The Madison Bulldogs football team survived both a 16-point deficit and a six passing touchdown performance from Maranatha Christian Academy quarterback Nate Burdette en route to a 68-58 homecoming win Friday evening.
“I didn’t know how we were going to handle adversity,” Madison Head Coach Alex McMillian said after the game. “They got on us quick. We had some mental mistakes in that first half, but man, we battled back hard. We made some great plays down the stretch. Maranatha is an outstanding football team, and I just feel extremely blessed and happy that we squeaked out the win tonight.”
First quarter action displayed the difference in offensive styles between the two teams, with Madison choosing a steady, ground-based attack while Maranatha worked almost exclusively through the air. Although the Bulldogs ran 19 more plays than their opponents in the opening 12 minutes, the quarter finished scoreless as neither team was able to convert on drive-extending fourth downs.
Maranatha opened the scoring in the second quarter, capping a five-play, 59-yard drive with a 47-yard reception to put the Eagles up 8-0 with 9:12 remaining before half. Madison threatened on its next drive, but had the potential tying score wiped off the board on a penalty before turning the ball over on an interception in the endzone.
The Eagles needed just two plays to add to their early lead, going up 16-0 on a 55-yard touchdown pass with about 6:30 remaining in the quarter. The Bulldogs didn’t have to wait long to respond, however, as senior Colton Fife returned the ensuing kickoff 62 yards to the house, cutting the lead to 16-8 after a two-point run from junior Hunter Engle.
A surprise Madison on-side kick would give possession right back to the Bulldogs as they took over from the Maranatha 35-yard line. The game would be tied 16-16 just three plays later on a 27-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Ryan Wolgram to Fife with less than four minutes before half.
Two quick Maranatha three-and-outs were followed by two quick Bulldog’s touchdown drives. Fife reached the endzone for the third time on the night with a 58-yard touchdown before Madison extended its halftime lead to 32-16 on a 44-yard double-reverse passing play to junior Brome Rayburn.
The Bulldogs couldn’t enjoy their cushion for long as a flurry of scoring to begin the third quarter allowed Maranatha to reclaim a 44-38 lead with less than five minutes until the final period.
The Eagles opened the half with a methodical, nine-play scoring drive which was capped by a two-yard touchdown run. Their offense didn’t rest long as Maranatha quickly regained possession after the ensuing kick was fumbled. It cut the Madison lead to 32-30 on a 10-yard touchdown pass, but again fell behind by a touchdown after Fife’s second 60-plus-yard kickoff return of the night.
“We work on special teams almost every single day of the week,” McMillian said. “Not every team does that, and we take a lot of pride in our special teams. It’s a big part of the game, and it proved big again tonight.”
Like most of the Eagles’ deficits in the game however, this one would also prove to be short-lived as the score was tied 38-38 just 18 seconds later on a 57-yard touchdown pass from Burdette. After a quick Madison three-and-out, Maranatha took a 44-38 lead on another passing touchdown — a 12-yarder — before regaining possession on a controversial play.
Although a Bulldog’s returner appeared to be run into after calling for a fair catch on a short kick, no flag was thrown, allowing Maranatha to extend its lead to two scores after a short two-play, 28 yard touchdown drive. Madison got back within striking distance six plays later on a 16-yard touchdown run from Wolgram, bringing the Bulldog deficit to 52-46 at the end of the third quarter.
Turnovers would prove to be huge in the game’s final 12 minutes. As the Eagles looked poised to score another touchdown deep in Madison territory, Bulldogs linebacker Drew Stutesman came up with a huge fourth-down interception — his second of the game and seventh on the season — to end the threat.
“Stutesman has gotta be leading the state in interceptions, I mean, holy smokes,” McMillian said. “He’s a ballhawk. He’s a smart kid that just finds the football. He’s a very instinctual football player and came up huge again for us tonight.”
Madison regained a 54-52 lead after a 10-yard rushing touchdown and added a two-point conversion — one of his seven on the night — from Engle.
Another Maranatha turnover — this time a fumble on its own 18 — allowed the Bulldogs to go up by a full touchdown, 60-52, after another short scoring rush from Engle.
The Eagles again marched down the field on their next possession, drawing the score to 60-58 with 4:39 remaining after a 23-yard touchdown reception.
A major mishap on the ensuing conversion attempt would prove to be the difference in the game however, as an errant snap was scooped up by the Bulldogs who then added to their cushion. Engle reached the endzone again on Madison’s next drive, adding another two-point conversion for good measure, and giving the game its final of 68-58 with fewer than two minutes remaining.
“Engle’s a stud, man,” McMillian said. “He works his butt off in the classroom and in the weightroom, he’s just an outstanding young man. He’s just one of those kids that if I asked to run through a brick wall, he would look at me and say, ‘Yes, sir.’ I wish I had eight of him. He played outstanding, he ran hard and just kind of chewed the clock to wear the defense out.”
Madison (4-0) will look to continue its momentum in a road date with Lebo beginning 7 p.m. next Friday.