BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It’s been 33 years since Fort Madison has started the season 4-0.
Fort Madison Head Coach Derek Doherty, self-proclaimed data nerd, said he was about four years old when Kurt Featheringill and Shane Carter led the Bloodhounds to an undefeated start this deep in the season.
Doherty said his 9th ranked Class 4A Bloodhounds were 4-0 on Friday, and maybe a little of Saturday and Sunday, but on Monday the Hounds were 0-0.
“You have to flush that really quick and go back to the 0-0 mentality because we have a really tough Mt. Pleasant team that were up against this Friday. A team that historically has had our number. We’ll celebrate the success of that in the off season,” the third-year coach said Thursday.
Doherty may have lit a cigar on Saturday night however. Knocking off the Demons hasn’t been something the Hounds have done since he patrolled the secondary himself at Jim Youel Field in 2001.
“It was a big win for our program and that stuff’s important. It’s been 20 years since we’ve beaten Washington and that’s a big move for our program. In 2001 I was a junior in high school here and these kids weren’t even born. We put that in perspective for them that the things they are doing are right,” Doherty said.
Fort Madison has put up 17 offensive scores this year, a defensive score and a couple of special teams touchdowns. They’ve been outscoring their opponents 36-8 on average. And last week at Washington all the stats and averages were put aside in the last two minutes in a gut-check that just may have been a watershed moment for the program.
Several Hounds including Ike Thacher chased Demon’s quarterback Ethan Patterson out of the pocket and toward the Washington sideline. Closing in, the junior QB had to throw to the endzone where Henry “Hank” Wiseman picked off the high throw to essentially seal the game.
“Fort Madison has found a lot of ways, throughout history, to lose games. Very rarely in my experience here have we found ways to win games. Not once did they shy away from the challenge Friday night,” Doherty said.
But Mt. Pleasant (1-3) hosts Fort Madison on Homecoming night at Mapleleaf Stadium and Doherty said they will not be bowing down to the Dawgs.
“You’re silly if you’re looking at records. If you’re looking at scores and trying to compare this and that and say they beat them so this is going to happen… that’s crazy…sports is crazy. Looking at 1-3 or 3-1 and 4-0 you can throw that out the window. They do not matter because football is crazy, styles clash, and matchups happen,” he said.
“Mt. Pleasant will be coached up well. Coach (Shawn) Striegel and his staff are amazing coaches and add to that that is homecoming and I can promise you – they aren’t afraid of a Fort Madison football team.”
Mt. Pleasant got their first win of the year last Friday against a West Burlington squad that held Fort Madison in check for three of four quarters. West Burlington lost running back Tavian Donaldson to a knee injury in the first half of Friday’s 24-20 Panther win.
The Panthers were down by just two points in the season opener before Fairfield scored in the 4th to put the game out of reach. In Mt. Pleasant’s 22-0 loss to Washington, the Demons put up 14 points in the 4th. And in the Panther’s other loss to Keokuk, the Chiefs led by just four at the end of the first half.
The Panther’s are building a program around sophomore running back Payton Hagans who has right at 400 yards of total offense, including 303 yards on 47 carries and five TDs. Quarterback Carson Coleman has a couple rushing TDs on 67 carries.
Coleman isn’t as prolific throwing the ball, having thrown for just one touchdown, while being picked off six times. Carter Amos and Jurha Turner have made up for the bulk of the Panther’s receptions accounting for 260 yards, but have yet to find the endzone.
“(Hagan’s) a sophomore and he looks like the real deal on film. He’s a weapon and we’ll have to know where he is all the time and contain him.”
Hagan’s brother, Dylan leads the Panther defense with 25 tackles at his linebacker spot.
The fact that Coleman is another dual threat quarterback isn’t lost on Doherty or the Hounds’ coaching staff.
“Carson’s yet another dual threat quarterback and it seems that’s the thing anymore. We have one, too. But Carson’s a solid athlete and a smart quarterback. He’s getting more and more comfortable and making better decisions. He was the quarterback who played here against us last year,” Doherty said.
Fort Madison continues to share the ball in what has become a very balanced offense.
Senior quarterback Landes Williams has shared the ball liberally in the first four games. Four different Hound receivers have at least 200 yards and Tate Johnson is at 299 and three TDs. Johnson usually comes up with the highlight catches including a touchdown last week against the Demons.
The Hounds have also got good production from Kane Williams who had a 64-yard catch and score Friday, and Gavin Wiseman who stole a catch over Washington’s Lucas Kross at midfield in a critical situation to extend a Bloodhound drive.
But it was Jakob McGowan’s 51-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that caught Doherty’s eye.
“We grade our plays when we watch film and we gave that play a plus 3. I don’t think the kids understand how good that is, and that’s just about perfect,” Doherty said.
“Our guys were hitting blocks and double teams. Jakob made a guy miss which is vitally important in our offense, and then Tate and Xander (Wellman) – those guys weren’t catching on that play, they were blocking. Xander had a sweet block that sprung that play. To me, that’s a steak dinner.”
McGowan is becoming a threat when he gets outside the tackles as he can and regularly will outrun anyone in the secondary if he can get free. The senior has three touchdowns and 160 yards on 29 carries. Williams leads the Hounds out of the read-option with 281 yards and seven scores.
Defensively, McGowan, Austin Ensminger, Daniel Sokolik and sophomore Teague Smith all have 20 plus tackles. Neither of those players are in the secondary, which says the Hounds front defensive pressure has had success this year.
Doherty said Sokolik caused havoc with the Washington run game last week.
“He was a silent assassin,” Doherty said. “When I was putting in stats in the morning, I was like, “Wholly smokes!”, and then you go back and watch film and it’s Sokolik, Sokolik, Sokolik. Ike (Thacher) is the same away.”
Doherty said defensive line coach Ryan Smith kept calling out Thacher’s name late in the game and Thacher seemed to shift a gear.
“A couple times at the end when we had to get really tough, Coach Smith kept yelling “Ike – Ike”, and he was out there like a dog digging in and wiggling and getting ready to go,” Doherty said.
“The next thing we see we’ve got guys out there chasing their quarterback around and forcing that throw and then there’s Hank coming through with the pick.”
Then, right on cue, Doherty shifts gears to this Friday.
“That was good last week, but welcome to football. Now we have to go on the road to a Mt. Pleasant team that will be coached up and ready to get after us. This is a big test and we’ll have to be at our best.”
Game time is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday night at the Mapleleaf Athletic Complex.
Ensminger currently leads Class 4A District 3 in tackles with 27 and Jakob McGowan leads the district in sacks with six. Landes Williams leads the district in total offensive yards with 1,117 and has the top quarterback rating at 157.6%. Tate Johnson leads the district in kick-off return yardage and yards per return.