At this point a year ago, the Madison Blue Streaks were 3-1 and well on their way to a spot in the Division II playoffs.
Meanwhile, their Week 5 opponent, Chardon, was 0-3.
While much will be the same Friday night for coach Tim Willis’ 3-1 Blue Streaks, who whipped visiting University School, 35-14, last week, coach Mitch Hewitt’s Chardon squad is a different breed of Hilltopper.
Chardon rolls into the Premier Athletic Conference clash with a 4-0 record, having bested West Geauga (41-12), Kenston (29-28), Maple Heights (35-20) and North (63-7) to kick off the season.
Willis is well aware this Hilltopper team is much improved over the 2011 squad that was dominated at Blue Streak Memorial Stadium, 28-3. The Madison defense limited the Chardon offense to 145 total yards in that game, while the Blue Streak offense totaled 310.
“They are a good football team and will be a great challenge for us,” Willis said. “I think this will be one of those great Madison-Chardon football games. Both teams have a lot at stake.”
Willis is correct. The Hilltoppers head into this contest as the top-rated squad in the Division II, Region 5 computer ratings. Meanwhile, Madison is sixth in the same region.
Which makes the 44th meeting in the series since 1940 (Madison leads, 21-19-3 in those matchups) the marquee matchup among games involving an area team so far this season.
Quarterback T.J. Benenati (6-foot, 170-pound senior) runs Chardon’s vaunted wing-T offense in his first season as the starting signal caller.
With four wins, Chardon has already matched its win total in each of the last two seasons and stand as the most victories by the Hilltoppers since then-coach Jim DiPofi’s 2007 squad went 7-3 and shared the PAC title with Madison and Riverside.
“We must contain (Benenati),” Willis said. “And be able to move the ball against their very aggressive defense.”
The young Blue Streaks, who graduated many of the mainstays from the team that went 8-2 and reached the playoffs last fall, have been improving as the season has moved along.
Last week’s 21-point conquest of US avenged a 20-14 road loss from a year ago.
How good was the Madison defense last week? You can count rushing yardage by US on one hand, minus your thumb.
The Preppers ran the football 16 times for exactly 4 yards against the Blue Streak defense. That made the 161 yards US managed through the air pretty much inconsequential.
And when the Preppers tried to throw the football, Nick Law was ready to pounce.
Only a freshman, the younger brother of former Blue Streak standout Ty Law (now a starting defensive tackle at Lake Erie), pilfered two interceptions and now has four picks... in four varsity football games.
“(We used) multiple coverages and our players did a great job of disguising what we were doing,” Willis said of shutting down the Prepper offense, which is accustomed to using big plays to produce points.
At the same time, the Madison offense continued to hum, piling up 276 yards on the ground on 54 carries — including 122 yards on 12 carries and four touchdowns by Brandon Davis — and saw quarterback Nick Knight complete 7 of 16 passes for 137 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions.
Madison averaged an impressive 5.9 yards on its 70 offensive plays. Tailback Mark Murray, who has missed time because of mono, also had 89 yards on 18 carries and Knight carried 24 times for 65 yards.
“Brandon is a big, athletic kid, who played some as a sophomore,” Willis said. “We seem to always have another back in the stable.”
And Knight continued to evolve as the triggerman of Madison’s new spread attack.
“Nick is a true leader who the players trust in,” Willis said. “He studies film and spends lot of time with Coach (Mike) Martin.”
Heading into the annual slugfest with Chardon, Willis makes no secret as to why the Blue Streaks have become one of the most consistent programs in the area.
“You win with character guys who work,” he said.
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