BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison Coach Derek Doherty has been saying all year, the team across the football field from the Hounds is a big test.
But even he would say so far this year, Iowa City Liberty brings in the biggest test of the season, their 1-5 record notwithstanding.
“They’ve faced the who’s who, so when they come to Fort Madison, they won’t be scared,” Doherty said Thursday during the Pen City Pregame.
“They’ve been in the lion’s den. We’ve got to play fast, physical Fort Madison football for four quarters from whistle to whistle.”
The Lightning’s sole win was a 56-0 shutout of Mt. Pleasant last week. Outside of that, they are 0-4 in non-district action. Iowa City High gave the Lightning a 41-0 beatdown in week 1, but since that time Coach James Harris, who coached at Washington last year and has had Fort Madison’s number for quite a few years, has had Liberty in just about every contest.
The Lightning lost 25-15 to Linn-Mar and 21-10 to Western Dubuque. They then lost by a point to 5-1 Clear Creek-Amana 31-30 before falling 21-0 to top-rated North Scott. The Lancers scored all 21 points in the second quarter of that game. Liberty held them scoreless for three quarters.
Darius Willis-Newell is the featured back for the Lightning, churning out more than 600 yards on the ground against some of the toughest defenses in the state in 4A play. Junior Ty Hughes calls the shots for Liberty. He’s the second leading rusher on the team and has thrown for six touchdowns. He does have a tendency to throw into coverage with four interceptions on the year.
Junior Christian Barney can wreak havoc on the defensive side. Barney plays in the secondary but comes up in stunt packages. He’s recorded 4.5 tackles for losses. Senior Griffin Kraft leads Liberty with 31 tackles on the year.
Fort Madison will rely on a group of seniors on Senior Night to carry the load. The offense will certainly be looking to pick up where they left off against Clinton last week.
Senior tailback Jakob McGowan had a breakout week going for 196 yards and a touchdown. Landes Williams rushed for another 41 yards and threw for four touchdowns giving him 22 total scores on the year.
Doherty said last Friday’s win was one of growth for the Bloodhounds.
“The word that comes to mind when I think back to last week is growth. I mean that schematically, mentally, and physically. Jakob was making some great reads and cuts – Teague Smith was carrying guys…,” Doherty said.
“Clinton brought it. They had some things they did very well and we knew they were going to do those things and we would have to nullify that – and they still scored. But I sometimes think the old Fort Madison would have been “Oh No”, but these guys were ready to get back out there and get after it.”
If Doherty had known McGowan was just four yards short of 200 he would probably have given him a few more carries, but he said they used it as motivation with the senior to get everything he can out of every carry.
He also pointed to the maturity of players like Landes Williams and Abram Lorence who bring suggestions to the sidelines on what is happening on the field.
The Bloodhounds are ranked anywhere from 4th to 6th in Class 4A football polls and, being one of the smaller 4A schools in the state, has Fort Madison in one of its loftiest positions in more than five decades. But Doherty said it isn’t just the record, but the tradition of the program and its future that excites him.
“This isn’t all about wins and losses. Most of our seniors can name the kids who were playing when they were young kids. Can they tell you what the record was back then, probably not, but they can tell you who played and they’re doing that now and that excites me,” the third-year coach said.
He said the difference in Friday’s game will be which team can execute consistently and respond to adversity.
“Do your job. That’s really as simple as it is. We game plan and we feel like we have another good game plan, but we have to execute it. They will execute, as well, and that’s the game,” Doherty said.
With last week’s Homecoming game played in front a standing room only crowd at Richmond Stadium, Doherty said it’s not lost on him or the Hounds the impact the 12th man has on the game.
“It’s huge. These kids know and can feel that crowd behind them and it can have an impact at critical points in the game,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s their job to go play football. Are they excited about the crowd? Sure, but they know the crowd doesn’t win football games.”
Kick off at Richmond Field is set for 7:30 p.m.