BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
GRINNELL – “A captain who practices his knots sleeps quiet in the storm”.
Sometimes the knots just slip.
As was the case for the Fort Madison Bloodhounds at Grinnell in the Class 3A Pod 11 title game. The Tigers rolled to a 35-0 win and advance to third round of the Iowa High School Athletic Association post season.
The Hounds had an interception and a fumble in the first two series resulting in two Grinnell touchdowns. The Hounds would give up two more fumbles and fail to recover two Tiger fumbles, one resulting in a touchdown.
“We put the ball on the ground – something that we haven’t done all season,” said head coach Derek Doherty.
“We did it tonight and you can’t do that against a good team like this.”
On the third play from scrimmage, FM quarterback Landes Williams took a high snap, rolled left and threw into the hands of the Tigers AJ Wilkins. A holding penalty after the pick set Grinnell at the Fort Madison’s 39.
Two plays later, the top running back in the state Wyatt Hunter rambled 33 yards to the five, and then slipped into the endzone on the next play. Hunter came into the game with 1,929 yards and 28 combined TDs.
The Hounds would start on the 20 again with a stiff breeze from the northwest causing repeated touchbacks. On 3rd and 4 from the 26, Calem Maclearn would cough up the ball on a play where he looked down by contact, but the ruling would stand.
Two plays later, senior Cole McGriff, who played backup quarterback most of the year for Grinnell, went off the right side for a 33-yard score.
Down 14-0, the Hounds would start again on the 20 and a pitch on 2nd and 11 hit the ground but Fort Madison would recover. The Tigers would force a 4th and 11 and the Hounds were forced to punt.
Fort Madison would stop Grinnell on the next 8-play series as junior Tate Johnson dragged down Hunter from behind on 4th and 4 at the Tiger 28. The Hounds would go 4 and out, but would stop the Tigers again on the next possession forcing a punt on the second play of the 2nd quarter.
The low liner kick bounced up and hit Brock Califf in the chest and the ball bounded forward where Grinnell’s Jake Green recovered it front of Califf. Grinnell would go seven plays before Hunter would take a handoff up the middle and fumble the ball into the endzone where the Tigers recovered for a 21-0 lead.
Fort Madison would get a couple first downs on the next series, but would turn the ball over on downs when a Williams pass to Califf on an out route was broken up.
Grinnell would score again when McGriff would go for 47 yards on 3rd and 3 off the the right side. Austin Ensminger came up just short of a diving tackle at the 5 for a 28-0 lead that would carry into halftime.
Things didn’t get much better for the Hounds in the second half, despite holding Grinnell to just one score with the running clock.
Hunter would break through the line and ramble 51 yards for Grinnell’s final score on 3rd and 6 to set the running clock at 35-0 on the Tigers first series out of the locker room.
On the next series, Williams would hit Califf on a swing pass on 2nd and 10 at the Hounds 46, but two steps later Califf would get stripped and Grinnell recovered.
With the Tigers moving in the 2nd string, neither team would put together any sort of scoring drives the rest of the game.
Fort Madison would string together an 8-play, 30-yard drive in the middle of the 4th quarter but that would fizzle out when a Williams pass on 4th and 8 fell to the ground ending the threat.
Keaton Poe said there just too many mental mistakes to overcome.
“A lot of us came into the game thinking they had the leading running back in the state. Everyone had that in the back of their minds. We just had too many mistakes,” he said.
But the senior said this year was the most fun he’s ever had playing football.
“These are my brothers and all year it felt like I was just doing this for fun.”
Larson said the program has a new focus and there is more foundation for success ahead.
“With Coach Doherty and, and even going back to Coach (Tony) Shiffman, our mentality just changed. We just wanted to win,” Larson said.
“We changed and we found confidence in ourselves. Even tonight we had our effort and attitude. We are a family and we’ve bonded together. This is a second family to us.”
Doherty said the Hounds just couldn’t find the spark that has carried them all year.
“We just couldn’t get going. It wasn’t a lack of effort and I’m so proud of these guys and we love them so much,” he said.
“But for whatever reason, we just couldn’t it going, and partially because that’s a really good football team across the sidelines from us. They just didn’t allow us to be us.”
Williams finished the night going 6 or 17 for 44 yards and a pick. He also had 20 yards on 7 carries. Maclearn had 51 yards on 10 carries including a 16-yard carry in the 2nd quarter where he had a seam in the secondary, but tripped up on the way through. The senior also had 26 receiving yards.
Poe led the Hounds defense with 10 tackles including one for a loss. Johnson had six and half.
“This is a phenomenal group. They’ve started something special that will last for years and years to come,” Doherty said.