MADISON — Madison Area Memorial High School quarterback Evan Bess was recently asked about a specific play. On the play in question, a third down and 6 quarterback draw early in the second quarter of Madison’s Sept. 15 win over Winthrop/Monmouth, Bess paused an extra beat after taking the snap, allowing a Winthrop/Monmouth defender to pursue too far into the backfield. With a hole now wide open straight up the middle, Bess ran for 10 yards and a first down. On the next play, Eric Wescott ran six yards for a touchdown, and the Bulldogs had a 14-point lead, on the way to a 47-8 win.

The thing is, asked about the key third down run a few days after the fact, Bess couldn’t remember the specifics. He was so engrossed in preparing for the next opponent, Wells, he couldn’t recall what exactly was going through his mind at that point against the Ramblers.

“With our entire offense, we have linemen that are doing their job. We have great skill positions. We compliment each other well, and we have the ability to do things like that on third down, to get the critical first down,” Bess said.

Even with last week’s 25-21 loss to undefeated Wells, Madison (3-1) has shown itself to be one of the most explosive offensive teams in the state. The Bulldogs average 42 points per game, the highest in Class D. With four returning starters who earned all-conference honors in Class C North last season (Bess, running back Sean Whalen, along with linemen Max Shibley and Kobe Tibbetts), as well as the return of tackle Matt Oliver, who missed half of last season with an injury, the Bulldogs are making their spread pistol offense look easy.

“That is a tough football team with some fast backs,” Wells coach Tim Roche said following his team’s win over the Bulldogs Friday.”They’re the best team we’ve faced in a while.”

Madison hosts Old Orchard Beach Friday night.

“The thing I’m most proud of is the way they pick up the schemes. We do a lot. We move guards, tackles. Some people look at my playbook and think it’s incredibly complicated. They don’t feel it is,” Scott Franzose, now in his sixth season as Madison’s head coach, said. “They pick it up. There’s a sync to what they do, from the skills to the offensive line. Eleven man football, they all get it and they get it done.”

Playing with that total confidence has led the Bulldogs into plenty of big plays. Both of Madison’s offensive touchdowns at Wells (the Bulldogs also scored on an 85 yard Whalen kick return) came on plays of more than 50 yards. Bess had a 52-yard touchdown run, and threw a 74-yard scoring pass to Jacob Meader. A week earlier against Winthrop/Monmouth, Madison had 14 plays of 10 or more yards, including four touchdowns. The Bulldogs ran 49 offensive plays against the Ramblers, scoring an average of once every seven snaps.

“We have a smart line. We handle things up front, and we pass it off to the guy beside us. Getting those guys to the second level, that’s the most important thing. After we get to that, the running backs make their decision and handle it from there,” Oliver said.

Two of Madison’s long scoring plays against Winthrop/Monmouth came on similar passes from Bess to Whalen. In film study leading up t the game, the Bulldogs determined if the Ramblers defense overrotated to the perimeter, the middle of the field would be wide open. When those exact situations occurred in the game, Bess and Whalen knew what to do. The first time, it was for a 79-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter, giving Madison a 27-0 lead. The second time was just over two minutes into the third, and the Bess-Whalen connection went for a 29-yard scoring strike and a 33-0 lead.

“If we see an opening, we’re going to try to take it. Coach Franzose puts us in great spots for that,” Whalen said.

Added Bess: “I was just reading that the middle of the field was open. Obviously, you go through your reads and you’re going to take what the defense gives you. I made the read, and (Whalen) made a great play.”

While running the pistol, Madison is still primarily a run-first team. Whalen, Wescott, and Bess each have had a 100-yard rushing game this season, and all three ran for at least 159 yards, combining for 483, in the season-opening 49-28 win at Foxcroft Academy. A key to Madison’s success is the team’s overall experience. The seniors were freshman when the Bulldogs began running up tempo and no huddle. Their familiarity with the system enabled Franzose to expand the offense quicker than expected this season.

“I felt a lot of it was because they applied themselves. They understand the tactical part of the game… We were way ahead of schedule back in doubles (preseason double session practices). Again, because of the way they apply themselves, they’re allowing us to do some advanced things. What you’re seeing now is a lot of our read option game,” Franzose said. “Evan has been exceptional in it. That’s become a big part of what we do. They not only read point of attack, but now if we’re leaving a man unblocked and we’re trying to read that, they’re very good at that as well. That adds another element to what we can do offensively.

“I always say we’re a two-back system. We’re really a three-back. We’ve got a lot of quarterback runs we’ve added the last two seasons. Evan’s a big part of that,” Franzose added.

The core of Madison’s team has played football together for a decade, coming up through the youth leagues together, and it shows.

“We always have a pretty good idea of what we’ll be doing. We’ve known each other for many years. We’ve been friends for 10 years. We’re on the same page a lot of the time,” Whalen said.

“Coming from a small school like Madison, you get to know who you go to school with, who you play sports with,” Bess said. “It’s the same group of guys that you hang out with all the time, which is pretty special.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM