It’s been a season of gradual improvement for Carlisle High School’s football team.
The Indians started the year with a blowout loss to Franklin, but they’ve responded with a five-game winning streak as they strive to defend their Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division title and earn their third straight Division V playoff berth.
“Early in the season, I think we were looking to put together a complete game,” Carlisle coach Mike Brown said. “I don’t know if we have yet, but I think we’re getting closer.”
WEEK 6: Madison 46, Milton-Union 0
Homecoming is next for the Indians, and they’ll be hosting the Madison Mohawks in a local rivalry showdown with huge SWBL Buckeye and D-V, Region 20 implications.
A packed house is expected at Laughlin Field on Friday night.
“I think we’re all pretty confident,” said Carlisle senior Jake Moore, a two-way starter at quarterback and free safety. “I think a lot of times players on our team kind of underestimate what we’re capable of doing. We kind of walk ourselves into the games and then we’re like, ‘OK, we can play with these guys,’ and then we start playing.
“So I think that’s a big key for this week … just come into the game confident and start out fast because we know Madison’s a good team and we can’t afford to get down to ’em.”
The Buckeye standings have the Indians, Madison and Dixie all unbeaten in Buckeye play. And Region 20? The top eight teams will qualify. Carlisle is currently seventh, the Mohawks eighth.
“I feel like we need to focus on the league. I don’t think you get in the playoffs without winning the league first,” Madison coach Steve Poff said. “We’re just glad to be in a position where we have so much riding on the line because it wasn’t looking too good a couple weeks ago. I feel we pretty much control our own destiny, and we need to take care of that.”
The Mohawks have won three straight after taking back-to-back losses to Monroe and Valley View. If Madison can get a spot in the playoffs, that would be a first in program history.
“We’re just trying to work hard, play fast and hopefully come out with a win this Friday,” said Mason Whiteman, the Mohawks’ junior quarterback and cornerback. “You’ve got to be confident, but you’ve still got to be humble. I think that’s what we’re thinking right now.”
The Indians have advanced to the postseason eight times. Yet Carlisle has won in the playoffs just once, beating North College Hill in 2009.
Brown said that will mean very little when the teams hit the field Friday. Their last three meetings have been decided by a total of 18 points.
“Every Madison team that I’ve played as a head coach, they’ve been really good,” Brown said. “On film, it seems like this may be the best one yet. This is a great opportunity for us, so I think we need to show up and play.”
The Mohawks are known for their Wing-T offense and general disdain for throwing the ball. Whiteman and Reid Davis have combined to complete 15 of 34 passes for 282 yards. The team has rushed 280 times for 2,001 yards.
Whiteman, who’s 13 of 22 for 221 yards and three TDs, has been Madison’s full-time quarterback for the last three games. He had been splitting time with Davis, who’s moved to split end, but is questionable for Friday’s game with a shoulder injury.
“I guess I’m just a fourth running back,” Whiteman said. “We throw the ball a little bit, and when we do, I’d like to think that we’re successful at doing it. Our running backs and line are just really good, so we stick to what we’re good at.”
Poff said he sat down with Whiteman and Davis the day before the Week 4 game against Preble Shawnee and informed them of his QB decision.
“We all shook hands on it and said that’s the direction the team’s going,” Poff said. “Reid has taken our split-end play to a new level. He’s a great blocker and a definite threat out there.”
Cameron Svarda (94 carries, 751 yards, 10 TDs), Tyler Baumgartner (72 carries, 493 yards, five TDs), Evan Crim (66 carries, 370 yards, four TDs) and Whiteman (29 carries, 223 yards, five TDs) have done most of Madison’s ground work.
Poff said their success starts with a tough, physical offensive line.
“The key is being balanced left and right with our running game and making our opponent defend the entire offense,” Poff said. “We’re details away from being really good. I think if we can control the line of scrimmage Friday, we’ll have our chance to win.”
Don’t expect the Mohawks to have a lot of offensive surprises, especially when it comes to passing the ball.
“We’re going to run the same three pass plays we always run,” Poff said, “if we run ’em at all.”
Carlisle’s defense is getting better. Brown said linebacker Braden Rauch has consistently beeen the Indians’ leading tackler, and Dakota Milligan tops the secondary with two interceptions.
“We gave up a lot of points defensively early and our offense kind of carried us, so the last couple weeks our focal point has been our defense stopping and creating some turnovers and making it easy on our offense,” Moore said.
“We had a lot of new starters at the beginning of the year,” Brown said. “Early on, we played a lot of teams that could throw the ball around, and we struggled a little bit. We got that sorted out in a sense, then we needed to kind of learn how to stop the run again. I think we’re starting to get a feel for how important turnovers are and getting stops when you get somebody to third down.”
The challenges will go both ways in this one. The Indians throw the ball a bit with Moore (30 of 52, 378 yards, three TDs), but they like to run it as well.
The speed that D.J. Chambers (44 carries, 436 yards, six TDs) brings to the Carlisle backfield is well-known. But there are four other significant runners: Moore (58 carries, 306 yards, five TDs), Spencer Mays (48 carries, 248 yards, five TDs), Ryan Neal (27 carries, 211 yards, four TDs) and Milligan (15 carries, 183 yards, three TDs).
“They’re all different running backs, so it’s pretty hard to stop all of them,” Brown said. “We can be in a rhythm doing one thing, then we can really switch it up and go another way.”
Brown said he’d just as soon not play his quarterback both ways. But he noted that Moore is in great shape and plays free safety “with an inside mike linebacker mentality.”
“There was a point when Jake was kind of like, ‘Hey, I can play both ways. It’s not going to affect me, and you’ve got to trust me,’ ” Brown said. “When you’ve got a kid like Jake Moore, you trust him.”
Poff’s defense has gotten a SWBL-leading 9.5 sacks from end Cole Pelgen. Whiteman and Svarda both have two interceptions.
“Our D-line is just really good … our defensive backs are picking it up as the weeks go on,” Whiteman said. “I think the first couple weeks were a wakeup call for our defensive backs.”