The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 9, 2013

A David Negin column: Stage 1, complete!

For the Star Beacon

WILLOUGHBY — Four weeks ago, at Harry E. Winters Stadium, there was a different story than what occurred in the Division II, Region 3 quarterfinal game Friday night.

Madison lost that night, 48-24 to five-time defending Premier Athletic Conference champion South, a team that was hungry coming off its first conference loss (14-7 at Chardon) in over 51 league meetings.

Coach Matt Duffy’s Rebels stung the Blue Streaks that night, dropping Madison a game back in the league standings.

But, it was Madison that providing the sting this time.

Madison 42, South 14.

“We gave up 48 points against South the last time,” Madison coach Tim Willis said. “I think that was a moment for us. We talked about when you get knocked down, you get back up fighting. Our kids have been fighting ever since. They sort of got embarrassed on that one. We’re a much better team than that.”

It didn’t look like that a month ago. After the game that night, Willis spoke about how South’s offensive line physically handled his team’s defensive line. South junior tailback Shawn Mackey, making his first start of the season, burst on the scene and rushed for 214 yards (1 touchdown).

Madison, however, got a second chance to make amends against a team averaging over 35 points a game.

n It gave up a combined -8 yards rushing to the Rebels.

n Mackey? Just 6 yards rushing.

n It sacked South quarterback Russell Porter nine times.

n South did not have a first down the first 15 minutes of the game.

n South had 33 total yards in the first half (Madison built a 28-0 lead) and did not possess the ball in Madison territory until two minutes remained in the half.

So, what changed? According to defensive coordinator Mike Gilligan, it was a change they tried the first time against South that got them in trouble.

“Last game against South, we changed things up to try and stop their run, and that was a bad move,” Gilligan, who said they had switched to a four-man front, admitted. “We really had to play to our strengths, which is speed and quickness all across the board, our D-line especially.  We can’t muscle up these guys. We had to slant, and stem, and blitz. That’s what we went back to and its led to three shutouts in a row (Geneva, Lakeside, Riverside) and almost four.”

The Blue Streaks built a 35-0 advantage after driving 71 yards (12 running plays) on the opening possession of the second half. Senior tailback took the final play 9 yards out of the Wildcat, finishing a drive that chewed up half the clock in the third quarter.

It appeared Madison, indeed, was going to post to post another shutout until Porter found junior Reggie Kendig down the left sideline for a 67-yard score after sophomore corner Nick Law slipped on the muddy turf with 3:52 left in the quarter.

Following a Madison fumble on the next possession, Porter found Kendig again over the middle for a 44-yard pass and Dylan Caruso for a 7-yard touchdown strike two plays later, cutting the lead to 35-14.

After stopping the Blue Streaks on the next drive, South drove to the Madison 32-yard line before senior Jared Yoe made a diving interception of a Porter’s pass to stop any further damage.

“We have so many guys who contribute, it is hard to single any of them out, but our defense starts with Nick Law,” Gilligan, who said Madison’s offense (over 30 minutes in time of possession) was its best defense, said. “He’s our corner guy. He allows us to play a lot of the coverages we play.  Tonight he got beat a couple times, but we were not going to get him off that island. We call it Law Island. Most teams are afraid to go that way, and they were afraid to go that way in the first half.”

Senior Drew Schiemann, who had four sacks, said it was the confidence the coaches showed in the team that made the difference.

“We tried to run that four down lineman,” he said. “It didn’t work last game, so Coach Willis said, ‘you know what? We are going to run our defense because that is what we run best.’ Sure enough, the points show, yards show, and our lineman and defensive backs came ready to play.”

And, now Madison (9-2) has a chance to make school history next week against Brecksville-Broadview Heights as no other team in school history has won two playoffs games in a season.

“These are great students, they are great kids, and I love being around these guys,” Willis said. “It is fun to coach these kids. They are good kids. I’m glad to get another week with them, actually.

“They want to make history. They want to be the first team to win two.”

Negin is a freelance writer from Madison.