BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison quarterback Landes Williams said he had a case of the jitters in the first quarter.
He shook ’em off in the second half along with a bunch of Knoxville tacklers as the Bloodhounds rolled to a 45-7 win over the Panthers in the first round of the “pod” playoffs.
The Hounds will play Grinnell (6-2) next Friday at a site to be determined Saturday at noon. Grinnell downed Newton 44-23 in the other Pod 11 game.
Williams, uncharacteristically threw four of his first five passes behind Bloodhound receivers, but then righted the ship to go 9-19 for 147 yards and a couple TDs.
He also carried the ball 19 times for 90 yards, including a 17-yard run late in the 2nd quarter on 2nd and 10 where he carried three Panthers before going down at the eight.
“A lot of it was on me. I was playing nervous and not seeing my reads, but then the coach talked to me and my line talked to me and we got things going,” Williams said.
The Hounds got on the board first when Xander Wellman hit a 28-yard field goal after a Hounds drive stalled on 4th and 7 at the 13. Fort Madison got the ball at the Panther 15 after Brock Calif was headed for the endzone but was bumped out at the 15.
On Knoxville’s next possession on 3rd and 11, Kieren Nichols tossed a screen pass to Tristin DeJong to the left, but Tate Johnson’s hit knocked the ball loose and Keaton Poe recovered to give the Hounds the ball again at the Panthers 15.
Senior Calem Maclearn got the call on four straight plays and bulled in from the one for a 10-0 Fort Madison lead.
The Panthers would then go 74 yards on 16 plays mixing in running backs on a power wing formation that had the Bloodhounds on their heels. Senior Keegan Cox would hold the ball out over the goal line on a sweep right at the pylon for the score to make it 10-7.
Brock Califf would fumble the kickoff trying to track it down on the Hound sideline as the Panthers tried to play keep away from the senior, who has three kick off returns for touchdowns this year.
The Panthers would take over at Fort Madison’s 35, but would fumble on their first snap and the Hounds would recover to reset things.
Both teams would punt on the next two possessions, but Fort Madison would take over 1st and 10 at their own 40 and Williams went to work off the read. On 3rd and 6 the junior would slip off the left side behind the line for eight yards and a 1st down.
After a corner route toss to the endzone was just out of reach of Cole Thornton, Williams reeled off 17 yards carrying several Panthers on his back. and then found Califf open on the next play in the left side of the endzone from five yards out.
The Panthers ran two plays after taking the kick off at the 12. But on 1st and 10 from their own 35 with just six seconds left in the half, Nichols found Mike Hudson alone down the middle. Hudson rambled for 65 yards to the endzone, but the play was called back on a holding penalty and the half expired.
“We weren’t us in the first half and I’m going to take the blame for that. We were too keyed up and were doing some things we haven’t done,” Head Coach Derek Doherty said. “But that was great test for us in adversity.”
Coming out of the locker room up 17-7, Fort Madison would hold Knoxville to four and outs the rest of the game.
After softening up the Panthers with Maclearn and Williams in the running game, Williams found Tate Johnson down the left side on a 36-yard touchdown with just under five minutes left in the 3rd to push the lead to 24-7 with Wellman’s PAT.
The two have hooked up for seven touchdowns this year. Johnson said the pairs history is proving dividends this year.
“Me and Landes have been playing together since first grade or so and that connection’s always there,” Johnson said.
Williams and Maclearn would score the Bloodhounds next two TDs on the ground, and Califf would score from a yard out late in the 4th quarter to set the final.
Williams said he’s proud to be part of the schools first playoff win in 31 years, and he’s looking forward to next week’s game.
“This is a good thing to be a part of. The guys last year built the foundation for us and we’re just expanding on that,” he said.
“Grinnell has a good running back and we have to try and shut that game down and let our offense do the rest.”
Doherty said the Hounds made some adjustments at halftime, but the team also made a commitment to each other.
“We went in at halftime and we just pledged to each other that we’re done trying to force things, and we’re done complaining, and doing the things we haven’t done all year. We just needed to get back to back to being us.”
Johnson led the receiving corps with 64 yards and the score. Larson had 53 yards on four catches. Maclearn had 50 yards on 11 carries and two scores.
Johnson and Poe each had 6.5 tackles. Tanner Settles had six including a tackle for a loss. Jakob McGowan had six tackles including two for losses.