Madison High School’s inaugural postseason run became a thundering march Friday night.
The Mohawks surged within two wins of the Division V state championship by clobbering West Jefferson 42-7 at Beavercreek’s Frank Zink Field, capturing the Region 20 title before another large throng of cowbell-clanging MHS fans.
“It’s something special,” said junior quarterback/cornerback Mason Whiteman, who scored a touchdown on both sides of the ball. “Everybody said that we were going to be the team to do it, and as it starts to become more of a reality, it’s starting to be crazy.
“We came out with the mentality that we wanted to make a statement across the state, and I think we did so.”
Junior fullback/safety Cameron Svarda, who also tallied a pair of TDs, said Madison left the field with a “more work to do” attitude.
“I think the first playoff game, we had the most excitement,” he said. “Right now, we just want to keep on going.”
Svarda piled up 219 yards on 20 carries in a 374-yard rushing night for the Mohawks. True to form, the winners had zero passing yards and two incompletions.
Madison (11-2) extended its winning streak to 10 and will meet Wheelersburg (13-0) in a 7:30 p.m. state semifinal next Friday at Chillicothe.
“We’re feeling great about things. How can you not?” said Mohawks coach Steve Poff, oblivious to the cold air while maintaining his tradition of wearing shorts on game night. “Our kids just keep coming. We talk very little about winning or losing. It’s just the journey and have fun while you’re there and work hard and appreciate what you have.
“I’m excited for our kids first and our student body and our community. It’s got to be something that people didn’t dream of, and now that it’s here and things are becoming reality, it’s just outstanding. You saw the community support again tonight. Tremendous.”
Madison took advantage of five turnovers by the Roughriders (12-1), intercepting Lance Lambert four times and getting a fumble recovery by Levi McMonigle.
Whiteman had two of those picks, and Svarda and Jake Phelps added one apiece. Whiteman pounded a bucket of nails into West Jefferson’s playoff coffin by returning an interception 96 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to make it 35-7.
“I kind of read their back out,” Whiteman said. “They ran an isolation play for him, and I just read it. When I picked it, all the D-linemen got right in front of me, and I just followed them all the way down the field.”
Lambert was 20 of 40 for 145 yards and found himself under fire all night long.
“He kind of just lobbed it up sometimes,” said Phelps, a sophomore outside linebacker. “We knew that we could cover our guys long enough to get some picks, and we did.”
Roughriders coach Shawn Buescher said the Mohawks’ defensive front was the primary reason for the interceptions.
“They’re very physical up front and move very well,” Buescher said. “I think a lot of their pass defense honestly comes from the pressure they apply. They really try to get after the quarterback.”
West Jefferson was held to 23 yards on the ground and didn’t score an offensive touchdown.
The Roughriders’ only TD came as time expired in the first half. Madison took a 17-0 lead on Graham Reich’s 23-yard field goal with 0:06 on the clock, only to watch Gabe Jones return the ensuing kickoff 70 yards for a score.
So it was 17-7 at the break, with West Jefferson set to receive the second-half kickoff.
“Just a busted play,” Whiteman said. “Our guys were in the right spot at the right time. No big deal.”
“We were OK,” Svarda said. “It kind of made us mad a little bit, but we focused up and knew they weren’t going to get anything else on us.”
Poff said he wasn’t worried about his players’ mind-set heading into the second half.
“They’re a loose bunch anyway,” Poff said. “They basically knew they were right where they wanted to be and all they had to do was settle in and do our thing, play the game the way we wanted to play it rather than on their terms.”
The Roughriders managed one first down in the third period, and three of Lambert’s interceptions came in the second half.
Cole Pelgen, a defensive end who lines up in the Mohawks’ backfield from time to time, followed up Svarda’s pick with a 3-yard touchdown run with 1:41 left in the third quarter.
Madison’s Quincy Brown then recovered what appeared to be an onside kick by Reich, and Phelps notched a 5-yard touchdown 88 seconds later.
Was it really an onside kick?
“I’m not sure it was,” Poff said. “I think the kicker mishandled the ball a little bit because he onside kicked it the time before and we told him not to do that anymore, and he did it the very next one.”
Whiteman ran 11 times for 80 yards for the Mohawks, and Tyler Baumgartner chipped in 57 yards on 13 carries. Svarda had 13 carries for 178 yards before halftime, including a 77-yard TD burst.
“I think we wore ’em down in the first half. I don’t think they wanted to play the second half, honestly,” Svarda said. “That’s what the Wing-T does. You just break a team down and you go right at ’em.”
The Roughriders have been to the regional finals eight times in the last 12 years, but they’ve made it to the Final Four just once during that span.
“I knew (the Mohawks) were extremely physical,” Buescher said. “Obviously all the turnovers made the score a little more lopsided, but in the same sense, they’re a good team and they earned that.”
West Jefferson 0-7-0-0—7
M: Cameron Svarda 9 run (Graham Reich kick)
M: Svarda 77 run (Reich kick)
M: Reich 23 field goal
W: Gabe Jones 70 kickoff return (Jon Stevenson kick)
M: Cole Pelgen 3 run (Run failed)
M: Jake Phelps 5 run (Kick failed)
M: Mason Whiteman 96 interception return (Kick failed)
M: Whiteman 1 run (Reich kick)