LIBERTY TWP. — It’s been a conscious effort by Madison High School’s football players and coaches, a decision to keep Wheelersburg out of their conversations and minds as much as possible.
But that’s over now. The time has come to put the Pirates front and center in their sights.
The Mohawks couldn’t hold a 10-0 lead in the Division V state semifinals last year and dropped a 15-10 decision to Wheelersburg, which went on to win the state championship.
WEEK 12 FOOTBALL COVERAGE
They’ll meet again Saturday, this time for the Region 20 title, at Hilliard Darby. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“This is it. This is our game,” Madison senior defensive end Levi McMonigle said Saturday night after the Mohawks smoked Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy 50-6 at Lakota East. “This is going to be a very big week for us mentally. Everybody’s got to be dialed in. That’s the No. 1 thing.”
Senior fullback/safety Cameron Svarda said he was happy to hear that the top-seeded Pirates (11-1) advanced to the regional final with a 35-13 win over Jamestown Greeneview.
“I want to play Wheelersburg. I don’t want any excuses when we beat ’em,” Svarda said. “I want to say we played the best teams in the state and we beat ’em. I don’t want Wheelersburg to be out and hear people say, ‘Oh, if they had played Wheelersburg, they wouldn’t have won it.’
“Now we have to go through them. It’s going to be the most exciting week we’ve had all year. The atmosphere is just going to be unreal.”
Madison coach Steve Poff said his mind-set won’t change in the coming week. He’ll continue to focus more on the Mohawks and less on the opponent.
“To say this is just any other game, it’s probably not,” Poff said. “We felt like we let one get away from us last year. Had I been a better coach, our kids probably would’ve made it to the state championship. We’re going to do everything in our power to make that happen this year.”
The second-seeded Mohawks (12-0) have roughed up practically everybody on their schedule this year, and No. 6 seed CHCA (8-3) was no different. The Eagles did force a Madison punt on the game’s opening drive, yet found themselves in a 44-0 hole by halftime.
Svarda ran 11 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns for the Mohawks, and he also recovered a fumble. Evan Crim had 13 carries for 159 yards and a score.
Jake Phelps added 10 carries for 105 yards and two TDs, and quarterback Mason Whiteman and Gabe Higgs also had scoring runs.
Madison piled up 518 total yards, 411 in the first half. The running clock was in effect the last two quarters.
“They came out pretty physical,” Svarda said. “That first series they stopped us, but we beat them up so much on that drive. I think once they realized how tough we were playing and we’re the real deal, that kind of softened them up and it just got easier.”
CHCA coach Mark Mueller didn’t like much of what he saw from his team, especially in the first half.
“The things they do well, we didn’t defend well,” Mueller said. “They’re a good football team, and we made ’em look really, really good. We’re young up front and they’ve got all seniors, and we just didn’t tackle well. When they’ve got good backs like that and you don’t tackle well, you saw what’s going to happen.”
The Eagles avoided the shutout with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Cole Fisher midway through the third stanza. It was set up by a 39-yard bomb from Fisher to D.J. Ames.
Fisher completed 12-of-23 passes for 104 yards. CHCA had minus-13 yards on the ground.
“We’re playing like an absolute unit out there,” said McMonigle, who combined with fellow D-linemen Cole Pelgen and Max Evans for three sacks. “Usually they try to run a little bit early and we shut it down, and then they try to throw it over our heads. They hit one over us tonight, but that’s it. It’s just one big family out there. We love doing it.”
Garrett Jostworth came up with an interception for the Eagles. Saturday’s contest was their worst loss since a 53-7 setback at the hands of Cincinnati Country Day in 2000.
“I’m feeling good about what we did with the inexperienced group we had coming back this year,” Mueller said. “We’ll keep on fighting. This program’s not going anywhere.”
Poff said he’s got nothing but respect for the CHCA program and coaching staff. The Eagles were simply outmanned in this matchup.
“I thought we did a good job of pushing the pace,” Poff said. “We kept getting to the ball and running the next play, and I think it wears on you as the night goes on. The plays get quicker and quicker.
“I thought special teams-wise we were still pretty average tonight, and we had some penalties that stopped our own drives. You can’t do that and win big games. I still feel like we’re a work in progress.”
M: Mason Whiteman 2 run (Cameron Svarda run)
M: Svarda 64 run (Run failed)
M: Svarda 2 run (Pass failed)
M: Jake Phelps 20 run (Phelps run)
M: Phelps 10 run (Cole Pelgen pass from Whiteman)
M: Evan Crim 10 run (Svarda run)
C: Cole Fisher 1 run (Kick blocked)
M: Gabe Higgs 30 run (No conversion attempted)