The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 16, 2013

A Vince Peluso column: Willis and staff rewarded for trusting players and system

By VINCE PELUSO
For the Star Beacon

MENTOR — There’s something about playoff games in November that causes many football coaches to lose their minds.

Up is down, right is left.

Passing teams suddenly start running and running teams start chucking it up 50 times per game.

Everyone is trying to “outsmart” or trick the opponent, but inevitably end up outsmarting themselves, reserving a nice spot on the couch for the following week’s games.

Not Madison coach Tim Willis, though, and that is why his Blue Streaks are moving on to the Division II, Region 3 final after defeating Brecksville-Broadview Heights, 22-21.

A strong running game and impenetrable defense got Madison to this point and Willis didn’t divert from that game plan Friday night at Jerome T. Osborne Sr. Stadium in Mentor.

The Blue Streaks ran the ball 53 times for 200 yards and kept the potent Bees offense off the field with 30 minutes, 47 seconds of time of possession.

At a time when some coaches might’ve lost their identity, when Brecksville scored 41 seconds into the third quarter to take a 15-12 lead, Willis stuck to the plan.

“We knew we just had to stay with our game plan,” Willis said. “I told them at halftime there’s going to be highs and lows in these games. We got the ball right back (after Brecksville took the lead) and drove right down the field and scored.”

Keeping with the game plan is often easier said than done in those situations, particularly for a team that hadn’t trailed in a game in 18 quarters.

But, Madison kept its composure, a credit to its head coach, as Brandon Davis scored from 2 yards out with 3:53 remaining in the third to take the lead right back.

Once again, though, Brecksville and its star quarterback, Tim Tupa — son of former Ohio State and Browns punter Tom Tupa — marched right back down the field when he scored from the 6, taking a 21-19 lead with 2:18 left in the third.

Madison continued to march slowly and methodically which led to, perhaps, Willis’ best and gutsiest decision with 5:23 remaining in the game.

Facing a fourth-and-goal at the 3, Willis sent in his field-goal unit and kicker David Albert, whose first extra point of the night crashed into the left upright.

Albert rewarded his coach’s trust in him by drilling the kick and putting Madison ahead.

“You gotta believe in your kids, you know? You have to believe in them,” Willis said. “At that point in time, I think that was the best option at that point. In a clutch situation like that and a sophomore kicker like that, he put it through. Give him credit.

“God only knows what was going through his head.”

With the lead, Madison’s defense did the rest.

On the final drive of the game, the Blue Streak defense, led by Ricky Simcic, sacked Tupa four times, including Simcic’s sack on the final play as time ran out.

Going into the game, Willis talked about he and his staff watching hours of film trying to find ways to get pressure on Tupa.

Mission accomplished.

“We saw all year people didn’t put pressure on him,” he said. “And I told Coach (Mike) Gilligan our defensive coordinator, ‘let’s just go for it. We have nothing to lose. Let’s just go after this guy and he limped off the field tonight because we must have hit him 15-20 times.’ That’s what we had to do.”

On the night, Tupa rushed for just 98 yards and threw for 101.

A recipe for success that was concocted by Willis and his staff in the week leading up to Friday night.

At a time when many coaches are trying to reinvent the wheel, something Willis vowed not to do going into the game, Madison stuck with what got them this far.

And, for that reason, they will play Glenville for a Division II regional championship next Friday.

Led by a steady coach who believes in his players as much as they believe in themselves, and with a ball-control offense and swarming defense, there’s no limit to what this Blue Streaks team can do.

Peluso is a sports writer for the Star Beacon. Reach him at vpeluso@starbeacon.com.