BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison’s perfect season will be put to the test on Friday as the 2-0 Trojans come into town.
Fort Madison is perfect because not only have they not lost in their first two games, but no one has put up a point against the Bloodhounds.
Defensive Coordinator Jason Crooks deftly moves credit for the team’s initial success in a bend-don’t-break philosophy to the hard work the Bloodhounds put in in the off season and the work of position coaches.
Head Coach Doherty said that’s Crooks mentality, but he gets props for having the whole unit in sync.
“I want to brag on him. He’s always going to pass the success on to his defensive coaches and the players and rightfully so. They are a whole unit, but he’s at the head of that. He works so hard and that’s what gotten him all his successes he’s had as an athlete and in his professional life. He’s a fantastic coach and we’re lucky to have that guy,” Doherty said.
The Hounds haven’t given up a point since last year’s lopsided 35-0 loss to Grinnell in the Class 3A second round playoffs.
Doherty said the staff has hung on to that loss as motivation.
“It was hard to flush it. That’s always been kind of our motto – celebrate or sulk, and then flush it and we’re back to 0-0,” he said.
“But there was nothing next at that point for a long time and we hung onto it. It hurt us – not necessarily the loss, we loved that group of kids and it was lot of fun. But it was 360 degrees of hurt, you never want to lose and we felt like we were a better football team than that.
“Knowing Crooks, the way he is, he has taken that and he’s using it to push forward.”
The Hounds have allowed an average of just 150 yards of offense in the first two outings. Senior Austin Ensminger has 11 tackles, six solo, and two interceptions one for a touchdown to help the dogs clamp down. Daniel Sokolik has seven tackles and three more Hounds have more than six in the first two games.
Fairfield brings an offense that’s typically set up with three receivers on the left side and one on the other with junior Tate Allen reading the defense at quarterback. They do shift to a balanced attack occasionally, but always with senior Teddy Metcalf set up behind Allen.
Allen has seven touchdowns on the year two through the air, four on the ground and a punt return for a touchdown last week at home against Ottumwa. Metcalf has about 150 yards on the year and a score.
Another threat is 6’3″ tight end Max Wheaton who can go up and get a ball. Wheaton has just under 100 yards on the year and almost scored on a corner route last week from about 33 yards out but was brought down at the two.
The Trojans were just 1-8 last year with the only win coming on opening night over Knoxville. Doherty said they are much improved team that’s bought into Head Coach Nate Wheaton’s system.
“This group, most of them are juniors and a lot of them started as freshmen and now there in that Friday night lights experience. Whereas a lot our kids don’t have that much experience,” Doherty said.
“We saw some of Fairfield’s kids at an Iowa camp this summer. Max Wheaton came up and shook my hand and I remember looking up at him. He’s a big guy with a big frame.”
Fort Madison’s offensive has been quietly building numbers despite some frustration with efficiencies moving the ball. But quarterback Landes Williams, who’s numbers are close to Allen’s, has distributed the ball to seven different receivers and racked up 384 yards, 317 coming last week against West Burlington/Notre Dame. He also has a couple touchdown tosses.
The senior has 111 yards on the ground and four scores to give him six total.
Doherty said the two quarterbacks are very similar in execution and style, and he extended that to both teams in general.
“It’s like we’re facing us. Their quarterback is a dual threat and our guy’s is a dual threat. He can sling the rock for sure, and our guy can throw it. They have a tough running back in Metcalf, but we have a physical downhill running back too. Are we missing the 6-foot guy – for sure, but we’ve got receivers that can take the top off, too.”
But Head Coach Derek Doherty said the front guys on the Hounds offensive and defensive line have been having a great start to the year.
“Mateo Lozano had a great game last week, but you’re not going to read about his stats. When you have guys like Austin Ensminger and Lozano it makes you take notice of that line play,
Ensminger is the starting center and a starting linebacker for the Hounds. Lozano also plays on both sides of the ball on the line.
“Austin literally played himself into exhaustion last week. He has a deep love for this game and it’s there every single game,” Doherty said.
“Tanner Settles had another great game. He’s just a few games into being on the line and I wouldn’t want to go up against him.”
Sophomore Teague Smith is averaging just under five yards per carry, but usually those are hard yards between the tackles. Jacob McGowan also has about 10 carries.
Senior Tate Johnson again leads the Hounds in receptions with nine for 134 yards and a score. Xander Wellman has three catches on the year and nearly broke one last week down the sidelines. The junior is averaging 28 yards per catch.
This is the first time in many years that the Hounds will have a home game during the week of the Tri-State Rodeo.
“Does it pose issues? I’m kind of indifferent on that. Some people say Homecoming has distractions, but I kinda like it. There are a lot of things out there, but the kids have to make the good choices,” Doherty said.
He said there was a small effort to try and get the game changed to a Saturday afternoon start, but it didn’t pan out.
“It’s only going to be a problem if we choose to make it a problem. That’s my philosophy.”
Game time is 7:30 p.m. Friday at Jim Youel Field at Richmond Stadium.
Who to watch for:
#14 Tate Allen – Jr. QB
#34 Teddy Metcalf – Sr. RB
#44 Max Wheaton – Sr. TE
#5 Evan Haines – Sr., WR
#61 Kenneth Craig – Jr. OL/DL
#62 Terrance Craig – Jr. OL/DL
#4 Landes Wiliams – Sr. QB
#21 Kane Williams – Jr. WR
#13 Tate Johnson – Sr. WR
#53 Daniel Sokolik – JR OL/DL
#54 Austin Ensminger – Sr. OL/LB
#11 Xander Wellman – Jr. WR/K