Cole Pelgen is quick to point out that Madison High School’s defensive dominance is a group effort. He just happens to be getting the biggest stats right now.
The senior end leads the Southwestern Buckeye League with 7.5 sacks — nobody else has more than four — for a Mohawk squad that’s ranked second in the latest Associated Press Division V state poll.
“I can’t have a good night unless everybody else on the D-line is having a good night,” said Pelgen, who also returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown in last Friday’s 48-14 win at Preble Shawnee. “It’s not just me beating the guy in front of me. I wouldn’t be able to do what I can do without them.”
WEEK 4 FOOTBALL COVERAGE
The all-senior defensive front includes fellow end Levi McMonigle, along with tackles Max Evans and Tanner Limon. McMonigle has two fumble recoveries and Evans one, while Limon has two sacks and Evans 1.5.
“It’s funny with that front four,” Madison coach Steve Poff said. “Teams have to pick their poison with who they want to focus on, so they all seem to take turns having that big night. We’ve been working in practice at creating turnovers and taking advantage of them, and I think you’re starting to see that pay off a little bit.”
The unbeaten Mohawks, state semifinalists in their first trip to the football playoffs last year, have outscored their first four opponents 140-30. Next up is a trip to Milton-Union (2-2) on Friday.
“I feel like as a team, we’re picking up right where we left off and we’re living up to what we were last year,” Pelgen said. “We’ve got a lot of momentum and can play together really well. We’ve been together for a very long time. We just know how each other plays, and we can trust one another.”
Madison’s final six regular-season opponents are currently .500 or below, but Milton-Union was voted second behind the Mohawks in the preseason SWBL Buckeye coaches poll.
The Bulldogs run the Wing-T offense, though MU coach Bret Pearce said it’s not exactly like Madison’s Wing-T.
“I would tend to say they’re a little bit more old school and we’re a little bit more new, meaning we run more jet and rocket and maybe not as much buck sweep,” Pearce said. “They’re also doing it with much bigger linemen than we are.”
Seniors Robbie Grove (66 carries, 428 yards, three TDs) and Jake Swafford (56 carries, 260 yards, two TDs) are the Bulldogs’ leading rushers. Swafford is the fullback.
Milton-Union has used two quarterbacks this season. Senior William Morris is 9-of-19 for 156 yards and two touchdowns, while junior Nathan Brumbaugh is 8-of-14 for 59 yards and a TD.
“We are a run-first team,” Pearce said. “We think we know how to throw it, and we certainly do when teams make us do that. That might be the case this week. We’re going to try to run our stuff, but we definitely have backup plans if they stop our base offense.”
He said the line is where his team faces the biggest matchup problems against the Mohawks.
“We graduated every offensive and defensive lineman last year, so that really has been the story of our season trying to get a young line to grow up quickly,” Pearce said. “It’s worked out for us some, and some teams with a little bit more experience have been able to take advantage of us. We’re not blessed with a lot of size right now.”
Senior inside linebacker Connor Gostomsky and junior outside linebacker Kayge Thwaits lead MU’s 50 defense. Pearce said the “D” is the strength of the team right now.
The Bulldogs got mauled 46-0 in last year’s matchup. What will it take to win this one?
“Grit and determination,” Pearce said. “We’re going to try to hang around until the end and steal one.”
Pearce is starting his second stint as Milton-Union’s head coach. He led the program for 13 seasons (2000-12), took two years off to focus on his kids in high school, then returned as the offensive coordinator for three seasons.
When Mark Lane got promoted to athletic director, Pearce accepted the head coaching position.
“I have a lot of respect for Coach Pearce. We’re expecting a tough game,” Poff said. “Milton-Union is a hard place to go play. It’s definitely not friendly confines if you’re the visiting team.”
Madison has six players with 125 or more rushing yards, led by senior Evan Crim (37 carries, 282 yards, three TDs). Junior Gabe Higgs, who didn’t play last season, is averaging 10.9 yards per carry on 17 rushes.
Poff said his team needs to clean up its penalties. The Mohawks piled up 155 penalty yards against Shawnee.
The Madison coach continues to stress fundamentals and keeping things simple for his players.
“It’s a child’s game that adults overthink,” Poff said. “We’re concentrating on ourselves. We’re still hitting it hard in the weight room, and we’re running extra conditioning every day preparing ourselves to be the best team we can be at any given time.”
What: Madison (4-0, 1-0 SWBL Buckeye) at Milton-Union (2-2, 1-0 SWBL Buckeye), 7 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, 221 S. Jefferson St., West Milton
Last meeting: Madison won 46-0 in 2017
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