BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With 11:58 left in the fourth quarter, Levi Lowney did a little dance during a time out.
It almost was premature but with about 1:15 left in the 4th quarter, it was party time for the Hounds as the Keokuk Chiefs turned the ball over on downs sealing a 21-14 Homecoming win for Fort Madison.
The win sends the coveted purple and red County Seat back to the halls of Fort Madison High School after a year’s absence with 2019 loss to the Chiefs.
“I think mentally it means a lot for this program,” Doherty said. “That’s a really good football team across the field from us. This shows we can compete and they did a dang good job of that.”
The Hounds (3-1) had another slow start offensively with three straight four-and-outs. It looked like Keokuk was going to get on the board first when they put together a 13-play, 44-yard drive that had five first downs, but two penalties at midfield stalled the drive and forced a punt.
After the Hounds had their third four and out, the Hounds defense forced another Chiefs punt but the Hounds got through and blocked the punt recovering at their own 45. A Fort Madison holding penalty on 3rd and 5 killed another set forcing a punt.
Keokuk would cough it up on 1st and 10 at the Chiefs 40, and Keaton Poe jumped on it for Fort Madison.
The Hounds have been opportunistic all year and the turnover paid off again as Fort Madison would give the Chiefs a steady diet of Calem Maclearn and Landes Williams out of the backfield. The two would combine for 35 yards on seven carries and got Fort Madison inside the 10.
But two illegal procedure penalties sandwiched around an incompletion pushed the Hounds back to the 20. On 3rd and 15, Williams rolled to his left and cut back to the right causing a Keokuk lineman to slip in pursuit leaving Williams with time to find Tate Johnson in the left corner of the endzone for a 7-0 lead with the PAT.
Keokuk would put together another nice drive going 50 yards in 10 plays to the Hounds 26, but an incomplete pass on 4th and 10 turned the ball back to Fort Madison who ran out the half.
The Hounds had just 45 yards of total offense in the 1st half, 20 coming on the TD pass, and just two first downs to Keokuk’s 11, but the defense just kept making plays.
The second half, Fort Madison found a different gear offensively with Williams and Maclearn chewing up yards behind the Hound front five.
The Hounds Brock Califf almost broke the 3rd quarter kick, but was tripped up at the Keokuk 45. The Hounds would then go, again behind Williams and Maclearn 45 yards on 10 plays when Williams bulled on 2nd and goal from the 1 for 14-0 lead.
Doherty said offensive coordinator Justin Menke has been calling the right plays all year, but the Hounds weren’t executing. He said the second half saw things start to come together.
“I really do believe it was a decision by them,” Doherty said of the Hounds.
“Coach Menke has been calling awesome games and we need to learn to execute. We’ve had an execution problem and hopefully we worked out some of the kinks.”
Williams said it was a trust in the offensive line.
“We figured out what happened and we started trusting our line and getting Calem through holes, getting first downs, and getting yards,” the junior quarterback said.
Keokuk would respond on the next possession when senior quarterback Corey Skinner sneaked through the left side of the defense, broke to the sidelines, and raced 47 yards to make it a one-score game at 13-6. Califf would break through and block the extra point.
He would do one better on the kickoff. After having a second of trouble finding the handle on a kick that hit the ground, the senior picked it up at the 24, and the slight delay caused an over pursuit by Keokuk allowing Califf to slip through the Chiefs’ left side, break two tackles and race 74 yards for the score.
After both teams went 4-and-out on the next two possessions, Keokuk would again get within a touchdown when Skinner found Callum Tackes in the flat behind the secondary, and the fullback outraced the Hounds for what would be the final score of the game.
Skinner would hook up with Anthony Potratz in the left corner for the 2-point conversion and a 21-14 score.
Fort Madison looked to have scored on it’s next possession when Xander Wellman had plenty of leg in a 32-yard field goal attempt that appeared to have gone through but was ruled wide left by officials right under the poles.
Keokuk would take over at the 18, but the defense held and forced Skinner to throw twice on third and fourth down from the 18. Both balls fell to the ground and Fort Madison took over on downs and ran out the clock.
Doherty said he continues to see more character in the squad as the season goes.
“For them to be able to bounce back in a lot of situations they’ve been put in – that’s a credit to them. Tonight they were able to pull their heads out of some not-so-good places. I give credit to them for buckling down.”
Williams went 9 for 11 for 35 yards and a touchdown. He also had 15 carries for 48 hard yards and a score. Maclearn had 53 yards between the tackles on 13 carries.
Junior Tate Johnson led the Hounds on defense with 10.5 tackles, six solo and two tackles for loss. Tanner Settles had 7.5 tackles, one for a loss.
The sophomore leads Fort Madison with 25 tackles on the year and said the success the Hounds have been having on defense is by having a mindset of just making the next play.
“Our philosophy is if they make a good play we’re going to try and not let them score. But if they do, we don’t get broke by that, we go out and make another play,” Settles said.
The Hounds are now 1-1 in Southeast Conference action and travel to 1-2 Burlington at Bracewell Stadium next Friday.