By DAVID NEGIN
For the Star Beacon
Madison coach Tim Willis could point to many reasons why his Blue Streaks fell to South, 48-24, at Harry E. Winters Stadium on Friday night.
But the veteran coach knows where the game mattered most in his team’s important Premier Athletic Conference showdown against the five-time defending champions.
“The problem was we came out in the first half, and they just manhandled our front seven,” Willis said after seeing his team fall out of a first-place tie with Riverside (a 40-35 winner against University School).
And, the statistics pointed toward that fact. South amassed 194 yards on the ground in the first half and scored on four of the first five times it had the ball.
There were several other things that Madison could point to, however.
First and foremost, the Blue Streaks could point to the six times they turned the ball over (4 interceptions, 2 fumbles), including five of the first six times they had the ball in the second half. South scored 21 points off those miscues.
“You’re not gonna win games with four straight possessions of turnovers, especially when you are behind,” Willis lamented.
“First, it is tough to get turnovers,” South coach Matt Duffy said. “To get them and turn them into points immediately or pretty quickly gives you momentum.”
The Blue Streaks could also point to the fact South was coming off its first PAC loss (14-7 against Chardon) in more than four years (31 consecutive games). Duffy’s Rebels had a focus that the coach hadn’t seen in a while.
“Credit goes to them,” Willis said. “I am sure they were a little uptight from last week and they took it out on us. “
“It is never good to lose,” Duffy said. “Whoever tells you that it is, is lying. But, it was how we responded to the loss that was so important. Our kids decided they didn’t like the way it tasted. Sometimes you grow up more after a loss than a win. I’m proud of how the kids responded.”
And, Madison could certainly point to the fact that no one outside of Willoughby knew who junior back Shawn Mackey was. With starting tailback D.J. Greene (619 yards, 11 touchdowns) sitting out for a second straight week, Duffy and his coaching staff turned to Mackey, a linebacker who came into the game with just 5 yards rushing on the season.
Mackey accumulated 215 yards rushing (24 carries) and had a touchdown. More importantly, he chewed up big yards, which opened the passing game in the second half. Senior quarterback Russell Porter was the beneficiary, passing for 138 yards (6 of 12) and three touchdowns (43, 17, and 48-yards) in the second half. He also gave South a 14-7 lead on a quarterback dive play from the 1-yard line when Duffy decided to go for a touchdown on a fourth-and-goal at the beginning of the second quarter.
“We’ve known all along that Mac is a good back,” Duffy said. “We saw it every Saturday last year (on the JV team).”
South wasted little time in striking first.
On the opening play of the game, receiver Dylan Caruso took a lateral from quarterback Russell Porter and found junior Matt Wyatt all alone for a 75 yard gain to the 1-yard line. Junior Shawn Mackey ran it in two plays later to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead.
“That was something that is one of our base plays that we run,” Duffy said. “Madison is an ultra aggressive team. We were just hoping the first play of the game, there is a lot of emotion. They are as ready to play football as much as anybody. We thought we could try to take advantage of it a little bit and it worked out for us.”
Madison countered with a 7-play, 71 yard drive, capped by tailback Brandon Davis (who had 54 of those yards) 2-yard run, knotting the score at 7.
After the Rebels (6-1, 3-1) took a 14-7 lead, a 32-yard field goal by Madison’s David Albert cut it to 14-10.
It was the last Madison would score until the fourth quarter.
Despite the loss, Madison (5-2, 3-1) still has many of its goals still in reach. With Riverside’s win, the Beavers hold a one game lead in PAC play, but still have to face many of the other top contenders.
“We can’t dwell on that (the loss),” Willis said. “We need to move on. That’s our first loss in the league, just like they have one, and Chardon has one. We just have to move forward. We have a tough game against Geneva next week. That’s all we can worry about right now.”
Negin is a freelance writer from Madison Township.