By VINCE PELUSO
For the past four weeks, since falling to South, 48-24, in Week 6, the Madison Blue Streaks haven’t just been good — they’ve been dominant.
Madison returned to South on Friday in a Division II, Region 3 quarterfinal and dismantled the Rebels, walking away with a 42-14 victory.
It was actually the first points the Blue Streaks’ defense had given up since that Week 6 defeat. Over their past four games, the Blue Streaks (9-2) have outscored their opponents, 137-14, and are now set to tangle with Brecksville-Broadview Heights (10-1) in a Division II, Region 3 semifinal at Mentor on Friday.
“Obviously I felt real good about how we played, we played very well in all three phases of the game,” Madison coach Tim Willis said. “Really the only negative we had was a fumble. Other than that, I thought we played sound football. I thought our guys were more physical than their guys.”
The list of teams that can say they went into South and pushed the Rebels around in recent history is a short one, but Willis’ group has a legitimate claim to that.
The Blue Streaks held the Rebels to negative-8 yards rushing and dominated the game, racing out to a 35-0 lead.
“I think we did real well the first couple of series against their run by just simply running our defense and then once we got ahead, they had to get out of their gameplan,” Willis said. “I don’t think they ran once in the second half. I think they just thought they had to throw the ball on every down, that’s probably not my philosophy but that’s what they did.
“We controlled the ball and our offensive line really stepped up. Both our running backs Brandon Davis and Connor Nikses were running hard. We did a lot of little things, and we have done a lot of little things correct over the past few weeks, so hopefully that continues this week.”
Madison will need to continue that pattern if it hopes to continue its playoff run and get past the powerful Bees.
Brecksville dispatched Riverside, 53-35, led by the Tupa brothers.
Senior quarterback Tim racked up 419 yards of total offense, including five touchdowns (four rushing), while his brother Tyler, a sophomore receiver, caught five passes for 93 yards and a score.
Willis said there’s little secret who his defense needs to stop Friday to be successful.
“The Tupa brothers probably account for about 70 percent of their offense,” he said. “They’re very, very good athletes. They make their team run. We need to find ways to slow those guys down a little bit.”
Over its four-game winning streak, Madison’s most effective recipe for slowing the opposing offense down is dominating the time possession and keeping the other team’s offense off the field.
“I think the best way, and our way, of slowing down people is by getting 10-12 play drives on offense,” he said. “We gotta keep those guys off the field, that seems like a very successful formula for us. Our offense has been our best defense. We need to keep them off the field and then make plays defensively. We don’t want it to turn into a track meet with those guys.
“We’ll try to slow things down and play physical.”
One thing Madison did surprisingly well against South was throw the ball.
Quarterback Austin Burkholder was a perfect 6-6 passing for 130 yards and three touchdowns.
Willis said much of that was a byproduct of the Blue Streaks’ success in the run game.
“When you run the ball like we do, sometimes that happens,” he said. “Teams fall asleep on the passing game and we catch them off guard. They’re too concerned stopping No. 5 (Davis) and No. 24 (Nikses) and we end up with big plays.
“We have two good receivers in Braden Jerome and Aaron Petrucelli so teams can’t just ignore them. It’s a good situation for us.”
Still, slowing down the Tupas is the top priority for Willis.
Tim Tupa’s athleticism is what makes him such a threat as a quarterback.
“Well No. 1, he’s is a very good athlete, he’s a good quarterback, but also a good runner and what that does is it gives them an extra blocker when he runs,” Willis said. “He just makes plays and he’s very athletic. He’s a senior who’s been playing since he’s a sophomore. He’s probably the best quarterback we’ve faced this year.
“He throws to his brother a lot so we need to know where they’re at. We’re going to try to put a little more pressure on them than what Riverside and others did and we’re just kind of figuring out different ways to do that.”
In trying to figure out different ways to do that, Willis and his staff have left no stone unturned.
He estimated the Blue Streaks’ staff has watched up to 30 hours of film on the Bees, who gave up a season-high 35 points to Riverside, to try and find a formula for success.
“I think teams have been able to run on them a little bit so hopefully that’ll be what we’re able to do,” he said. “When you play a different team, you’ve got a lot of different wrinkles they’ve never seen. What you don’t want to do is reinvent wheel, that’s not what got us here. Fundamentals and base football is what got us here. Good special teams, and obviously great defense have us here.
“We keep the plan and take it one week at a time. They’re a very good team, they have a very good running back (Carlo Milano, 121 yards rushing against Riverside). It’s not only their quarterback, they have good running back and run a lot of zone read option effectively.”
Willis said he and his team know why they’re in this position and doesn’t expect to do much differently against the Bees.
“We know what’s worked for us, we’re just gonna obviously stay the course,” he said. “Again, we’re not gonna try to reinvent the wheel. We’ll run the same plays we’ve ran and hopefully we’ll run them better. Every team is good at this point in time, there’s little things you can exploit, matchups and personnel, my coaches and I are trying to find the little things. There’s a lot of time and effort that we put it in.”
Willis expects a tight game, regardless of the outcome.
“When I watch the film, that’s what I see,” he said. “They don’t make a whole lot of mistakes. You never know what’s going to happen. Hopefully in the end, the Blue Streaks win by at least one point. That’d be nice. It’s been great for the community. We have a great following and it’s great that it’s at Mentor so our people can travel.”
While it’s been well known Madison is playing for injured teammate Ben Bruening, the Blue Streaks are also playing this week to become the first team in school history to win two playoff games.
With both of those factors at play, Willis said his team, which practiced indoors at Spire on Tuesday due to the snow, is focused and motivated.
“It’s obviously a combination (of motivation to win and play for Bruening) so you see a kid like Ben, to put in a little work at practice seems like an easy task compared to what he’s going through,” he said. “He’s such a respected kid and they want to do it for him. Every week we’ve given him the game ball and that helps him get through another week of therapy. I think they have a little more focus because of that.
“We’ve also talked about it (being the first team in school history to win two playoff games). We talk about the seniors and what legacy they’re going to leave here. If they win, they’re the best team to every play here as far as I’m concerned, no other team will have made it that far. Playing to be the best team ever at Madison is something to work for I would think.”
If the Blue Streaks are to advance, Willis believes it will be due to their preparation and a little luck.
“Well I think No. 1 our preparation, not only of our coaches but players, getting themselves ready to play, knowing the other team very well is very important to winning,” he said. “It’s all about preparation at this time of year. Then, you need a little luck to keep obviously. Finally, you need obviously good players and I think we have lot of good players.”