Friday night will be memorable one way or the other for Madison High School’s football team.
Good memories, of course, are preferred.
The Mohawks (8-2) will participate in their first-ever playoff game when Anna (7-3) comes to Brandenburg Field for a Division V, Region 20 quarterfinal.
“They’re going to come in here and have their hands full. That’s what I think,” fourth-year Madison coach Steve Poff said. “We’re going to give them our best punch. We’re not doing anything different this week than we’ve done in other weeks. There’s just a lot more people talking about it.”
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While the Mohawks are making their first postseason appearance, Anna is headed to the playoffs for the 10th time since the program was born in 1999.
The Rockets, though, are just 2-9 in playoff games and haven’t qualified since 2010, so their current players have as much postseason experience as Madison has.
“It’s definitely cool for the kids, from the seniors all the way through the junior high, to see the varsity team have some success,” third-year Anna coach Nick Marino said. “I think it’s a big opportunity for our kids to come out and see where we measure up.”
Marino’s crew finished tied for third place with Fort Recovery behind champion Marion Local and Coldwater in the Midwest Athletic Conference, arguably the best small-school league in Ohio.
The Rockets have lost their last two games and three of their last five, all in the MAC.
“That’s one thing about playing in the MAC. You’re tested every single week, so it does help prepare you to be a good football team if you’re able to get in the playoffs,” Marino said. “I hope the experience of playing through what we have makes a difference in the playoffs.”
Poff respects the MAC, but said he isn’t conceding anything with his Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division champions.
“It’s hard to gauge one team by a conference,” Poff said. “They’re a good team. I’m not trying to take it away from them. But they’ve had some ups and downs. We’re not really thinking about what conference they play in. We’re just looking at an opponent Friday night and moving forward with it.”
Madison plans to do what it always does — run the football. The Mohawks are averaging 365.5 yards per game on the ground and have attempted 40 passes (completing 18) all year.
Anna is a bit more balanced with its spread offense.
Senior quarterback Travis Meyer has converted 69 of 118 passes for 1,121 yards and eight touchdowns with two picks. He’s got two outstanding runners with him in the backfield, sophomore Riley Huelskamp (113 carries, 934 yards, 13 TDs) and senior Aidan Endsley (135 carries, 853 yards, eight TDs).
The top receivers — seniors Caleb Kauffman (36 catches, 554 yards, four TDs) and Austin Fogt (34 catches, 552 yards, five TDs — have almost identical statistics.
“We spread the ball around pretty well,” said Marino, a former head coach at Urbana and just the second head man in Rockets history. “We have a good offensive line, and our run game’s been pretty good because of that. We’re not huge on the line, but I wouldn’t say we’re small. We’ve just got nice, sturdy kids that have been in the weight room and gotten stronger.”
Poff said he’s impressed with how mobile Anna’s O-line is.
“For as big as they are, they move around,” Poff said. “My linemen move around a lot more than most, and theirs runs around really well.”
The Rockets’ 4-3 defense is keyed by senior linebacker Ethan Burd (5-11, 230), who has 97 total tackles, and sophomore tackle Wil Luthman (6-1, 235).
Marino knows his defensive front will be tested by the Mohawks’ ground attack, which is led by junior fullback Cameron Svarda (152 carries, 1,437 yards, 20 TDs). The AHS coach praised Madison junior guard Caleb Bolen (6-2, 250).
“I think we’re decent against the run, but we’ve got to match their physicality,” Marino said. “They’ve run the ball well against everybody they’ve played.”
Both teams have multiple guys playing both ways. The winner of this game gets either Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy or Greeneview in the second round.