head Coach Jay Eilers said at that point the Falcons were down just 13-8 and they were in the ball game.
“We were in the ball game,” he said. “It’s about our kids executing and we did those things for a couple drives, and then we’re moving the ball and we’re doing positive things. But then we get some negative plays and that kills us…turnovers kill us and it’s gotta stop today.”
Fort Madison received the opening kick off and on the second play from scrimmage, Lozano bounced off tackle to the left and raced 42 yards to the Falcons’ 18. Four plays later Will Larson took a quarterback keeper to the right and into the endzone for a quick 6-0 lead with a failed PAT.
West Burlington then put together the longest drive of the night. The Falcons racked up three first downs on nine running plays. Maestro got his first sack on first and 10 when Hoffman dropped backed at the Falcons’ 46 and was hit for a 6-yard loss.
The Falcons’ Kendall Baker and Dreyton LaVeine took turns going outside and inside keeping Fort Madison’s defense guessing, but on 2nd and 5, Lozano would get to Hoffman again for a 10-yard loss and the Falcons would end up punting on 4th and 19 and netted a 5-yard punt.
But West Burlington’s defense was rested after the long drive and forced a 4 and out. After receiving the punt and returning it to their own 32, the Falcons would cough it up on first down and Fort Madison would capitalize three plays later when Lozano broke free from 20 yards to put Fort Madison up 13 nothing with the PAT.
West Burlington would get its first touchdown of the night when Hoffman would sneak through the right side on a keeper and slip into the secondary where he made a nice cut to the outside and scored down the right sideline from 26-yards out. The 2-pt conversion was good and the game was on at 13-8.
After Fort Madison again was forced out on four downs, Maestro caused havoc with his sack and Lozano’s score to round out the first half.
In the second half both teams managed a touchdown apiece with Fort Madison’s coming with just over three minutes left in the third. After a pass interference call on the Falcons had Fort Madison 1st and goal at the two, Landes Williams who was filling in for Will Larson at quarterback, tried a keeper to the right. Williams got tangled up in green but somehow slipped the ball to Lozano who was blocking in front of him and Lozano rumbled in for his third score of the night.
Falcon freshman Hayden Vandenberg came in in the fourth quarter for a dinged up Hoffman and took the Falcons 66 yards going 3-of-3 for 54 yards and a touchdown to a wide open Jonah Fritz.
Lozano led the Hounds on the ground with 110 yards and a couple score on 13 carries. In addition to Maestro’s big night on defense, Danen Settles had 6.5 tackles and Jayden Fedler had 5.5 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Doherty said there are still some things to clean up, but he knows the meaty part of the Hounds’ schedule starts next week with Clear Creek Amana.
“There’s things we need to clean up, but the positive is Fort Madison is learning how to win these ugly ones. We told them the old Fort Madison would have found a way to lose that game, and I firmly believe that, so we’re progressing,” Doherty said.
“But if we clean some things up, that scoreboard is lit up like a Christmas tree. Defense did their thing, but we gotta fix the little things.”
Fort Madison had four defensive sides penalties to go with a couple illegal blocks and holding penalties.
“Our dudes are so aggressive and they wanna play ball and they’re learning how and when to back off the gas pedal. We’re getting blocks in the back and things like that, but we’re looking for people to hit and extend plays.”
First-year defensive coordinator Jason Crooks said the defense is gelling a bit after putting in some new schemes this year.
“We put some things in to make things simpler. Simpler isn’t stupid. Simpler is smart cuz if the coaches are confused, players are confused. It just doesn’t work. We have athletes on this team and we’re allowing them to go make plays,” he said.
“I told them for the first time we have 11 guys and no one’s taking a play off that I’m seeing. They’re hungry.”
Lozano said with some tougher competition just days away, the Hounds have some tinkering to do.
“I think our offensive line is still working on pulls a lot and I think if we do more of that in practice we can get some bigger gaps,” he said.