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Prep football: Unbeaten Madison on a dominating roll, but wary of CHCA

MADISON TWP. — Improvement remains the daily goal for Madison High School’s football team, even as the numbers are staggering.

The Mohawks, ranked second in the final Associated Press Division V state poll, are not only 11-0, but they’ve outscored their opponents 476-45. Seven wins have been by shutout. And they’ve given up one touchdown in the last five weeks.

Madison coach Steve Poff? He’s going to keep pushing with the idea that perfection isn’t attainable, but it always has to be the objective.

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“We need to concentrate on ourselves and be the best Mohawks we can be,” Poff said. “We’re just trying to get the situation reeled in and not get too far ahead of ourselves and go out and play great. There’s things you might not be able to be great at. But when you’re doing things average and you should be above average, that’s something to work for.”

The Mohawks have reached Week 12 of the postseason and will meet Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (8-2) in a Region 20 semifinal Saturday night at Lakota East.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. They played in Week 12 at East last year, with Madison taking a 35-27 victory.

“They are good enough to beat us, and if we take a break, they will beat us,” Poff said. “We can’t take a break.”

Many observers are already thinking about a Madison-Wheelersburg showdown in the regional final, a rematch of the two teams that clashed in last year’s state semifinals. The Pirates won 15-10 and went on to become state champions.

Poff doesn’t want to hear about Wheelersburg right now. Literally, he doesn’t want to hear the word.

“We don’t even say it,” Poff said. “We discussed it in a meeting months back, and as a group they said, ‘We don’t want to hear about it anymore.’ So we don’t even say their name. Right now, they’re just the team southeast of here.”

Portsmouth’s Talyn Parker (1) gets taken to the ground by Madison’s Tanner Limon (37) as teammates Cole Pelgen (36) and Max Evans (38) come forward during last Saturday night’s 26-0 victory in a Division V, Region 20 playoff game at Brandenburg Field in Madison Township. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The Mohawks are also looking toward the southeast in their matchup with CHCA, champion of the Miami Valley Conference Scarlet Division the last six seasons.

The Eagles opened the year with a 1-2 record, thanks to losses to Indian Hill (47-21) and Wyoming (33-10). Since then, they’re 7-0 and averaging 43.4 points per game.

Third-year CHCA coach Mark Mueller said his squad started the season with about a half dozen guys that played varsity football in 2017. The Eagles are now starting about a half dozen sophomores.

“This is new territory for us because this is such a young team,” Mueller said. “It’s been a whirlwind of growth, let’s just say that. Our last two senior classes have been really talented, and this senior class has been sitting behind those guys.

“This group has talent and they’ve grown up quick, so I couldn’t be happier for them. But they’ve still got a long way to go. Sometimes we look decent. Other times it looks like, ‘What are we doing?’ ”

CHCA will throw the ball around in the spread with junior quarterback Cole Fisher (6-2, 195), who’s 119-of-199 for 2,012 yards and 27 touchdowns with six interceptions. He played free safety against Madison in 2017.

Senior D.J. Ames (5-10, 185), a transfer from Wilmington, is the Eagles’ top rusher with 488 yards and six TDs on 75 carries. They have five players with 100-plus receiving yards, led by 6-2, 200-pound senior tight end Julian Herman (32 catches, 698 yards, 10 TDs).

“They’re going to try to get the ball out quick and make us tackle in space,” Poff said. “I think their receivers are special.”

Mueller said his offensive game plan is no secret.

“We’re decent size up front. Nothing huge, but we’ve got some younger guys there,” he said. “We have a little bit more speed on the edge this year. We’ve just got to be creative sometimes and find ways to get the ball to our guys.

Madison quarterback Mason Whiteman (7) tries to get away from several Portsmouth defenders during last Saturday night’s 26-0 win in a Division V, Region 20 playoff game at Brandenburg Field in Madison Township. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

“The whole game of high school football is, can you simulate what the other team does at the speed they do it in practice? Can we simulate their defensive line? Can they simulate our spread offense? Those are hard things to do in practice.”

Mueller knows Madison’s defense will be difficult to penetrate.

“We’re not going to abandon the run, even though that’s the strength of their team,” he said. “You have to run the football. You’re not going to beat them just doing one thing.”

Senior Ben Sanders (6-1, 192) at end and Herman at middle linebacker are the defensive leaders for CHCA, which will have to deal with a Madison Wing-T offense that’s generating 344.5 rushing yards per game.

Mueller knows a few things about the Wing-T. He ran it during an earlier head coaching stint at New Albany.

“Me and the wing are friends,” Mueller said. “I love what Madison is doing. They’re actually doing less this year than they did last year, which tells me a lot about Coach Poff. He’s very smart. They do it well.”

Seniors Evan Crim (105 carries, 945 yards, 13 TDs) and Cameron Svarda (130 carries, 847 yards, 10 TDs) lead the Mohawks on the ground. Junior Jake Phelps has 738 yards and seven TDs on 82 runs.

“Madison’s better than last year. They just look more confident,” Mueller said. “I’m sure we were probably the favorite coming in last year, and they’re definitely the favorite this year. But this is high school football. The one thing I do love about my team is they’re resilient. We were down 14 points three times last week (against West Jefferson) and won.”

“Regardless of their size, their kids are physical,” Poff said of the Eagles. “From what I saw on film, I think they outmuscled West Jeff, which doesn’t happen very often.”

The Mohawks are coming off a 26-0 conquest of Portsmouth. Poff wasn’t satisfied with Madison’s special-teams or offensive play, “but that might be one of the best games we’ve ever played defensively.”

“We were hit and miss on offense, which can’t happen. We’ve got to be better than that,” Poff said. “And I thought we played below average in special teams, and that’s unacceptable for us.”

Saturday’s game

What: Division V, Region 20 football semifinal, No. 2 seed Madison (11-0) vs. No. 6 seed Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (8-2) at Lakota East, 7 p.m.

Where: The Hawks’ Nest, 6840 Lakota Lane, Liberty Township

Series: Tied 1-1, with CHCA winning 48-6 in 2013 and Madison winning 35-27 in 2017

Next: Winner will play Wheelersburg or Jamestown Greeneview for the regional title Nov. 17 at a neutral site

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