Madison's title defense continues following semifinal win over St. Thomas More

Madison's title defense continues following semifinal win over St. Thomas More

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Madison's title defense continues following semifinal win over St. Thomas More

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#ArgusFB Tile 2

In a game of big plays, the defending state champion Madison Bulldogs had a couple more than St. Thomas More, and with that said, will make another trip to the DakotaDome.

The Bulldogs got those big plays on both sides of the football and took control in the third quarter en route to a 35-19 victory. With the win, Madison will take on Tea Area on Nov. 12 for the 11A title.

Madison split end and defensive back Mason Leighton was the biggest of the big-play makers, as he caught seven passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. He also had two of the Bulldogs’ three pass interceptions of STM quarterback Preston Arity.

“We just did a great job executing what we do,” Leighton said. “We are a team that thrives on big plays and we came out and made them tonight.”

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The Cavaliers, who finished 10-1 on the season, had a few big plays themselves, particularly from speedster Jake Aanderud, who ran back a kickoff 94 yards and a caught a 60-yard touchdown pass. But a couple of crucial STM mistakes gave the Bulldogs the opportunity for some breathing room.

“You can’t give a team like that short field,” veteran STM head coach Wayne Sullivan said. “I think we gave them short field four times. If we make them drive here and there … it came down to execution.”

“They (STM) are a heck of a ball club,” Madison head coach Max Hodgen added. “My hat goes off to their program and what they have been able to accomplish. We were able to match their intensity. We came up with some big plays; just a couple more than they had.”

All of the scoring was done in the second and third quarters. Madison opened with a safety, when Arity was tackled in the end zone after Madison lost the ball on downs on the 1-yard line.

But the Cavs came back, and after several high throws early on, Arity connected beautifully with Aanderud on a 60-yard touchdown pass for a 7-2 STM lead.

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Madison quarterback Josh Giles was also wild high early on but not when he found a wide open Leighton down the left sideline from 76 yards out for the score.

Another big play defensively came on the next possession when Marcus VandenBosch blocked the STM punt, giving the Bulldogs the ball on the Cavalier 7-yard line. Two plays later Jadon Janke scored from 1-yard our and a 16-7 Madison lead, which was the score at halftime.

Again, Aanderud appeared to give the Cavaliers new life with a spectacular kickoff return, as he broke a couple of tackles in a scrum on the left and raced to the right out-running the Madison special teams for the score. A bad snap led to the failed extra point and STM climbed back 16-13.

“I thought when we came out and returned that kickoff, I was ‘oh good, now we have a game,’” Sullivan said. “On the very next series we gave them a short field again. That’s a heck of a football team right there. They have a lot going on; they have a lot of athletes.”

That momentum was short-lived as a Madison kickoff return to mid field led to a 24-yard TD pass from Giles to Leighton. Just like that it was a 22-13 game less than two minutes into the third quarter.

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A Leighton interception at midfield and a return to the STM 10-yard line led to a 10-yard TD run by Jadon Janke and a 29-13 lead, still with 8:14 to play in the third.

The Cavaliers tried to come back and pulled within two scores on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Arity to Cameron Fees. Madison responded once again when Janke took a short pass 20 yards from Giles and raced it to the end zone to close the scoring and basically end any Cavalier hopes.

“I think we answered every time they had threatened up. We had captured that momentum back,” Hodgen said. “It was a great ballgame to be a part of.”

Madison finished with 389 yards of offense, as Jadon Janke led the way with 122 yards on 14 carries. Riley Janke had 56 yards on 15 carries. Giles was 13-of-23 passing for 225 yards.

“We just took what they gave us,” Leighton said. “We made big plays like we have been doing all year.”

The Madison defense held St. Thomas More to 63 yards rushing, with Fees running for 56 yards himself. Arity was 18-of-40 passing for 197 yards. Aanderud caught eight passes for 110 yards.

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“They are a great team and we knew that coming in,” Leighton said. “They have a really good passing attack. We have been working on that all week and we came out and showed it.”

The Bulldogs will now go for their fourth straight state title against a Tea Area team that handed them their only loss of the season.

“I told our kids that there are not many teams that have been there four years in a row. I’m real proud of our players,” Hodgen said. “We’re going to have another good week of practice.”

St. Thomas More, meanwhile, will begin building for next season, an emotional Sullivan said.

“We’re going to have to get back to the drawing board and we’re going to have to work harder for next year,” Sullivan said fighting back tears. “You don’t like ending your season on a loss no matter what. But unfortunately somebody does. They become your boys. You hate to see them go when they work so hard. They did, they worked all of the way to the last second. I’m very proud of this team. We’re going to refocus and work even harder.”

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