BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison Athletic Director Jeremy Swink got a chorus of “boooos” from a disgruntled Hound student section as he carried the “county seat” out and set it on the 40-yard line for the Keokuk Chiefs to take home.
The Chiefs handed the Bloodhounds a 28-20 defeat Friday night at Jim Yeoul Field on the final game of the season leaving the Hounds just shy of the team’s first winning season since 2010, at 4-5.
It was a season that showed promise and flashes of being able to play with some of the best teams in the conference. Head Coach Derek Doherty has said all year the Hounds needed to play with attitude and effort.
He got both on Friday night as the Hounds battled back after going down 14-0 just five minutes into the first quarter.
On the Chiefs, second play from scrimmage, after a Fort Madison 4 and out, Senior Braylon Martinez took a hand off at the Chiefs own 13 bounced down the right side of the Chiefs line and found a hole. Martinez, who qualified for Drake and the Iowa State Track meet in the 100 meter run, blew past the Hounds secondary for an 87-yard touchdown.
The Chiefs kicked off and Fort Madison started at it’s own 21. Junior Quarterback Will Larson tried an inside screen that was tipped and intercepted by senior Dylan Jeffers who raced left and outran the Hounds into the endzone for another score.
“You can’t give people a head start. I’m gonna take 100% of the responsibility for that. The only thing I can come up with is we weren’t ready from the jump – can’t do that against good football teams,” Doherty said.
But the attitude and effort kicked back in.
Senior Michael Mosena brought the ensuing kickoff toward the Hounds fans and raced down the sideline left and was caught from the side at the 21. On 2nd and 9, Larson found Brock Califf at the back of the endzone alone, but Califf, trying to tiptoe the back line, had the ball bounce off his hands.
Larson would get a yard on the next carry and then throw incomplete to turn the ball back over to the Chiefs.
Keokuk would go 4 and out on the next possession with the Hounds getting some help when the Chiefs were flagged for having an ineligible man down field on a 16-yard completion on 1st and 10.
The punt snap went over the head of Keokuk’s kicker and Larson pounced on it at the Chiefs’ 21-yard line. This time the Hounds would find the endzone when Larson hit Mosena in the left side of the endzone off some misdirection. The Hounds missed the PAT to make it 14-6.
Keokuk would put together a 7-play drive but were stalled due to an illegal procedure penalty and two incompletions from quarterback Corey Skinner.
Fort Madison would take over on downs at their own 35, but couldn’t get anything going with a couple incompletions from Larson. Quentin Schneider’s punt was returned to the Hounds 45 and four plays later Keokuk’s Calum Tackes would bull in from the 3 for a 21-6 lead with the PAT.
The two teams would exchange 4 and outs on the next two possessions before Keokuk put together another sustained drive with Tackes doing most of the work carrying the ball five times and then pushing his way in from the 11 with 2:28 left for a 28-6 lead.
But Fort Madison would push the effort again returning the kick to the 40 and then going nine plays. On 4th and 3, Larson would call his own number on the run-pass-option to slip into the endzone on the left side with just :12 left in the half. The 2-point conversion was good and the Hounds trailed 14-28 at the half.
Neither team would score in the third quarter, thanks in part to a key interception by Calem Maclearn, who was tied up with a much taller Anthony Potratz for most of the night. The Chiefs went to the right side shoulder route about eight times on the night trying to take advantage of Potratz’ height advantage, but Maclearn was able to get turned around in the endzone and picked off a Skinner attempt on 4th and 5 at the Hounds 15.
With the Hounds still trailing by 14 at the 8:38 mark, Fort Madison marched 64 yards in 9 plays including converting two fourth down plays, but chewed up a lot of clock before Larson found Schneider over the Chiefs secondary for a 36-yard scoring strike to close the gap to the final score of 28-20 with five minutes left in the game.
Doherty used a couple of timeouts strategically, but the Chiefs were able to run the clock out on the season and the seniors final time of the field.
Doherty was visibly frustrated after the game and chocked it up to the loss of the game, the loss of the seniors, and the loss of a winning season.
“All of the above – just knowing how close we were to all of it. Take that head start off the board and the things that we just haven’t done and don’t do…and we gotta ball game,” he said.
“But first of all, I love all our seniors and I’m very thankful for all of them. This program is moving in the right direction and they are the leading force behind that.
“When we say family we mean it. When you watch these guys hugging each other and crying and passing messages onto the other guys, you know it’s real.”
Senior Diego Lozano said the Hounds played like a one-half team for most of the year, and they were working and talking in practice about making this game a full-game effort.
“Really, the big thing we needed to do… we were a one half team. We talked in practice this week about playing one half and that we have to put two halves together,” he said.
“We fought with everything we had to come back, we just fell short. It sucks, man.”
Larson finished with one of his better games of the year going 9 of 21 for 193 yards and two scores. He also ground out 16 yards, a team high, on 16 carries and a score. Larson took over the team this year as a junior and Doherty said he grew a lot and will be counted on next year.
“Will Larson is a fighter – a tough kid – and a very competitive spirit. He’s done a great job for us and we’re lucky to have him coming back,” Doherty said.
“This class means so much to me because there my first class. They believed in me when I had trouble believing in myself.”
Schneider led the team in receiving with his best game of the year hauling in six passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. He also led the Hounds in tackles with 8.5 including six solo, three for losses.
Lozano had 6.5 tackles. Romeo Maestro, Jace Burgher and Levi Lowney all had five tackles on the night. Maestro had two for a loss. Lowney had the only sack on the night for Fort Madison.