SAN ANTONIO — After a 44-0 drubbing from Smithson Valley dropped them to 1-2 this football season, the Madison Mavericks had a meeting when they returned to campus after the game.
Two weeks earlier, Madison had opened the season with a 28-0 loss to Clemens. The Mavs bounced back with a 55-37 victory against Austin Bowie the following week, but they had no chance against a Smithson Valley team determined to avenge a 17-14 loss to Madison at home last year.
The Rangers jumped on the Mavs early and never let up, leading 17-0 after one quarter and 27-0 at the half.
"We didn't like how that felt, so we decided we were going to do everything we could to win," senior running back Darien Gill said this week.
Shaken by the loss, the Mavs met behind closed doors in the Madison field house when they got back from the debacle at Heroes Stadium and cleared the air.
"We came together as a family and talked everything through," senior safety George Johnson said this week after a workout. "We bought into what we were going to do the next day. We came in the next day ready to work, getting ready to go into district strong."
Madison (7-2) hasn't lost since that Thursday night game against Smithson Valley, winning six straight to take sole possession of the District 27-6A race. The Mavs, 6-0 in district, can win their second consecutive outright league title with a victory against Johnson (6-3, 5-1) on Friday night at Heroes Stadium.
Madison coach Blaine Pederson smiled when he was asked what changed for the Mavs after the lopsided loss to Smithson Valley.
"They're still the same kids," Pederson said. "We had a tough pre-district schedule. Clemens and Smithson Valley, definitely, two good teams that are well-coached. They showed up and they got after us. But our kids kept working. They had a positive attitude at practice.
"They weren't too excited about the outcome of that Smithson Valley game. We had a good team, but we weren't good enough. But our kids kept after it, kept getting better each week, and that's all we can ask of them."
For all its success since the mid-1980s, Madison never has won outright back-to-back district titles. The Mavs took championships in 1984 and 1985, but shared the 1984 title with Judson.
The Rockets beat Madison in district that year, but the Mavs won the rematch in the state quarterfinals to advance to the state semifinals for the first time in school history.
So what changed for the Mavs after they were blown out by Smithson Valley?
"Everybody just finally bought into what we're doing here and just got back on track from where we left off last year," Gill said. "Last year we started out 0-2. We came back. Our seniors said we weren't going to lose a game again. We came out and that's happened."
The win over Smithson Valley last year started a nine-game winning streak for Madison, which finished 9-3 after losing to Austin Lake Travis in the Class 6A Division I state quarterfinals.
The Mavs already have clinched a playoff spot, but Gill stressed the Mavs have focused only on Johnson this week.
"Right now, we're not even worried about playoffs," Gill said. "We're just worried about this week and getting this 'W' and defending our championship. The mood of this team is just go in and get the job done, and bring home another trophy for the community."
Pederson is only in his third season as Madison head coach, but he has a long history with the school. He graduated from Madison in 1989, and was an offensive guard and linebacker on the varsity for two seasons
Pederson, 48, returned to his alma mater in 1995 when he joined Jim Streety's coaching staff. Pederson remained with the Mavs until going to Johnson when it opened in 2008. He was defensive coordinator under Ron Rittimann until landing his first head-coaching football job at Madison in 2017.
Rittimann, who was the Mavs' offensive coordinator before becoming Johnson's first head coach, and Pederson have been close friends for more than 25 years.
Pederson also shares a strong bond with Jaguars offensive coordinator Jimmy Cueva, who joined the Madison staff the same year Pederson did. The two also followed Rittimann to Johnson.
Streety was 194-86-1 in 23 seasons at Madison (1991-2013) and led the Mavs to the state semifinals three times. But Madison fell on hard times after Streety retired following the 2013 season. The Mavs went 12-30, including 0-10 in 2015, in four seasons under three different coaches.
But Pederson has brought Madison back.
"I feel like coach Pedey really brought a big coaching change," Gill said. "I feel like he came in and he just got us going and motivated, and I feel like that's something Madison didn't have for those few years. But he came in and taught us the Maverick way, so we just bought in and bought into the winning culture."