SAN ANTONIO – There’s something about playing Churchill that brings out the best in Madison quarterback Dante Heaggans.
For the second year in a row, Heaggans sliced and diced the Chargers’ defense to spark a lopsided victory for the Mavericks last Friday.
Heaggans piled up 336 yards of total offense and passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more, sparking Madison to a 49-17 rout of Churchill in their District 27-6A opener. He rushed for 203 yards on only nine carries for a staggering 22.6 average, and completed 7 of 11 passes for 133 yards.
“I had a good nap before the game,” Heaggans said with a chuckle Thursday, when he was asked what sparked his outstanding performance. “My O-line, they did good in blocking and our receivers caught almost every ball that came to them.”
Heaggans punished the Chargers in a 52-10 blowout last season, finishing with 371 yards of total offense. He hit 19 of 23 passes for 246 yards and four TDs, and ran for 125 yards and two scores.
“He’s been a heck of a player since I got here,” said Blaine Pederson, who is in his second season as head coach at his alma mater. “He just has the ability to change a game. He’s been doing a great job. A year ago, he had his hand in 40 touchdowns total, 23 rushing. So we anticipate him having a great game every week.”
Heaggans will lead Madison (2-2) against Roosevelt, also 2-2 overall and 1-0 in district, on Saturday night at Heroes Stadium. Kickoff is at 7.
“Everybody is excited with what’s going on here,” Pederson said. “As far as the kids, they’ve won one district game. There’s a lot more games for us to win. One game is not going to get you in the playoffs, and we keep reminding them of that.
“We’ve got to keep those kids focused and keep trying to get better, which is our motto around here. If we can do that, we’ve got a chance. But let me tell you, Roosevelt’s a good team. They’ve got some great skill players. We know we’re in for a dogfight come Saturday night.”
One of the first things Pederson did when he took over the Madison program in March of 2017 was move Heaggans from wide receiver to quarterback after watching him run the hurdles at a track meet.
“I could tell he was a heck of an athlete and somebody who could play quarterback,” Pederson said. “He just gets better all the time, and got comfortable playing the position a year ago. This year, he’s just taking it to another level and he continues to improve in all areas of playing quarterback.”
To say Heaggans made a smooth transition to his new position last season would be an understatement. A classic dual-treat quarterback, he passed for 1,716 yards and 17 TDs and rushed for 1,279 yards and 23 TDs.
“I like it now,” Heaggans said, referring to playing quarterback. “At first I didn’t like it. It fits me.”
Heaggans has kept up the pace this season, completing 44 of 70 passes for 605 yards and four TDs in four games. He has rushed for 430 yards and four TDs on 45 carries, an average of 9.6 yards per tote.
“I feel good about our offense,” Heaggans said. “We’re just working hard in practice, trying to get better each week.”
The Mavs have won two in a row after stumbling to an 0-2 start. They opened the season with a 23-20 loss to Clemens and fell to Austin Bowie 49-22 a week later. While overpowered by Bowie, Madison was in good position to win its opener.
Trailing 16-13 with less than four minutes left, the Mavs were driving for the go-ahead TD when Clemens safety Max Didomenico returned a fumble 68 yards for a score to dash the Mavs hopes. Heaggans gave Madison a chance when he threw a 31-yard TD pass to Darien Gill 45 seconds remaining, but the Buffaloes recovered the onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and ran out the clock.
“Those two games, we had to learn from it,” Heaggans said. “The Smithson Valley game, we just set the bar. We learned from all those mistakes in the first two games and we fixed them.”
Madison bounced back with a 17-14 road victory against perennial power Smithson Valley. The win over Smithson Valley gave Madison much-needed momentum heading into last week’s game against Churchill.
“We had a good week of practice,” Heaggans said.
How good can this Mavs team be?
“I like the pace we’re going on,” Heaggans said. “We’ve just got to come out every week and practice as hard as we can, go 100 percent.”
Pederson likes the way his team battled after starting the season 0-2.
“That first game, we were playing a good Clemens team,” he said. “Had a chance to go win a game and it didn’t happen for us. Austin Bowie had a good team, and (we) had a tough game that night. But those kids bounced back, continued to grind and get better, and had a good showing against Smithson Valley.
“Fortunate to win that game out there at Smithson Valley, which doesn’t happen too often. Then against the Churchill Chargers, all three phases came together and we really played a great game last week.”
Heaggans scored on runs of 45 and 87 yards, and had TD passes of 56 and 15 yards to Aydin Hoffman.
Madison hasn’t had a winning season since it reached the 2013 state semifinals and finished 11-4 in Jim Steeety’s last season as head coach. The Mavs have gone 14-32 under three different head coaches since then.
With Heaggans at quarterback, Madison has a good chance to have a winning season. The Mavs made the playoffs for the second year in a row last season but finished 4-7. They also were 4-7 in 2016.