No. 7 Hounds throwing records out the window for Homecoming
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison Head Coach Derek Doherty has been around Bloodhound football since he was about five years old. He never envisioned a time where he thought Fort Madison would be playing Clinton in district play.
But the River Kings come to town Friday for the Hounds homecoming and despite their 1-4 record Clinton has, like all other teams Fort Madison has run into lately, shown steady improvement.
Burlington handed Clinton a 55-13 loss on Friday, but in a rain heavy atmosphere that was more conducive to a running game, where the Grayhounds have excelled.
Aside from that loss and a week one 14-0 shutout, the River Kings are putting up about 25 points a game, a stat that isn’t lost on Doherty.
“This feels real familiar to us. They can take the top off and they do some inside run stuff with their quarterback and they have running backs that can get down hill,” Doherty said. “This will be another big test for us, especially our secondary.”
The River Kings #12 Jai Jenson has been running that offense since he was a sophomore and has seen the down side of things. Clinton won it’s first game since Sept. 2018 this year when they shut out Maquoketa 28-0 in week two.
“Jai is toward the top of the state in passing. They are putting up points and it will be intriguing for our secondary. Washington exposed us a few times, and was that because they were run, run, run, and dagger or what? But I believe in our guys. Clinton is going to catch balls and make plays and we’ve gotta do the same,” Doherty said.
Jenson spreads the ball around the offense almost as well as Hounds’ QB Landes Williams. Clinton’s senior has hooked up with seven different receivers on the year, four of whom have scored touchdowns and two, Zach Connell and Addison Binnie have more than 300 yard a piece. Connell’s averaging 31 yards a catch.
“Defensively, we’ve got to limit their big plays. We feel like we’ve got another great game plan, but can we execute it. That will be the question. It will be another big test and we’ve studied and we’re ready.”
Jensen, a big QB at 6’3″ and about 200 lbs., also leads Clinton in rushing with 204 yards and a couple scores. Tavian Bailey is next at 130 yards on the year.
The Hounds have been celebrating Homecoming Week and despite the distractions of the week, Doherty said his squad understands the priorities that are in place.
“We just hope is stays fun for them and doesn’t get outside of that and become funny. We talked about that in our meetings Monday that there’s a difference between fun and funny, and this is a fun group,” he said.
The Bloodhounds enter this week ranked No. 7 in Class 4A. North Scott is the top team in the state in 4A and looms three weeks out on the road for the Bloodhounds in district play. Burlington has moved up in rankings as well and sits at 12th in Class 4A, putting three of the six teams in the district in the top 12 in the state.
Doherty, who’s traditionally as loquacious as anyone on football, keeps rankings conversation to a minimum.
“I think the kids are aware of that before the coaches even know. Social media in the world is wild and they definitely know. We just try to get a head of it,” Doherty said.
“At the end of the day its people’s opinion and it doesn’t win you football games. Clinton does not care. They’re not going to hand us anything because someone says we fit 7th on their list. I’ve dealt with this in the wrestling world. But rankings never won anyone a wrestling match.
“We’re the one’s here building in the dark and we know what we’re doing – and that outside perception isn’t based on that.”
Doherty said the word he used to describe Clinton is dangerous.
“We used that very word in meetings this week, ‘dangerous’. This team is very dynamic offensively and defensively.”
But the Hounds have a little dynamic working on their side of the ball as well. Williams has 1,100 yards passing and 10 touchdowns. Four of those have been to Kane Williams and four to Tate Johnson. Gavin Wiseman has a couple scores and some physical possession catches that have sustained drives.
Landes Williams also has 339 yards and seven scores on the ground.
Defensively, senior Austin Ensminger is fifth in the state in interception return yardage with 109 yards and that excludes a 30-yard pick six that was nullified by a penalty earlier this year. As it stands the senior has three picks for a couple touchdowns. Ensminger also leads the Hounds in tackles with 32, including four sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
“His body of work is phenomenal. He doesn’t miss weights. He does extras outside of the season doing other sports, and he understands wrestling makes him a better football player. We’re so proud of him and everything he does,” Doherty said,
“The kids follow him and I don’t know that he fully understands the influence he has. Stats show it, but I’m talking about how he brings the ‘whole’ up.
The Hounds are giving up an average of just 8 points per contest and have two shutouts on the year. They haven’t allowed 100 yards rushing since week 1 and are giving up just 74 yards per game on the ground. The dawgs have given up 667 yards total through the air and have five interceptions.
But Fort Madison’s defensive front has been chasing quarterbacks all season. The Hounds are ninth in the state in all classes with 50 tackles for loss. They also have 21 sacks, which is 11 above the next closest in Class 4A district 3 and 2nd best in the state in 11-man play. Class A Lake Mills has 22 sacks on the year.
Doherty said you can stack the stats all day, but when he took over three years ago it was with a purpose and that was to build a sustainable program.
“We took this program over with a purpose. When I was trying to decide if I was going to apply or not, I reached out to Justin Menke and Jason Crooks and said if I’m going to do this, I need you guys with me,” Doherty said.
“We took it over and we knew what we wanted to do with it. As far as those successes, it starts with our athletic enhancement program. Ninety percent of our players are in that program – and have been. We understand we’re going to have to climb the rough side of the mountain and it will never be easy. That’s just the culture here. Once you accept that, it’s kind of freeing. Then it’s all about development.”
Game time at Richmond Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m.