BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MT. PLEASANT – “Just imagine… Just imagine.”
Those were the thoughts of Fort Madison Head Coach Derek Doherty after Friday night’s 42-7 Bloodhound win over Mt. Pleasant.
The Class 4A ninth-ranked Hounds put together a spectacular first half that including four touchdowns, three through the air and one on the ground, and held a historically tough Panther program scoreless on the way to a 28-0 lead at halftime.
Quarterback Landes Williams was generous with the ball finding Kane Williams, Tate Johnson and Gavin Wiseman all with touchdown throws, after Jakob McGowan scored on a 2-yard plunge off tackle to open the scoring.
After shutting Mt. Pleasant down on it’s first series, a 4-and-out in the mist that produced minus 14 yards, Fort Madison sent a quick message of tempo and control.
After the punt, Fort Madison went 54 yards in 12 plays where Williams hooked up with four different receivers, highlighted by Xander Wellman’s 13-yard catch for a first down at the Mt. Pleasant 24. Williams would run a keeper for 7, and then call McGowan’s number two plays later for a 7-0 lead with Wellman’s PAT.
The Hound defense held again forcing another punt. The snap was mishandled by Lincoln Henrickson and he took off with the ball and threw downfield incomplete. A defensive holding call nullified the play. Fort Madison was penalized 10 yards on the 4th and 15 play and the punt was replayed.
The Hounds took over at their own 37 and methodically went 63 yards in nine plays with the Williams-to-Williams line fully functional. The two hooked up for 50 yards on three catches in the series including a 26-yard scoring strike to make it 14-0. Wellman was six for six in PATs on the night.
Mt. Pleasant showed a spark when quarterback Carson Coleman found Carter Amos behind the secondary down the Panther’s sideline on 1st and 10 following the kickoff. Despite the bend, the defense didn’t break, and Mt. Pleasant would lose five yards in the next three plays forcing another punt.
Taking over deep in their own territory at the 14, Fort Madison showed it can put together a long drive as well. After the Panther’s defense held Fort Madison to minus 1-yard forcing a 3rd and 11 at their own 13, Williams went to Wiseman in the middle for 14 yards and a first down.
Then Williams would turn to senior Tate Johnson who finished with 186 yards on 13 receptions on the night. Johnson would make catches of five on a jet screen to Williams’ left and 20 more two plays later to the right to set up 1st and 10 at the Panthers’ 42.
Williams would take off on a 22-yard run to the right before finding Wiseman again in the left side of the endzone for a 21-0 lead.
A Panther four-and-out gave Fort Madison the ball back at their own 37. Williams went right back to Johnson for eight more yards as part of 7-play, 63-yard score, the fourth of the half. The drive culminated with a 33-yard pass to Johnson streaking behind the secondary down the Panther’s sideline to the north.
Mt. Pleasant picked up a first down on 1st and 10 of the final series of the half after the kick off, but the clock ran out ending any momentum.
“That was a lot of fun,” Doherty said of the first half. “Maybe we should have stayed out here instead of going into the locker room. That showed what we’re capable of, and it was the message to the kids at the end of the game. Just imagine…Just imagine.”
But the third quarter showed a bit of the Mr. Hyde to the first-half’s Dr. Jeckyl.
Fort Madison took the kick at the Panther 33 and then on 1st down Williams rolled to the right and threw the ball out of bounds on what appeared to be a broken route. The Hounds were whistled for having an illegal receiver downfield. After a time out, Williams would pick up a first down on an 11-yard scamper on the next play and then would call his own number for six yards on the next two plays.
After an incompletion at 1st and 10, Williams pitched to McGowan on a sweep but the ball got away. The Hounds recovered for a 4-yard loss and the mojo of the first half seemed to wane.
After hooking up with the sure-handed Johnson for 22 yards on 3rd and 14, the Hounds were whistled for back-to-back false starts, and then on 1st and 20, Williams threw across the middle where the Panther’s Jacob Richtman picked off the errant throw.
The turnover proved costly as the Panthers capitalized going 64 yards on six plays. Coleman would find Payton Hagans behind the right side of the defense for a 44-yard touchdown strike to cut the lead to 28-7 in a full-on Homecoming night momentum swing.
The Hounds would get just five yards in the next series with the Panther defense rejuvenated after the last series forcing a Wellman punt to the Panther 38.
Mt. Pleasant would put together an eight-play drive with Hagans picking up a first down on an 8 yard carry on 3rd and 4. But a couple incompletions from Coleman resulted in another punt with 1:45 left in the third.
The Hounds would regroup from the slow start out of the extended halftime and put together another good series going 58 yards in six plays with McGowan slipping past the left side pylon on a 3-yard sweep for a 35-7 lead.
Fort Madison would wrap up the scoring on the Panther’s next possession. On 2nd and 12 from their own 47, Coleman would throw into the left flat on a roll, the ball would bounce off his receiver and roll around on some pads before senior Austin Ensminger ended up with the ball. He turned and raced into the Hounds’ endzone for his second pick six of the season.
“We’ve got a lot to clean up,” Doherty said. “That’s a Derek Doherty problem. “We haven’t quite figured out how to play four quarters of football. But putting up that many points and only allowing seven to a good football team says something about what we can do. And that’s what’s exciting – knowing the possibilities, but we’ve got to do it.
“We talked in the locker room about the next level of our program and what we have to do. And thinking the message was clear, we come out and struggle and it took us a bit to get it back together. But credit the kids for getting their heads back in the game.”
Williams finished with a very efficient 24 of 30 passing for 290 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. He also had 58 yards rushing on 16 carries. He hooked up with seven different receivers with Nathanial Swigert and Miles Dear each getting in on the action. Swigert had a 10 yard catch-and-run for a first down that helped the Hounds run out the clock in the final quarter.
Wiseman had 34 yards in catches, Wellman had a couple grabs for 23 yards, Kane Williams had a strong night with six catches for 65 yards and a score. McGowan led in the backfield with 37 yards on nine carries.
Tanner Settles was busy chasing Panthers around all night with 6.5 tackles, five solo. Three of those were for 14 yards behind the line including two sacks. Ensminger finished with five tackles, three solo and Landes Williams had four tackles.
The Hounds return home Friday to continue 4A District 3 play when Clinton comes to town for Homecoming. Two weeks out, Iowa City Liberty comes to Fort Madison before Fort Madison heads to Class 4A’s top-ranked North Scott. They wrap up the regular season Oct. 15 at Bracewell Stadium in Burlington.