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No. 2 Starfires will put Argylls to the test

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

FAIRMOUNT — Confidence.

Madison-Grant's football team found confidence late in and regular season and into the IHSAA playoffs, and it has helped turn around the Argylls' season. Their confidence was shaken repeatedly during an 0-7 start, but after four-straight wins, they are playing for the Class A Sectional 43 championship this evening.

"Yeah, things have started to click," Madison-Grant coach Brady Turner said. "We've got confidence and that's the biggest thing. In the past, if we got stopped we kind of dropped. But now if we get stopped we say 'That's okay we'll get them next time'.

"We've just kept getting better and better as the season's gone on," Turner continued. "Our schedule has helped us get better. The competition we've seen during the season has prepared us for what we're doing now."

After playing three top 10-ranked teams in the regular season — Mississinewa (4A), Eastbrook (2A) and Eastern (2A) — the Argylls won't be intimidated by Class A powerhouse South Adams in the Class A Sectional 43 championship game at 7 p.m. in Berne. Admission is $6.

South Adams (11-0) was ranked second in the final Class A polls after spending some time in the top spot. Sagarin's computer ratings also has the Starfires second, while the Argylls are rated 28th in Class A.

Turner is aware South Adams poses an entirely different challenge from the Argylls' previous four opponents — which had a combined seven wins. The Starfires have the third-most prolific offense in Class A at 42.91 points, while the defense is third-best at 7.09 and fifth overall.

"Yeah, they got a lot of talent," Turner said. "Their junior class, especially, but their senior class is good, too. They go well together and they got some athletes and players. They can play ball."

The last time the two teams met, Madison-Grant defeated South Adams 26-20 in overtime in the 2006 for the Argylls' first sectional title. Turner was a 19-year-old assistant to Argylls head coach Randy Sehy, while his South Adams counterpart Grant Moser was a player for the Starfires.

"It has been so long ago I can't remember playing them," Turner said of that game.

Moser, though, said the bad memory lingers for him and several assistants, who also played in the game.

South Adams has won seven sectional and two regional championships and long has maintained a top small school program. Yet, the current team is considered among the very best and capable of playing for a state title in three weeks.

"People around here have been talking about this group since they were in fifth and sixth grade," Moser said. "Five of them started as freshmen and nine sophomores started last year. Now, as juniors, 12 are starting with four or five seniors. They don't play down to the level of the other team and they have a maturity about them."

Starfires quarterback James Arnold, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior, also holds the school's single-season and career passing records with more than 5,000 yards. Arnold threw his 36th touchdown pass in Friday's 28-6 semifinal victory over Monroe Central.

"He has been phenomenal," Moser said of Arnold, who has passed for more than 2,600 yards this season. "He's No. 1 in his class and possibly an Ivy League recruit. He's got one of the best arms I've seen by far, and we have a lot of guys around him."

Nick Miller is another talented two-way player and the 6-4, 210-pound junior is Arnold's top target and a standout defensive end. Miller has made visits to Division I Toledo and Western Michigan and also been contacted by Indiana University.

"(Miller) their tight end, they play him everywhere and bring him inside to block," Turner said. "He's a good athlete, too, and on defense you got to make sure you block him. He's a game breaker."

Senior Drew Stutzman and sophomore Aiden Wanner are other receiving threats and also man secondary positions. The Starfires have five two-way starters.

"We've got to tackle," Turner said about containing South Adams. "We know they're going to make plays — we just can't give up the big plays after contact. And they run a fast-paced offense like Eastbrook so we got to get lined up and know what formation they're in and figure it out and get aligned correctly."

A big reason for the Argylls' recent success is a run game that has racked up 200-300 yards with multiple backs. That has led to the Argylls averaging nearly 51 points in their four-game win streak. Turner uses a straight-T as a base offense but also incorporates the wing-T that is a favorite of his mentor and former coach Sehy.

"We've mixed it up and even run a little bit of shotgun lately," Turner said. "That's what we wanted to get to and being a young team at the beginning of the season it was hard to put things in. But as the season has gone on we've put more in and it's paid off.

"Our offensive line has been key," he continued. "They are all seniors but three of them didn't play last year. They've just been handling people and moving people."

Although South Adams is a big favorite, Moser said his team can't afford to overlook the Argylls.

"Madison-Grant looks good on film," Moser said. "They run a straight-T and misdirection and carry it out so well. They are playing with a lot of confidence right now and scoring 50 points a game. You got to be disciplined and play your assignments or they are going to burn you.

"It will be a challenge for us and hopefully our guys continue to be mature and come out and take care of business."