Take your Madison

Football to face familiar foe on Friday


Colin Schreckenbach

Trey Moore jumps on a fumble against Harker Heights. Moore will play a key role on Friday in flustering Madison’s first-time quarterback, Royal Kyle.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

After a high-scoring win over Harker Heights that saw 72 total points and a new-look offense reminiscent of Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, football will head to Comalander Stadium to take on the Madison Mavericks. 

The two have faced off 15 times since they first met in the state quarterfinals in 2002. The Rangers won that matchup, 28-27, en route to a state championship berth.

“Well, first time we played… we had just moved up to what is now 6A,” said head coach Larry Hill. “And then… a couple of years later, we got into the district and had some monumental, district-championship-on-the-line games with them. And then a couple of years we played them [twice] – we played them in the regular season, and then we both won in the playoffs, went four rounds deep, came back and played each other again. So we had some years where we doubled up. 

“And then we left them a while, and hadn’t been in their league since, but we’ve hooked back up with them in non-district in recent years. So, gosh, we’ve played a bunch of times, and usually [they’re] games that end up going to the wire. Last year we were able to pull away a little bit, but this will be a typical Smithson Valley-Madison game.”

Hill’s squad leads the all-time series, 11-4, including a 44-0 victory at Heroes Stadium last season. And yet as recently as 2018, the Mavericks came out on top. 

But both teams have seen plenty of turnover since that game, as both are on their third starting quarterback in as many years. In fact, Madison’s new starter, Royal Kyle, is a converted boundary player. Sound familiar?

“Well, [based] off scrimmage film, it is a new quarterback,” Hill said. “So does that mean they shift gears a little? Do they throw more or throw less? Do they run the quarterback more, do they run him less? Do they feature him [or] do they just let him manage the game? … But he’s very talented, that doesn’t take long to see. And he’s a threat, with his arm and his feet. So we’ll have our work cut out for us, I’m sure.”

These questions, though, will remain unanswered for the time being. Madison hasn’t played a real game yet, and although Hill has the scrimmage tape, it isn’t the same.

“Scrimmages are hard to tell,” he said. “You have a lot of people rolling in and out, including [at] quarterback. And so they’ve got a little bit of an edge. They’ve seen us in a game; we’ve seen them in a scrimmage. And so there’ll be a little bit of feeling out in the early part of the game, see what they want to do with him.”

Madison, though, has game film of their opponent’s new offense. So they’re familiar with what they want to do – and so is anyone who’s watched the Baltimore Ravens recently.

“We try to be flexible,” Hill said. “And Jay, of course, gives us another dimension, another back, another running back-capable threat in the offense. So we could be a two back offense with only one back there, or a three back offense when two of them are back there. And whether that means get an extra block or a run one one way or the other, it does open up some things and makes it a little harder on the outside linebackers.”

That backfield had a lot of success, rushing for 238 yards and five touchdowns. And a lot of that success came courtesy of the screen game and horizontal stretch implemented to help out Jalen Nutt, who is starting at quarterback for the first time since his freshman year.

“Oftentimes Jalen has the opportunity at the line of scrimmage to decide what he wants to do,” Hill said. “There’s two [options] in one play, sometimes even three in one play. He can throw wide over here, or he could throw wide over here, or he could run the ball or hand the ball in here. And based on how wide they play or what their defensive configuration is, we’ll try to select the thing that they’re the most vulnerable to.”

Last week, that meant a lot of screens and halfback draws, thanks to the off coverage Harker Heights played. Aside from a 40-yard go route to Zack McDonald, the deep ball didn’t make much of an appearance. But it’s still in the playbook, lying in wait for its opportunity to strike.

“We had some success throwing in the quick game to Kyler Clark and to Garrett Brooks,” Hill said. “And [the linebackers] creep a little wider to take that away [and] some running lanes [open up]… So that does work together. We’ve also got the deep ball element that we like.. But by and large, we were able to [run], both with Jalen and the running backs.”

That horizontal stretch resulted in a lot of easy yardage for the team, and three touchdowns for Gabe Hoskins. And all that was without a consistent offensive line, and injury issues forced position shuffling. This week, the team should open the game with their original five, in their original order.

The defense is coming off an up-and-down week where they allowed four big-play touchdowns, but also forced four turnovers and blocked an extra point attempt. The Express-News praised the “mayhem-generating” front seven, after the unit forced (and recovered) two fumbles, including one apiece for Trey Moore, and blocked an extra point, also credited to Moore. The corners played tight for most of the night; the Harker Heights receivers simply out-jumped them.

“They played very well,” Hill said of his corners. “But we obviously gave up, what, three explosives? And every time we kept about putting the game away, they’d get a one-play drive. So they understand. Those… were some big, tall, fast, very talented receivers, and maybe as good a group as we’ll play all year. On the other hand, it can’t be, what’s the old saying? ‘Other than that one thing, Mrs. Lincoln, did you enjoy the play tonight?’ It can’t be that. 

“‘Other than those three plays, we played very well.’ Well, you know, those types of things can cost you in games that are a little bit tighter than that one ended up being. They’re aware of that. And they’ll be a little older [and] wiser than they were than they were this week, and they’ll continue to improve.”

They’ll have to, if they want to keep up with a Madison team that returns three all-district receiving threats – receiver Nevon Cooper, tight end Nick Casarez and receiver-turned-quarterback Kyle. But if they can replicate last week’s success on the ground, hit on a few more deep balls and limit big plays through the air, they’ll enter district play with one more W on the stat sheet.

The teams are set to face off Friday at 7:30 at Comalander Stadium, with limited capacity. The game will be streamed on Rangers Network.