BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
BURLINGTON – Its been many, many years since the Bloodhounds started the year 4-1.
Some coaches suggested 1869, but that may be a bit of an exaggeration. However, the Hounds 55-7 win over Burlington on Friday is no exaggeration.
The win sets up a potential clash with Mt. Pleasant at Richmond Stadium in Fort Madison next week. But the Panthers canceled their game with Keokuk this week, and have two losses on the year to Washington and Tipton.
Fort Madison was firing on pretty much all cylinders all night with the exception of a hiccup in the first series, when Greyhound quarterback Nolan Simpson appeared to be stuck for a short gain, but somehow emerged from a pile of Bloodhounds and raced 33 yards for a touchdown.
After that, it was a very buttoned-down Bloodhounds team in all aspects of the game.
“We got away from who we are and what we do,” said Head Coach Derek Doherty.
“On the second series Coach (Jason) Crooks did a phenomenal job and said, “You know what? We’re gonna abandon ship – we’re gonna go be us.”
And who they are is quickly becoming a team that capitalizes on small opportunities in big ways.
After the Grayhound touchdown, senior Brock Califf, for the second time in two weeks, picked up a kick-off off the ground, and then busted a couple tackles and split the BHS kick off team to the left for an 88-yard touchdown run. He had a 76-yard return last week for a score.
“When it’s muffled they really don’t know what you’re going to do so you have the advantage. I saw an opening to the left and just took off and my team decided to block really well and it ended up being wide open,” Califf said.
Califf, who plays offense, defense and special teams, also had a blocked kick in last week’s 24-17 win over Keokuk. He said his special teams play is something that’s firing right now. He almost busted a punt return in the 3rd quarter before getting caught from behind, but two penalties nullified the play.
“I don’t think I have a specialty right now, I think I’m just performing well on special teams over the other aspects of the game.”
Fort Madison’s defense would then clamp down on the Grayhounds on a 4 and out in the next series. Then the Bloodhound offense went to work on a 10-play drive that went 49 yards capped by a 32-yard TD strike from Landes Williams to Tate Johnson down the left side – his fourth TD of the year.
Johnson would finish the night with 71 yards on three catches good for two TDs.
Xander Wellman would pin the Hounds deep with one of his three touchbacks on the night.
Fort Madison would hold Keokuk again to just four downs, and with the Grayhounds facing a 4th and 6 at their own 25, Doherty sent the house and senior Keaton Poe block the punt. Johnson recovered for another Hound score making it 21-7.
Doherty said special teams have been a priority with the Hounds all year.
“We make it important. As a staff and then the kids. We got kids out there that it’s important to. It’s not a play off, they practice that way, they’re attentive and they understand their assignments,” he said.
BHS would then put together their second best drive of the night going 30 yards on nine plays but a 4th and 2 would come up short and Fort Madison would take over at their own 36.
Five plays later Fort Madison was in the endzone again when Williams found a lane in the middle and raced 29 yards for the score to make it 28-7.
Burlington would try to get something going before the end of the first half putting seven plays together in the next series, but on 3rd and 16, the Grayhounds coughed up the ball and it was recovered by Fort Madison’s Calem Maclearn with less than :30 left in the half.
On the next play from scrimmage, Landes Williams found a diving Johnson who stretched full out to haul in a pass at the two. Johnson would get rewarded for the catch on a quick toss in a slant into the endzone on the next play for a 34-7 lead.
Out of the half, the Hounds received the kick and scored in just four plays. After a Maclearn carry netted a yard, Williams kept it three plays straight and then on 4th and 1 from the 43 snuck through the line and cut to the left and raced all the way to the 7, where he pulled a ‘Maverick’ and hit the breaks as two Grayhounds went flying by in pursuit allowing Williams to shuffle in for the score.
BHS would push it’s next drive all the way to the Fort Madison 14, but a Baker pass missed it’s target slipped right through Poe’s hands who was heading the other way, and landed in the arms of Will Larson who raced it back to the Hounds 20.
The interception was the 16th takeaway for the Hounds this season and Larson’s fifth.
Larson would get rewarded for the pick when Williams found him in the left flat behind the BHS secondary for a 45-yard score four plays later giving Fort Madison a running clock.
The Hounds would send in the bench, but freshman Teague Smith, after a couple pounding runs and a tackle for loss, slipped off the left side, shook off two tackles and carried a couple Grayhounds into the endzone for the final score.
Doherty said it was incredible to see a freshman score his first high school touchdown in a varsity game on a run like that.
“He’s just a very tough kid,” Doherty said.
The Hounds finished the night with a season high 345 yards of total offense including 207 on the ground.
Poe, who’s become a vocal leader on the field for the Hounds said he believes Fort Madison can be that effective every game.
“Like coach said, I think we can do this against every single team that we come up against,” he said.
“I don’t’ see myself really as a leader, I just see myself out here with my brothers playing football.”
Doherty agreed and added the kids are starting to understand the system.
“That’s what were capable of. We are capable of running the offense just like that. We’re starting to understand the offense… and the system, and they’re making plays,” the second year head coach said.
“When these guys relax and allow themselves to just be football players they are impressive. When we get in our heads and try to make too much out of things sometimes we hamper our abilities.”
Williams was 6 of 8 throwing for 140 yards and a couple TDs to Johnson. Williams also led Fort Madison rushing with 10 carries for 96 yards and two scores. Maclearn had 53 yards on eight carries. Aiden Pennock had 30 yards on four carries, and Smith had 16 on four tries.
Poe had nine tackles, six solo, and one for a loss to lead the Hounds defense. Levi Lowney had eight tackles including four solo.