- Rick Cassano Staff Writer
The first playoff game in Madison High School football history proved to be the best mud bath the Mohawks have ever taken.
Forced to rally after a stunning Anna touchdown in the final three minutes, Madison rose up and found a way to win at swamp-like Brandenburg Field on Friday night.
Cameron Svarda scored on a 5-yard run with 56.4 seconds remaining and Mason Whiteman followed with a game-clinching interception as the Mohawks thrilled their large home crowd with a 14-10 victory in a Division V, Region 20 quarterfinal.
“I’ve never felt like this before in my life,” said Whiteman, a junior quarterback and cornerback. “Growing up here at Madison, we always talked about being that team, the team that (does) it. We finally did it, we got a win, and it just feels great.”
Madison outgained Anna 306-154 in yardage, yet had to overcome four turnovers in dropping the Rockets — representing the Midwest Athletic Conference — to 2-10 in playoff games.
The Mohawks (9-2) advance to a Week 12 matchup against Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, a 47-24 winner over Greeneview, next Friday night at Lakota East.
“I’m real proud of my guys for their willingness to stand in there and battle and play through some injuries,” Madison coach Steve Poff said. “It was as close to a capacity crowd as we can get … I thought it was a great atmosphere. I’m just happy for the community and the team and the students.”
Poff showed he still has some hops after Whiteman picked off Travis Meyer’s final pass with 45.9 seconds left.
“I know I jumped up and down a few times,” Poff said. “Right now, I’m overwhelmed a little bit with emotion. It’s a very surreal feeling because this is a position we’ve never been in before. I try to stay real reserved, but it’s hard to put that much work and effort into something and not be really excited for the kids.”
Anna (7-4) didn’t have a great offensive night in the muck, yet still managed to pull ahead 10-7 with 2:29 remaining when Meyer delivered a wobbly fourth-and-8 bomb to Austin Fogt, who went 40 yards for a touchdown. The Rockets had gained possession after an MHS fumble.
“We had two guys slip,” Poff said. “That’s football. Crazy things happen. One of the things we preach is just play the next play. You’re going to have ups and downs and things that are beyond your control. You’ve just got to deal with them and play the next play.”
Anna picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the TD. Fifteen costly yards were assessed on the kickoff, which the Mohawks brought back to their own 40.
“When they first scored, I kind of put my head down. I thought it was over,” admitted Svarda, a junior fullback and safety. “But when we got the ball, we started working again, and we just drove on them.”
That drive covered five plays and 60 yards. Svarda started it with a 30-yard burst, and on third-and-3 at the AHS 23, Whiteman connected with Tyler Baumgartner on an 18-yard pass. Svarda scored on the next play.
“I don’t even think Anna played that play,” Svarda said. “It just opened wide open for me.”
Madison’s winning drive included four runs and one pass. The Mohawks aren’t necessarily built for comebacks because of their run, run, run mind-set, but Poff felt confident his group could move the ball down the field quickly.
“We felt like two minutes was more than enough time, even though we don’t throw much and don’t throw it very efficiently sometimes,” Poff said. “We knew we had some tricks up our sleeves if we needed them, and it turned out that we didn’t need them. We just ran our stuff and slammed it in there.
“That was the plan all week. We’re going to be ourselves. We’re going to pound the football at you and try to attack you from different angles and put guys in conflict about what their job assignment is. Sometimes it takes us a little while to figure it out.”
The Rockets started at their own 40 after the ensuing kickoff, but Whiteman dashed their hopes soon after the first snap.
“I kind of read the wide receiver,” Whiteman said. “He was running a post route, and just through film study I know they run timing routes. I just jumped the pass.
“Right when I caught it, I went straight down, threw the ball down and went straight to the sideline, and then everybody’s coming up saying that they love me. But really it was the D-line. They just put so much pressure on that quarterback that he had to get the ball off.”
Svarda gained 99 yards on 20 carries for Madison. Baumgartner had 93 yards and a TD on 13 carries, and Evan Crim added 76 yards on 11 rushes. The hosts collected 288 yards on the ground.
“They were very physical,” Svarda said. “That was probably the hardest-hitting team we’ve played all year. I was hurting in the first half for sure.”
Meyer was 4 of 17 for 82 yards for Anna. Riley Huelskamp carried the ball 24 times for 94 yards, Robert Flynn kicked a 32-yard field goal, and Ethan Burd and Griffin Doseck had interceptions.
“We didn’t play well enough,” Rockets coach Nick Marino said quietly after the game. “We just needed to get a stop. We had been successful doing that in the second half, but we needed to get one more. It really hurts.”
Whiteman completed 1 of 4 passes and got intercepted on the Mohawks’ first play from scrimmage and the last play of the first half. Svarda was limited to 30 yards on nine carries in the opening two periods.
“It was awful,” Svarda said of the field conditions. “All you could do was fall forward. You couldn’t make a cut. If you did, you fell.”
“You couldn’t even get the snap sometimes because the ball was all muddy and the laces got mud all over them,” Whiteman said. “Details is what we repeatedly say in practice. It’s all about the details. Maybe this week we’ll throw some mud on the ball and practice like that.”
Poff said Anna deserved praise for its tenacity.
“I’ve got a ton of respect for their kids,” he said. “They hit. I think they were probably a little surprised at how we run things and how physical we were, but they certainly didn’t back down.”
A: Robert Flynn 32 field goal
M: Tyler Baumgartner 4 run (Graham Reich kick)
A: Austin Fogt 40 pass from Travis Meyer (Flynn kick)
M: Cameron Svarda 5 run (Reich kick)