Chek Washington and some of the other Mansfield Senior football players had a surprise waiting for them before they went out to work on some drills Sunday.
Stuck to each locker was a piece of paper with a message. No words, just numbers.
That was the score of last year’s loss to Madison in a rainy, gooey mess at Ram Field. Like Washington needed to be reminded.
“We look back at that Madison game last year and how we got blown out and use that for motivation,” the senior wide receiver/safety said. “We try not to even let (the chance of being) 10-0 get into our heads.”
Only 3-6 Madison stands between the Tygers and the first 10-0 regular season in Senior High history. But for Washington, perfection is secondary to exacting revenge against the Rams when the crosstown rivalry resumes Friday night at Arlin Field.
To ask why is to be told in an exasperated tone that you shouldn’t need to ask why.
“Because it’s Madison … and they blew us out!” said Washington, his voice rising. “We definitely need revenge.”
Senior quarterback Jalen Reese lived in Toledo until eighth grade, so he came to this rivalry a lot later than many of his teammates who had fathers who played in the series. But that didn’t make last year’s loss sting any less.
Reese had a record-setting passing season in 2012 and steered the Tygers to their first playoff berth since 2002. But that night in the quagmire at Madison, he failed to complete any of his nine attempts, save for the two that landed in enemy hands.
“All of us seniors remember how it felt,” Reese said. “That stuff sticks with you. We’ve had to walk around town and hear about it for a year. It’s time to put an end to that.
“Beating Madison to go 10-0 would make the win even better, but it’s all the same motivation to me.”
Tyger head coach Chioke Bradley let his players chant “O-C-C, O-C-C” after they clinched at least a share of their second straight Ohio Cardinal Conference title with Friday’s 44-7 win at Lexington. But as soon as the celebrating ended, the script flipped to Madison.
“Most of the time we wait until we watch film on Saturday morning before we look to the next game, but this one is a little different. We started thinking about Madison as soon as the clock (at Lex) hit zero,” Bradley said.
“We don’t dwell on 9-0 (these Tygers also are the first in school annals to win their first nine games) or 10-0, and we want everybody in the city of Mansfield to understand that. What happened last year left a bitter taste and we want to make sure our effort Friday night is heard around town. What happened last year was totally embarrassing.”
According to forecaster Joe Eitel, the Tygers have locked up the right to host a first-round Division II playoff game next week. That hasn’t happened since 2000. But Bradley has given it absolutely no thought.
When you’ve grown up in this rivalry, like he has, you have a singular focus this week. The 1993 Senior High grad was 3-1 against Madison as a player, a big reason he took last year’s loss so personally.
“This rivalry is rooted in me and losing to the rival team doesn’t sit well with me,” Bradley said. “The kids are so tired of hearing around town about getting beat by Madison and how we got beat. Now we get them on our turf. It’s a brand new season. We’re falling all over ourselves to get there.”
Madison head coach Sean Conway, just one year removed from sharing the OCC title with Mansfield Senior and West Holmes and from taking the Rams to the second round of the playoffs, grew up in Youngstown. But it didn’t take long to get up to speed on this rivalry when he took over at Madison in 2010.
Two of his assistants, LeRoy Smith and Jamie Masi, have seen the rivalry from both sides as former Tyger head coaches.
“Coaching in a game like this is one of the reasons I came to Madison,” said Conway, who spent six years as head coach at nearby Crestview. “There is no more special game in this part of the state than the one I get to coach in Friday. It’s a honor to coach in it. It’s something you’re always thinking about, not just this week.”
While the Tygers have outscored their opponents by an average of 40-14, the Rams have struggled to find consistency. That’s what happens when you lose nine starters on both offense and defense from a 10-2 squad.
Madison has had trouble generating anything through the air, so they’ve leaned heavily on the tandem of senior Kalvin Gordon and junior Juwan Howard. Between them they’ve rushed for 1,776 yards and scored 24 touchdowns.
“We’re not making excuses; that’s not what we do,” Conway said of the heavy graduation losses. “We had opportunities to win games and didn’t get it done.
“Our senior class has faced more adversity, because of different circumstances, than any team I’ve coached, but they’ve always kept their heads in it and fought together. But you want to see results, so we hope to put together a complete game and shock some people.”
This game would make Madison’s season, and that’s why Bradley knows the Rams can’t be taken lightly.
“This is their conference championship, their playoff game — this is it,” he said. “What better way to write a story than to win your fourth game by beating the undefeated Tygers at their place?
“That makes them dangerous. I tell the kids if you get can’t get up for this game, with all the ramifications, man … maybe something else is your sport.”
On paper, the Tygers are the much better team. On paper, stuck to his locker, is all the motivation Washington needs.
He also know what it’s like to be in the Rams’ cleats. And that’s why he’s wary.
“Madison’s record reminds us what we used to be my sophomore year,” he said of the Tygers’ injury-marred 3-7 season. “We didn’t have the best record, but we still went out against Madison and did the best we could.”