Things looked bleak for the Madison High School football team after a 48-7 loss to Judson on Sept. 23 dropped the Mavericks to 1-3 heading into District 26-5A play.
Bloodied but unbowed, the Mavs closed ranks and stared down adversity with hard work and perseverance.
Madison beat Johnson 42-17 in its 26-5A opener to begin a turnaround that has carried the Mavs within one victory of their first appearance in the state finals. Madison has gone 9-1 since its 1-3 start, giving meaning to the adage that it’s always darkest before dawn.
Nowhere was the resolve to make a stand stronger than on the Mavs’ defensive unit, which returned only two starters, senior end Isaiah Carter and junior nose guard Vincent Taylor.
Led by Carter and Taylor, the defense has improved steadily throughout the season and embodied the tenacity of a team that has earned a special place in school history.
“With everybody doubting us and people saying we couldn’t make it, we just stuck with it as a team,” Taylor said Thursday. “We knew when district started, we had to get real physical and that’s when we started working hard. That’s what has gotten us where we are.”
Madison (10-4) plays Fort Bend Hightower (12-2) in the Class 5A Division I state semifinals at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome.
The winner plays the Southlake Carroll-Dallas Skyline victor for the state championship next Saturday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
While the Mavs’ poor start seems like a season ago to the Mavs, the determination it took to dig themselves out of the hole became one of the defining characteristics of the team.
“We kept at it,” Carter said. “We stayed together and worked harder and harder, and kept going. We had to redeem ourselves because of the terrible start. That’s why it feels so good to be where we are now.”
Taylor has 14 sacks
Taylor, 6-foot-3 and 256 pounds, leads the defense with 141 tackles, including an impressive 14 sacks. Carter (6-2, 215) has 80 tackles, five sacks and four fumble recoveries.
“Vincent and I talked all summer about being the only defensive starters back, and how we were going to have to be the weight-bearing bricks in the wall,” Carter said. “We felt we had to carry the defense until everybody built up on their own.”
Madison coach Jim Streety praised co-defensive coordinators Bill McCluskey and Greg Porter and secondary coach Keith Randle for their roles in the Mavs’ turnaround.
“I’ve really got three guys who are defensive coordinator types,” Streety said. “I’ve got a good staff.”
McCluskey, who coaches the defensive line, deflected the praise to his players, particularly Carter and Taylor.
Carter’s most impressive trait is his “relentless pursuit to the football,” McCluskey said. “He has exceptional quickness. He’s very coachable. He’s always positive and always has a great practice attitude. He’s been a real good one for us.”
Taylor was a fifth-grader when he moved to San Antonio from New Orleans in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina displaced his family.
“He’s very intense and has that nose guard mentality,” McCluskey said. “He gets his hands dirty.
For a nose guard to lead the team in tackles is exceptional.”
Defense has stepped up in playoffs
Porter said the trait that distinguishes this season’s defense is its work ethic.
“We had some pretty dismal times at the start of the season, but the guys kept working,” he said. “They had a chance to really cash it in early and they didn’t. They just kept plugging away, and good things have happened.”
Streety likes the way the defense has stepped up in the playoffs.
“At this time of year, the emphasis is on getting enough stops to give yourself a chance to win,” Streety said. “And if you get turnovers, that’s even better. That’s what happened in the Harlingen game. We created four turnovers and that was the difference in the game.”
Madison beat Harlingen 42-27 in the state quarterfinals last week.
End Jason Saucedo and tackle Dylan Zera, both seniors, are the other starting defensive linemen in the Mavs’ 4-3 alignment. The starting linebackers are senior Eric Rodriguez, senior Jesse Santos and junior Matt Cabrera.
Seniors Shawn Muller and Jo’Vonta Clark start at the cornerback spots, and juniors Avery Williams and Corey Henley line up at the safety positions. Starting junior running back Marquis Warford splits time with Henley. A former wide receiver, Muller leads the secondary with four interceptions, all in the playoffs.
“Moving Shawn to cornerback has really helped our defense,” Streety said. “He’s one of our leaders. He’s made plays.”
Muller’s play reflects the mindset of a defense that will be remembered for its grit.