It is 4:30 p.m. and I am just walking out of varsity basketball practice at Madison High School.
The gym was again, as it has been the last two weeks since practice has officially begun, a bit light on our number of players.
With the football team finishing their team dinner and getting set to leave for Mentor High School and take on Brecksville-Broadview Heights in the second round of the Division II, Region 3 playoffs, many of our projected players and their other teammates are still on the gridiron gearing up to make Madison history.
A win and the Blue Streaks will be the first team in school history to win two playoff games.
This is where I pick up the story:
4:34 p.m. — I run into senior defensive end Drew Schiemann in the hallway outside the athletic office. “I’m pretty confident, just like last game,” he said. “It’s all for history.”
4:38 p.m. — Heading toward the basketball coaches’ office, I run into quarterback Austin Burkholder. “I know our offense and defense are ready,” he said. “We have to smack-em in the mouth. They are fast, but we have some speed too.”
4:40 p.m. — I walk outside to a group of parents, students and other fans lined up by the busses with signs, many of them of the lighted up variety.
“This is the playoffs. We need to do something special for them,” said Tami Burkholder, Austin and (left-tackle Brandon) Burkholder’s mom.
4:45 p.m. — I get into my car and head to Longo’s Pizza in Mentor to join a pregame party of Madison fans.
5:14 p.m. — I arrive at Longo’s and there is hardly a parking spot to be found in the plaza. I park in the grass and head in to see around 80 fans already there.
5:25 p.m. — I run into Larry Sutyak, who has followed Madison football for 45 years and has operated the chains for 35 of them.
“It is special when you have had a son play and a grandson (Kurt Smith), who is a captain now,” he said. “One of the greatest seasons ever. I think the offensive and defensive coordinators (Mike Martin and Mike Gilligan, respectively) have done a great job. It has been one of the best jobs of coaching l’ve seen here.”
5:30 p.m. — From Barry Martin, Mike’s father, who started the Gridiron Club in 1999. “We have a chance to set a school record if we win this game tonight. I feel real confident the way they are playing right now.”
5:50 p.m. — I come across Melissa Willis, the wife of Madison head coach Tim Willis, taking pictures all around the room. “I’m excited,” she said. “It has been a long week. I can’t wait to get the game under way.
“Tim keeps saying how much fun this season has been. He loves these boys; loves going to practice. He’s just not ready for this season to end.”
Are you nervous Mrs. Willis?
“I am,” she admitted. “I’m the pacer on the sidelines. I can’t sit still.”
6:07 p.m. — I am introduced to Glen Potter, a linebacker on the 1981 Madison squad who went on to play at West Virginia University. Potter, who now lives in Shaker Heights, has come back to see his alma mater for the second straight week.
He particularly likes the way Madison standout tailback Brandon Davis plays.
“Davis is the kind of runner of how I used to play,” he praised. “He likes to run through people as opposed to dance around them.”
6:15 p.m. — I head to my car and toward Mentor High School. I run into a long line of cars along Rt. 615 outside of the school. A big crowd, I know awaits.
7:06 p.m. — Coin toss. Madison captains Kurt Smith, Jared Yoe, Davis, and Bo Ransom head to midfield. Brecksville wins the toss, but defers to the second half. At the time, the wind does not appear to be a major factor.
7:11 p.m. — Madison finishes warming up. The crowd is funneling in. The Madison (visiting) side is really getting packed. Madison Athletic Director John Dragas informs me they sold over 600 presale tickets, including bringing two spirit busses of students (approximately 80 kids).
7:15 p.m. — The Madison band is warming up. Drum major Hannah Green turns to me and says, “I’m excited. It’s going to be good.”
7:26 p.m — Steaks run out on the field. Visitor side is now filled as band plays the fight song, to the same music as The University of Wisconsin’s fight song.
7:27 p.m — Brecksville takes the field. Wouldn’t you know it, but they have the same fight song.
7:30 p.m. — Brecksville standout Tim Tupa, the son of former Ohio State and NFL player Tom Tupa, kicks off. Madison is going toward the south end zone, going against a slight wind. Junior Jarred Lasko returns it over 30 yards. His dad Tommy, one of the many dads on the sidelines, yells, “yeah, that’s my boy!”
7:34 p.m. — Junior Ricky Simcic puts a hard hit on Brecksville tailback Carlo Milano. Simcic’s helmet flies off. Lots of “oohs!” and “ahs!” from the crowd.
7:35 p.m. — Tupa is sacked forcing Bees to punt. Madison knows they have to stop this kid. The crowd goes bonkers.
7:38 p.m. — Davis races for a first down. Madison is really starting to open holes. Former Madison star Nic Dilillo, who played at Ohio State also, emphatically motions first down from the sideline.
7:40 p.m. — Austin Burkholder’s throwback pass to a wide open Davis goes off fingertips. Willis puts his head down momentarily, but then rises up and then claps and shouts out words of encouragement.
7:42 p.m. — Fourth and 3 inside the 10-yard line, Davis redeems himself. Working out of the Wildcat, Davis takes the snap, takes a step forward, then finds tight end Jack Holl wide open in the middle of the defense for a touchdown. The sideline erupts, but moans after Dave Albert’s extra point bounces off the left upright. Madison takes the early lead, 6-0, with 3:27 left in the first quarter.
7:49 p.m — End of first quarter. Madison, 6-0.
7:53 p.m. — Madison driving. On a fourth and 2, Willis elects to go for it. Burkholder’s pass draws an interference. On the next play, junior Connor Nikses barrels his way in the end zone. Madison tries for the two-point conversion, but Davis’ run failed.
7:59 p.m. — Tupa sacked for the 4th time by Nikses. Forced another punt.
8:02 p.m. — I run into Melissa Willis on the indeed pacing on the sideline. “I’m feeling good, feeling good. We just have to keep them off the field.”
8:07 p.m. — Cornerback Nick Law, who had the tough assignment of covering Tupa’s younger son, Tyler, lays a big hit on screen pass, much to delight of Willis, which forces another punt. Under 5 minutes until half.
8:09 p.m. — Austin Burkholder pass intercepted over middle. Bees ball at midfield. This is their best field position so far.
8:15 p.m. — Tim Tupa eludes the rush and races 16 yards for touchdown. This kid is fast.
8:17 p.m. — Madison blocks the extra point, but it is picked up and it turns into a 2-point conversion.
8:18 p.m. — Madison junior Aaron Petruccelli awakens crowd with a long kick return. First down at Brecksville 19.
8:23 p.m. — Penalties halt a drive. Madison heads into half leading,12-8.
8:48 p.m. — Brecksville gets the second half kickoff and gets a long return. Tupa finds his brother on a pass to the Madison 1.
8:50 p.m. — Tim Tupa 1-yard run around left end to take the lead less than a minute in the half. They convert the extra point, giving the Bees their first lead of the game, 15-12.
8:55 p.m. — Madison students cheering, poking fun at the Brecksville-Broadview Heights colors, “Bees aren’t red, bees aren’t red.”
8:58 p.m. — Madison gets back to running the football. On a 4th and 2 from the Brecksville 21, Brandon Davis rumbles for first down to the 15-yard line.
9 p.m. — Davis runs around left end and fumbled the ball going out of bounds right by me. “That was close!” he joked going past.
9:04 p.m. — Davis, out of a timeouts, takes the snap out of the Wildcat around right end for a touchdown. Albert converts the extra point. Madison back on top, 19-15
9:10 p.m. — Brecksville wastes little time in answering. Tupa reverses field and avoids a tackler for 6-yard touchdown. Willis yells out, “block that kick!” Sure enough, the extra point is wide left. A huge play for later in the game. There is a sigh of relief from the stands.
Brecksville, 21-19. Just more than 2 minutes remaining in the third.
9:13 p.m — Madison students cheer, “Win for 8, win for 8.”, in reference to injured player Ben Bruening, who again was in attendance with his halo on. Burkholder responds, hitting Braden Jerome over the middle for a first down and Davis rushes for a first down the next play.
9:15 p.m. — End of third quarter. Madison crowd stands on its feet, urging the Streaks along.
9:18 p.m. — Madison superintendent Dr. Roger Goudy, who also paced the sideline the entire game — “It’s been a great season for these kids and coaches,” he said. “What a ride. They’ve worked hard to get where they are at. One more quarter, let’s finish this.”
9:21 p.m — Nikses barrels for a first down, making it by inches on the measurement. 9:05 remaining
9:23 p.m. — There are many elementary-aged ballboys on the sidelines, all holding footballs. Danny Alley, a 10-year-old youth football player, was one of them. “It’s awesome. I want to be out there, someday,” he said.
9:25 p.m. — Burkholder hits Holl on a pass to the 2-yard line. The Streaks get stuffed and forced to kick a field goal.
9:27 p.m. — Albert converts the 20-yard field goal, giving Madison a 22-21 lead with 5:23 left.
9:31 p.m. — 4:06 remaining, Brecksville driving to the Madison 40. Madison sacks Tupa for the sixth time, forcing a Brecksville time out.
9:32 p.m. — Sack No. 7 by Yoe and Simcic.
9:33 p.m. — Facing a fourth and 18, the Bees are going for it. Madison calls time. Crowd goes wild.
9:35 p.m. — Everyone on their feet, Tupa’s pass incomplete. 4:13 left.
9:38 p.m. — Facing third and 11, Madison calls time. 2:25 left.
9:40 p.m. — Madison forced to punt after an intentional grounding. The Bees take over on their their 33.
9:41 p.m. — Simcic sack...1:58 to go.
9:42 p.m — Another sack forces Brecksville’s last time out... 1:18 left.
9:44 p.m. — Facing fourth and 20 at midfield, Tupa completes a 21-yard first-down pass to his younger brother with 37 seconds left.
9:45 p.m — Madison gets another sack… its 10th. Brecksville gets a break as a helmet comes off on the hit, stopping the clock with a dozen ticks remaining, the ball on the 33.
9:46 p.m. — Schiemann chases Tupa down and notches Madison’s 11th sack of the game. Time runs out.
Madison wins, 22-21. Crowd goes wild, coaches hugging, former players on the field giving hugs and high fives, Bruening comes over and joins his teammates in the huddle.
9:50 p.m — “I told a reporter this week we only had to win by 1,” Willis told his team. “I’m so proud of you guys!”
9:51 p.m. — Players join the band for the alma mater.
9:55 p.m. — Talking to Simcic, who had to fill in at Bruening’s fullback position.
“I play for him (Ben) every day,” he said. “Coming in as a backup, I know I have a lot of shoes to fill. I just had to step up.
“This atmosphere is crazy,” he added. “High school is awesome. Everyone is talking about how they would want to go back to high school and relive it. To make history, is awesome. We will have a lot to talk about.”
Like a berth to the Elite 8 next week, Mr. Simcic.
Coach Willis, keep up the good work.
You get to do this again next week.
Negin is a freelance writer from Madison.
It is 4:30 p.m. and I am just walking out of varsity basketball practice at Madison High School.
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Pymatuning Valley 29
at Cuyahoga Falls
THURSDAY, MARCH 6
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