Madonna returns from bye ready

SACKING — Jakob McComs and Madonna return from its bye to take on Van on Saturday. (Photo by Joe Catullo)

WEIRTON — After spending what Madonna head coach Darrin Hicks said was a very productive bye week, the Blue Dons are eager to get back into action with the annual homecoming game.

However, the task of winning will be difficult with the 5-1 Van Bulldogs, ranked 12th in the Class A standings, invading Jimmy Carey Stadium at 1 p.m. Saturday.

“Van is a very good football team,” said Hicks, whose club now is 3-3. “They’re 5-1 right now and highly ranked in the state. They seem to be on a roll and, offensively and defensively, they present a lot of challenges.”

The Bulldogs were drubbed by the Blue Dons last year to the tune of 51-30, as Donavan Kirby set school records for carries (51), yards gained in a game (370) and touchdowns in a game (6).

Those kinds of numbers aren’t likely this year, as the Blue Dons have lost the last two games by scores of 46-0 and 54-0.

Yet, Hicks feels his team got a lot accomplished last week as it worked on fundamentals and was able to get more heavily into strength and conditioning than can be done during a normal week.

“I thought we accomplished a ton,” Hicks said. “We had a really good week in our strength and conditioning program, and we were able to get some guys healed up.

“I thought we were really good at putting emphasis on our special teams and, on offense and defense, it was more about fundamentals and taking care of the little things. I was pleased with our entire week.

“Our kids understand the process, and they know it is the little things that can make a difference. We concentrate on that, and our guys are very workmanlike in their effort and how they approach practice.”

Hicks said the Bulldogs like to run the football, using an unbalanced I formation. Senior quarterback Gavin Smith can scramble.

“They throw the ball around some, but they really haven’t had to with their success on the ground,” he said. “They have a couple of pretty good running backs. They aren’t big guys, but they are elusive. They are tough kids that find an opening and get through. They’re pretty good in their scheme.

“Up front, they have a couple of big guys, but they aren’t real big. They seem to work together. On defense, Van moves around from three down to four down, depending upon what the offense shows. The front reacts and runs to the ball, and the linebacker level seems to be pretty good. A lot of people haven’t had much success throwing against the secondary.”

The Bulldogs opened the season with wins over Meadow Bridge (23-22) and Paden City (40-14) but ran into a buzzsaw when they played Lincoln (4-2), a Class AA school. That was Van’s lone loss, 60-0.

The Bulldogs go into the game this week with wins over Montcalm (40-6) and Tug Valley (27-14).

While Hicks said his Blue Dons did some healing during the bye week, it still will be without the services of junior lineman Josh Gasvoda.

Hicks said that homecoming can only be a distraction if one lets it become that.

“We don’t speak about it too much. Our guys are focused on the task at hand,” he said. “We want them to enjoy the festivities because I think they are important. We also know there is work to be done. Our guys come with a very workmanlike effort.

“Our keys are the same as they always have been. We need to establish the run and stop the run and limit our own turnovers and create turnovers. We can’t beat ourselves. When we get the opportunity in the red zone, we need to score and keep them from scoring.”