The specter of the Madison Bulldogs won’t be fading any time soon for the Sioux Falls Christian football team. In the Chargers’ breakthrough 9-2 campaign last year, it was the Bulldogs who downed them both times, once in the regular season and once in a season-ending state semifinal loss.
While those were close games, Friday’s matchup of two 5-0 Class 11A squads at Bob Young Field was not. The Chargers’ defense, so far the strongest point of their 2016 campaign, kept them in the game through the first half, but Madison tightened up its offense after halftime and pulled away with a three-touchdown third quarter that sealed a 34-6 final score.
“Madison is phenomenal,” Sioux Falls Christian head coach Jake Pettengill said. “Madison is very well-coached. They are one of the most athletic teams I’ve seen at this level, ever. So I knew we were going to have to play great football, and we couldn’t get the ball rolling tonight.”
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Sioux Falls Christian’s defense was the main reason the Chargers were in the game for so long. That unit contained Madison running back Riley Janke in the first half, forced the Bulldogs to direct their passing game towards screens on either sideline — and while wide receiver Mason Leighton made plays on those, he did so in a manageable amount — and made two fourth-down stops in the red zone.
Madison scored twice before halftime, on a five-yard screen to Leighton and a one-yard run by Janke, but the Tanner Reu returned an interception for a touchdown for the Chargers, helping keep the deficit at 14-6 at the end of the second quarter.
“We just have to take what teams give us and live with that and expect our playmakers to make great plays,” Bulldogs head coach Max Hodgen said.
That started to happen in the third quarter, and Sioux Falls Christian’s offense showed little progress in denting the Bulldogs’ defense, led by Marcus VandenBosch on the defensive line. Madison was stopped again on fourth down on their first drive of the second half, but the second one was a brutal, efficient scoring drive, covering 73 yards in 10 plays and ending in Jadon Janke leaning in for a one-yard touchdown run.
The Bulldogs’ next drive was quicker and more spectacular. On the second play, quarterback Josh Giles targeted Jaxon Janke on a route along the left sideline, and while the ball was slightly underthrown and Reu was sticking hard on Janke, he still made the catch, controlling the ball against Reu’s back and helmet and coming down with it in the end zone for a 32-yard score.
After Mason Leighton grabbed an interception on the next drive, Noah Guse scored on a screen from 17 yards out to give Madison its fifth touchdown of the game and set the final margin.
“(We made) a couple mistakes, weren’t exactly as focused as we should have been (in the first half),” Leighton said. “But our coaches did a good job at halftime of getting us ready, and we came out in the second half and executed really well.”
The Bulldogs held the Chargers to just 105 yards of total offense on 54 plays, and Riley Hogan and Parker Nelson, two of the main pieces in Sioux Falls Christian’s rushing attack, combined for 49 yards on 20 carries. Leighton had 10 catches and 95 receiving yards for the Bulldogs. Madison’s record improved to 6-0 with the win, and Sioux Falls Christian dropped to 5-1.
Follow Ian Frazer on Twitter at @IanMcFrazer .