The Madison Bulldogs are right where they want to be — in the fight for their first state championship since 2011.
To get to the end of that path, head coach Alex McMillian was sure his team would need to face Canton-Galva, which has been atop the Eight-Man Division I rankings since the outset of the 2019 season.
There, the Eagles still stand and the two teams will battle for the right to play in the State Championship Game on Nov. 30 in Newton.
“Most media outlets think we don’t have a chance,” McMillian said. “A lot of people think Canton-Galva’s biggest game was (last week against) South Central and they’re a shoo-in for the state championship and we’re just another bump in the road. This is the first game we’ve played all year that we’re underdogs. I love the underdog role and the kids are excited to play it.
“The kids (have) realized, hey, we’ve got to work hard, we’ve got to take the necessary steps throughout the season to make sure we get to that point. We knew we were on a collision course, at some point we were going to play Canton-Galva. Now we’re here and we have to take advantage of it.”
The Bulldogs and Eagles both enter the game with an identical 11-0 mark, with few full four-quarter games between the pair on the year. One of the few for Canton-Galva was last week’s semifinal, which saw the Eagles trailing 16-10 entering the fourth quarter before rattling off 32 unanswered in the final period.
“They’re solid, they have a lot of athletes,” senior Nasun Wasson said. “It’s definitely going to be a really good game.”
It will also mean a lot for a group of young men who grew up watching the Madison Bulldogs win back-to-back state titles at the start of the decade and have lots of postseason success prior to.
“Last year we were done by this time,” senior quarterback Ryan Wolgram said. “It feels good (after) growing up watching the old teams play in the semifinals and state, feels good being there. (It takes) hard work. Everyone’s willing to come here early in the morning, watch film, lift (weights), in the summer — it’s all year.
“They work hard all throughout the year.”
Wolgram has been a key facet of the Bulldogs’ offense all year, but has become increasingly accurate passer as well in the last few weeks, completing 19 of his last 21 attempts.
“Ryan’s (been) known as a runner,” McMillian said. “He’s just an extension of our running game and his pass game has really, really stepped up the last few weeks. I think he’s stepped up and he’s seeing the field, he’s understanding where he’s supposed to throw. His timing is so much better. I think a lot of it is just confidence. He knows where he wants to put the ball and he’s done a very good job improving.”
Madison hopes that the Bulldogs can continue to run the ball with regularity on Friday night, with the improved air attack added to the mix.
“Our whole team is just really excited to be able to go out there and strap (the pads on) one more time,” Wasson said. “We have a really close bond. We work really good together.
McMillian, though he may have been the most energetic person on the drizzle-filled practice field during Wednesday evening’s practice, has taken a back seat when it comes to acknowledging the source of the team’s success.
“It was a rough patch when I got here, but the kids have bought in and they’ve just gotten better each and every year, each and every practice, each and every game,” he said. “My goal was to get the program back to where it once was and I think we’re making strides to get to that point.
The kids have just continually bought in more, each and every year ... they work harder. Now we’re sitting at 11-0 and it feels good — they do all the hard work. I just get the opportunity to coach these guys and they do all the dirty work. They’ve bought into it and we’re sitting where we’re sitting.”
Madison and Canton-Galva will kickoff at 7 p.m. Friday night at Madison High School.