Levi Wilson and the Madison High School defense are preparing for a potent and varied Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy attack.
Wilson’s mind-set? Game on.
“The defense does accept that challenge,” the senior inside linebacker said. “We have a very good run defense, and our secondary is very smart. All together, we’ll be able to stop a lot of stuff.”
The Mohawks (9-2) will meet CHCA (8-2) in a Division V, Region 20 football semifinal Friday night at Lakota East.
It’s especially meaningful for a guy like Wilson, who isn’t planning to play at the next level and said his class has shown “the guts and the courage and the toughness to do anything they put their minds to” through the years.
“It’s ride or die,” Wilson said. “You never know when it’s your last everything, so just leave it all out there. That’s always been my goal anyway. Just play as hard as I can, don’t take one play off and everything to the best. The sky’s the limit.”
Wilson said it’s a week of film study for him as Madison prepares to match up with an Eagles spread offense that’s generating 370.5 yards and 39.6 points per game.
CHCA senior quarterback Danny Vanatsky has completed 132 of 195 passes for 1,984 yards and 28 touchdowns.
“There’s tons of film to break down and stuff to key on, so it’ll be a good week,” Wilson said.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Wilson is a three-year starter. Mohawks coach Steve Poff said Wilson and junior Evan Crim are different kinds of leaders within the linebacking crew.
“Evan is more of the inspirational guy, the always-positive guy that says, ‘Come on, follow me, we’re going to do this thing together,’ ” Poff said. “Levi is going to say what’s on his mind and play as hard as he can and play through a lot of pain. He’s more likely to say, ‘Stop being a bunch of sissies.’ But you need both kinds of guys out there. Even though they may have conflicting styles when it comes to that, they’re a great mix together.”
Wilson said the linebackers may be unheralded, but they’re very versatile and make plays.
Looking back at last Friday’s 14-10 win over Anna, the first playoff victory in Madison history, Wilson said it was an emotional roller-coaster ride.
The Rockets scored on a 40-yard pass with 2:29 left to go up 10-7, then watched the Mohawks drive 60 yards in five plays for the winning score.
“I’ve never been so mad in my life that we let them do that. If you weren’t mad, there was something wrong with you,” Wilson said of Anna taking the late lead. “But (quarterback) Mason (Whiteman) looked at me in the end zone and said, ‘The offense will take care of it,’ and the offense came out and answered it.
“It was — how should I put this? — very inspiring to go out and win again for the community. They were behind us the whole time, whether we were winning or losing. To see a whole town behind you, it’s pretty fun.”
Even if the game was played in the Brandenburg Field swamp.
“Thank God,” Wilson said of playing on FieldTurf this week. “I like mud, but that was just a little excessive. But you can definitely take that with a win.”
An opening mistake: Madison had an early surprise for Anna, rolling out for a pass attempt on its first play from scrimmage. But don’t expect that to be the Mohawks’ first play against CHCA.
Whiteman got intercepted by Ethan Burd, and Poff took full responsibility for it.
“It’ll never, ever, ever happen again,” the Mohawks coach said of going to the air on the first play. “We were in a formation that we were 100 percent run out of, and we felt scouting-wise their defense would be heavy run. We made a decision and lived with it, but I told the team that was my fault. I killed our drive, so I’ll try not to do that anymore.”
OK with the bye: CHCA only played nine games in the regular season after taking a bye in Week 5. Eagles coach Mark Mueller said the school simply couldn’t find the right fit for the open spot in the schedule.
“A lot of teams didn’t want to play us, and the ones that did, we didn’t really want to play them,” Mueller said. “So a bye week was fine for us.”
CHCA was unbeaten in the Miami Valley Conference Scarlet Division, with Mueller admitting the MVC was down this year. That was part of the reason he wanted to frontload the schedule, and he said his team learned a lot in the first three weeks against Fenwick (a 35-27 loss), Indian Hill (a 21-14 win) and Wyoming (a 28-14 loss).
“We were up 21-0 against Fenwick … that was the first regular-season game we had lost in a couple years,” Mueller said. “Against Wyoming, we had four turnovers. Since then, I think we’ve been plus-12 in the turnover battle.”
Mueller is in his second year at the Eagles helm and was the head coach at New Albany for eight seasons, going 69-24. The 1989 Finneytown graduate was an all-state linebacker for the Wildcats.
What: Division V, Region 20 semifinal, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (8-2) vs. Madison (9-2) at Lakota East, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Hawks Nest, 6840 Lakota Lane, Liberty Township
CHCA playoff history: 15-12 in 13 appearances (2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017)
Madison playoff history: 1-0 in one appearance (2017)
Next: Winner plays West Jefferson (11-0) or Reading (8-3) in the regional final Nov. 17 at a neutral site