Tim Willis and Frank Hall are a couple of old-school football guys, who know better than to concentrate on nothing but the task at hand.
So as Willis’ Blue Streaks come calling to Lakeside Stadium tonight to take on Hall’s Dragons, while much is on the line, both men are looking no further than tonight in the 12th rendition of a series Madison has dominated, 9-2. Lakeside’s only wins in the series came in the first matchup in 2002 in Madison, 28-24, and the most recent Dragon victory in this series was a 12-9 triumph at their former home, Guarnieri Field, in 2005 — when the seniors on both sides tonight were in the fourth grade.
Madison (6-2, 4-1) needs a win to set up the possibility of playing for a Premier Athletic Conference championship next week against visiting Riverside, not to mention push its way through the door to the playoffs.
Winning out would give Willis’ guys an excellent opportunity to reach the (Division III, Region 3) playoffs for the second time in three years.
But Willis, the dean of area coaches in his 14th season at the helm of the Blue Streaks, has been around too long to even think about looking past the improving Dragons, whose three wins this season have surpassed Lakeside’s win total for the previous three years combined.
“Lakeside is a much better football team than a year ago,” he said. “They have some offensive threats who can score on any play and they play sound, physical defense.
“We must stay focused this week and continue to get better.”
Meanwhile, while Hall and his staff are in the arduous process of rebuilding the Lakeside program back to respectability, he is all too familiar with the tradition — and the excellence of the 2013 team — Madison will bring to Saybrook Township tonight to take on his Dragons (3-5, 1-4).
“This is another tough Madison team that just lines up and comes right at you,” he said. “Coach Willis does a great job with his team every year coaching his kids to play Madison football... something I hope to build here to have an identity like that.
“Which is to play tough, hard-nosed football, no matter the scheme, offensively or defensively.”
Willis knows what to expect from Lakeside tonight.
“They run multiple formations on offense and a 4-4 defense,” he said. “We must be aware of their entire receiving core and back, Nick Meola.”
Hall, too, is familiar with Madison.
“They run a 3-3-5 on defense and multiple looks on offense,” he said. “However, when push comes to shove, they still want to line up and run right at you.
“It is who they are... and they love it!”
The two teams were separated by 180 degrees with their Week 7 results.
Madison mauled visiting Geneva, 30-0, in a Thursday night special at Blue Streak Memorial Stadium, dominating in every facet of the contest, though Willis, as is his trademark, was to the point in the assessment of his squad.
“We played a mistake-free game — no turnovers and no penalties,” he said. “The defense shut down the running game and our offense rushed for well over 300 yards.
“We did what we had to do to win the game, and that is very important this time of year.”
Meanwhile, Lakeside took it on the chin against five-time defending PAC champion South, which came to town still wearing a big chip on its shoulder from suffering its first conference loss since 2007 at Chardon in Week 6, 14-7.
The Rebels overcame a 7-0 Lakeside lead, accounted for on a 29-yard touchdown connection from Tyler Loftus to Johnny Evans, scoring 45 unanswered points the rest of the way.
“The kids played very hard for us, came out got a couple of stops and scored an early touchdown,” Hall said. “South came right back and got a big touchdown on the kickoff to take the wind right out of us.
“However, the kids never stopped fighting. The defense played well, though the offense struggled running the ball and a couple of costly turnovers also hurt us and put our defense some tough situations.”
Hall said the well-seasoned, acclimated-to-winning South was simply the better team.
“They were clearly better, but it’s never easy to lose,” he said. “The kids’ effort was good, but we need to stop hurting ourselves so much. Fumbles (Lakeside lost 2 last week) and special-teams touchdowns given up — neither one are a mark of a good football team.
“We need to continue to work at both practicing harder and coaching harder... it’s that simple.”
The two respected coaches know what their squad must accomplish tonight to take the W.
“We can't give up any big plays, we must get balance back into the offense and win the special-teams battle,” Willis said. “Lakeside is a very dangerous team that is getting better every week.
“We must be focused and ready to play.”
“No. 1, we MUST stop the run!,” Hall said with emphasis. “ No. 2, no turnovers. And No. 3, play better on special teams.
“I once heard a coach say, ‘you lose more games than you win.’ We have to stop losing games because of turnovers and giving up special-teams touchdown before we can start winning them.
“It’s all part of the process of turning the program around.”