BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison Head Coach Derek Doherty said his second year has been “crazy.”
A regular season that the 2nd-year coach would probably have never imagined when he was picked to lead the Hounds beginning in 2019, wraps up with chance to go 6-1 in a COVID-shortened season.
The Hounds take on Fairfield (1-5) at Richmond Stadium Friday night at 7 p.m. for the final regular season game.
Playoff pairings for the first and second round “pods” will be released at noon Saturday. All teams are eligible for the post season this year, but no delays will be granted for COVID-related health issues at a school.
According to IHSAA guidelines, any team forced to suspend activities will have to file a no contest and if a team wins and then is forced to suspend, it’s next round opponent will advance and the team that was defeated remains eliminated.
And even with all those changes due to coronavirus concerns, Doherty has no thought on the subject.
“To be totally transparent – haven’t thought about it. I have a fantastic boss in Jeremy Swink and he’ll take care of all that stuff. I can’t be a hypocrite with the kids and say were focused on going 1-0 this week, while I”m looking somewhere else.”
Indeed. Doherty also isn’t phased by some statewide recognition where the AP has the Bloodhounds listed at No. 11 in Class 3A, and the Des Moines Register has them at No. 10.
He said honest conversations with the Hounds helps keep those lofty nods at bay.
“It’s nice. But somebody who doesn’t know who we are and isn’t at our practices – their opinion truly doesn’t matter,” he said.
“And that’s not meant to be negative at all, they just aren’t in our program. The recognition is nice, but we’ve been on the other side of it and we’ve gone in to play ranked teams, and we tell the kids that team still has to play us.
“No one’s putting Fort Madison on a pedestal and we’ve been pounding that into our kids’ heads that we have to show up with our A game every single week.”
That A game will get a full test this week with a young Trojans team coming into town with one of the district’s top quarterbacks in Isaac Harris.
Just a sophomore, Harris has managed to account for 12 overall touchdowns, 11 through the air. Six of those have gone to another sophomore in wideout Max Wheaton. But senior Brody Angstead may be the more explosive option averaging 35 yards per catch with two TDs.
Doherty said he doesn’t expect a 1-5 Trojan team on Friday, but a team that has improved every week and has a history of success in southeast Iowa.
“Fairfield is tradition rich and they have athletes. They are getting better week by week and they’ll be a tough test for us,” Doherty said.
“They have nothing to lose and we’ve been in that position. Everybody is 0-0 this week.”
Harris has completed just under 36% of his passes for 736 yards and has been picked off eight times.
An jumpy Hounds secondary will be looking to jump those routes, but Doherty said after last Friday’s 44-7 win over Mt. Pleasant. Fort Madison has some tightening up to do.
“We got caught last week quite a few times. Mt. Pleasant threw on us for way more yards than we were happy about,” he said.
“We need to tighten things up in the secondary and get back to hunting things down, but I think these guys are ready for that challenge.”
Most of the Trojans yards on the ground have come from Payton Cline, who has 229 yards on 91 carries. Fairfield has just two rushing scores, one from Harris and the other from senior Landen Schafer.
Sophomore Aiden Lyons anchors the defense patrolling in the secondary with 33 total tackles, 28 of those are solo. Lyons will blitz off the corners occasionally and has four tackles for loss. But the Trojans have just one sack on the year.
The Hounds are coming off one of their most complete wins of the year. Senior Calem Maclearn ran for 158 yards last week with a 13-plus yard per carry average.
“The way he runs is a lot of fun to watch,” Doherty said.
“Sometimes he looks out of control but that kid is so athletic. He changes direction well and is hard to get a hold of. You’re not going to get him with an arm tackle.”
Maclearn and quarterback Landes Williams lead the Hound rushing attack each with about 270 yards on the year. Williams has seven touchdown throws in just three starts with just one interception and has seven rushing scores.
Doherty said the offense is where he had hoped it would be earlier in the season.
“For two or three weeks in a row our offense was just missing. We knew were were close and we were waiting for execution. Now that they have it, it’s fun, but you have to continuously do that in all three phases of football.”
Senior Brock Califf and junior Tate Johnson both are closing on 200 yards receiving on the year. Califf had a TD reception last week his first, but Johnson has five scores on the year. Slot reciever Will Larson is also becoming a favorite target of Williams with touchdown grabs in both of the last two games.
Keaton Poe, Levy Lowney and Tanner Settles continue to provide key stops on defense. Poe is tops in the district with four sacks and second in tackles with 39.5. Lowney and Settles are each averaging more than five tackles per outing.
“We get to the football and we talk as many hats to the ball as possible. We have guys that live that,” Doherty said.
“Drill carryover is a phenomenal thing for a coach. These guys have a thirst on either side of the ball, but on the defensive side, they’re a different breed.”
The Hounds have been solid on special teams all year with two special teams scores, and four blocked kicks. Sophomore Xander Wellman has been consistent with his leg and has hit 21 of 23 PATS and 4 of 7 field goals including three last week.
“We have pretty good chance at points when he goes in. He takes his job seriously and it doesn’t’ matter how far out we are – if we ask, he wants it,” Doherty said.
Doherty said with the regular season wrapping up Friday, he never thought the state would allow all the games this year.
“Now that were into the season and the state made some changes and said we’d play a seven-game season, I remember thinking ‘we’re not going to get a single game in’ and here we are,” he said.
“It’s just crazy, we just told the guys the other night, we’re super happy with them and so proud of them for being proactive and not being reactive. These guys have had curve balls thrown at them week after week, and day after day.”
WHO TO WATCH
#25 Sr. Keaton Poe RB/LB
#11 So. Xander Wellman ST/K
#55 Sr. Levi Lowney OL/LB
#3 So. Tanner Settles DE
#24 Sr. Calem Maclearn RB/DB
#8 Sr. Will Larson WR/DB
#77 Sr. Ethan Deacon OL/DL
#15 So. Isaac Harris QB/DB
#44 So. Max Wheaton WR/DB
#17 Sr. Payton Cline RB
#8 So. Aiden Lyons WR/DB
#6 Sr. Brody Angstead WR/DB