The Tanager football team knew in advance it would be a game they had to win to remain in the playoff picture. So with workmanlike precision, they stepped up big-time against Madison in every aspect of the game and completely snowed under the Bulldogs, 39-0, Friday.
After a bye week followed by two tough losses on the road, nothing looked more welcoming than the green turf of the DakotaDome, and the Tanagers answered the call – effective plays on offense, timely plays on defense, no penalties, no turnovers. Coach Gary Culver and his staff could hardly have asked for more.
The Tanagers, improving to 3-4 with the win, hosted West Central last night in the regular-season finale. Pairings, sites and times for Tuesday night's first round of the playoffs will be announced by Saturday.
Granted, the Madison club doesn't have the defense that the powers in Class 11A have, but even so, the Tanagers deserve credit for an evening of 406 total yards of offense. D'Andre Fore with 156 yards and Dexter Mehlhaf with 140 yards, even though the Bulldogs knew they likely would be carrying the ball, were next to unstoppable, Fore with his blazing speed and Mehlhaf with his refusal to be taken to the ground. Quarterback Tyler Husby kept Madison off-guard by occasionally calling his own number and churning up valuable yardage to the tune of 19 yards.
An effective running game starts up front. Doing the job there were Scott Iverson at center, Carson Sullivan and Andrew McCann on either side of him, Will Mart and Riley Vlasman at the tackle spots and Chayse Meierkort and Cody Olson at ends.
The defense never let down for a minute, even when the Tanagers' lead had mounted to insurmountable proportions. The Bulldogs were tackled for yardage loss eight times, three times by Goeden alone. Leading the swarming army of Vermillion tacklers were Mehlhaf with nine, Husby with eight and Kozak, Sullivan and Goeden with four. McCann, Blaine Hubert and Jake Knutson had three tackles each and Iverson and Meierkort two apiece. In all Madison on the ground carried the ball 24 times but got only 54 yards out of all those tries.
Dan Goeden made the game's first turning-point defensive play. On Madison's game-opening possession, with two passes and then four running plays, the Bulldogs had reached the Tanager 28-yard line, but it was fourth-and-one. Inexplicably, instead of pile-driving up the middle for a lone yard, Madison chose to sweep out to the left, and Goeden sniffed out the play, stuffing the ball carrier for a two-yard loss that turned the ball over on downs.
Starting on their own 30, the Tanagers went 70 yards in 12 plays that killed 6:21 off the clock. Fore went eight yards, then seven; Mehlhaf ran for four; Fore for two; Mehlhaf for six. After an incompletion Fore made up for it with a 20-yard spurt to the Madison 23. Mehlhaf got the first yard, Husby on a keeper went six more. Then Husby, on third down at the 16, churned with legs moving like a locomotive's pistons for seven yards.
It was first-and-goal from the nine when Mehlhaf bull-dozed his way straight up the middle to the 2-yard line. From there Husby on a keeper walked into the end zone off right tackle. Michael Sand's kick made it 7-0.
As the game moved into the second quarter Madison had moved steadily into Tanager territory again. On a second-and-seven play from the 38, a Bulldog pass gained five yards, but Husby made a key tackle that prevented a bigger gain. From there Madison chose to go airborne, but a third-down pass was tipped incomplete by Carson Sullivan, and a fourth-down aerial fell harmlessly to the ground with Mehlhaf covering a would-be receiver.
The Tanagers had to punt on their next possession, but coverage by Ben Kozak prevented no return, and that tipped field position into Vermillion's favor.
A four-yard tackle for loss by Goeden forced a Madison punt, and the Tanagers started with a short field from the Bulldog 42. Two carries each by Mehlhaf and Fore set up a third-and-five from the 26. Mehlhaf was again the money man for VHS, needing five but getting 12 yards. From the 14 he went five yards, then eight more, ending up, the officials said, just a foot from the goal line. From there Husby on second effort plunged across for a 13-0 lead.
Fore's interception killed Madison's next possession, but only a minute remained in the half. No time for anything to happen, right? Wrong.
Starting 56 yards away from paydirt, it took the Tanagers only five plays and 53 seconds to get there. Mehlhaf exploded for 34 yards, and Fore ran eight. From the 14 with 18 seconds left, it was Mehlhaf again, this time for nine yards. On first-and-goal from the 5, Mehlhaf was hit far short of the end zone, but not to be denied, he carried tacklers with him the final three yards, and he and the whole pile of Madison humanity crossed the goalline with five seconds to spare in the half and a 19-0 margin.
If that final-minute score weren't frosting on the cake, the first two minutes of the third quarter were.
The Tanagers didn't look as if they had taken any break at all for halftime. Receiving the kickoff, Fore returned to the 33, and this time it didn't take long. After Husby went five yards and Fore was stopped for no gain, Husby connected with Ben Kozak on a 59-yard rainbow that the senior took to the 3-yard line. From there Fore scored for a 25-0 lead. Sixty-seven yards, four plays, 1:57 off the clock. Game clinched.
But the Tanagers forced an immediate Madison punt. There was no return on the kick, but never mind. From the Tanagers' own 27, Fore went the distance on the first play from scrimmage, a 73-yard scamper up the west sideline on which he visibly shifted into high gear to outrun the final two Bulldog defenders into the north endzone. Sand's kick made it 32-0.
Madison punted again soon thereafter, and Vermillion, as the game moved into the final period, squeezed every available second from the clock in an 11-play drive of 77 yards. A 30-yard gain by Fore and a 16-yard burst by Mehlhaf were the big plays en route to the final two plays from the 14—Mehlhaf for nine and Kozak for five more and a touchdown. Sand's kick made it 39-0, and that meant the clock would run continuously the rest of the way.
Madison reached midfield, but an intentional grounding penalty ended their final possession. From there on, Tanager reserves took over and got as far as the Bulldog 25 as time expired.
It was the fourth straight year in which VHS has shut out Madison. The Tanagers beat the Bulldogs 35-0 last year, 34-0 in 2008, and 6-0 three seasons ago.
Madison 0 0 0 0 — 0
VHS 7 12 13 7 — 39
VHS: Tyler Husby 2-yd. run (Michael Sand kick), 3:33.
VHS: Husby 1-yd. run (kick failed), 2:01.
VHS: Dexter Mehlhaf 5-yd. run (run failed), 0:05.
VHS: D'Andre Fore 3-yd. run (pass failed), 9:57.
VHS: Fore 73-yd. run (Sand kick), 8:13.
VHS: Ben Kozak 5-yd. run (Sand kick), 10:23.
First downs 16 7
Rushes-yds. 47-352 24-54
Passing yds. 54 76
Total yds. 406 130
Passes 2-5-0 9-17-1
Punts-avg. 1-33.0 3-25.3
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-yds. 0-0 3-23
Rushing: VHS, Fore 12-156, Mehlhaf 17-140, Husby 6-19, Sand 5-13, David Day 3-12, Kozak 1-5, Tanner Anderson 2-4, Kyle Weiss 1-(-2). Madison, Kyle Roeman 4-16, Mitch Gehrels 7-16, Rush Milne 7-11, Matt DeBilzan 3-8, Laker Thompson, 1-3, Eli Roeman 2-(-3).
Passing: VHS, Husby 2-5-54. Madison, Kyle Roeman 9-15-60, Eli Reoman 1-2-16.