MADISON — It was during a preseason scrimmage against Maine Central Institute that Madison senior Matt Curtis realized the new wrinkle in the Bulldogs’ spread offense was going to work.

“MCI is known for being pretty good and we were putting up some touchdowns on them,” Curtis said. “We were clicking, and I was like ‘This is probably going to be good for us.'”

Proficient in their spread offense, now the Bulldogs have added the element of up-tempo to their offense. The move is one Madison hopes keeps it in the Big Ten Conference playoff hunt. Last season, Madison reached the playoffs for the first time since 1996. With the talent the Bulldogs have back this season, they plan on not being one-year November wonders.

“When I was a freshman, the seniors, they drilled it in, they were the start. Coach (Scott Franzose) would say, we’re starting something new. We’re trying to build. We’re trying to get out of this hole. We’re starting to see the light,” Curtis said.

It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but Madison’s offensive effort in last week’s season-opening 35-18 win over Oceanside was impressive. The Bulldogs put up 419 yards of offense, including 306 on the ground and 113 through the air. Junior Nick Morales ran for 175 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Quarterback Chase Malloy threw for 113 yards, completing passes to five receivers, and ran for 92 yards. Briar Edgerly gained 42 yards on five carries and the Bulldogs averaged a gaudy 9.6 yards per carry.

The best part, senior offensive tackle Noah Shibley said, was the sound coming from the Oceanside players lined up across the ball. When he got into his three-point stance, Shibley could hear the Mariners labored breathing. Madison kept the pedal to the floor, and Oceanside was gassed.

“We could physically hear the other linemen being tired. So that’s a good thing,” Shibley said. “I noticed last year, when we could run around teams, we were more athletic. I think this shows we have some pretty athletic linemen.”

Added Edgerly: “The new tempo, I really like it. We don’t have much for big guys, but we have speed, and we realized that’s what we need to be using.”

Adding the no huddle to the offense was something Franzose has had in the works for a couple seasons, he said.

“These guys apply themselves. They’re thinkers. We try to get them in the classroom more, up the football IQ, and I really saw that in this young group a couple years ago,” Franzose said. “It’s been a little bit of a work in progress, but we thought this year, with a great senior group, a deep group, we could really let it fly. They’ve definitely grasped it.”

Right now, when things are going well and the Bulldogs are in a groove, Franzose estimates they get a play off approximately every 15 seconds.

“We have a saying, we want to practice faster than we play so we can play as fast as humanly possible. At the same time, staying fundamental. We time it at practice, and at times we’re getting off 22 plays in 17, 18 minutes, so that’s good. I tell them, as long as they can get their eyes on me and get the call, 15-20 seconds and I’m happy with that.”

As they get more accustomed to the offense, the players see themselves shaving significant time off between plays.

“Eight to 10 seconds. We don’t want to go too fast, but we want to know what we’re doing and get it done. Get up and do it again,” Edgerly said.

Along with speeding things up, Franzose has given Malloy the freedom to audible to a new play if he sees something in the defense.

“It’s the football IQ, it’s the smarts, and it’s a lot of trust. Not just Chase, but with Even Bess and Eric Wescott, probably the smartest group of (quarterbacks) I’ve had. They apply themselves. It’s about not just doing it now, but learning and building for the future,” Franzose said. “They get this stuff. They know how to read coverages. They understand our pass routes, how to look for open areas, how to reach defenders. Chase is probably the best guy I’ve had in that aspect, and in his senior year, we wanted to give him ownership. It helps to have a coach on the field, really. I can’t see everything. Sometimes he sees what I don’t.”

Against Oceanside, that freedom worked twice, when Malloy checked out of the called play to a new one, resulting in a pair of touchdown passes to Mitch Jarvais. The Mariners alternated between a Cover 3 deep zone, in which each defensive back is responsible for covering one-third of the field, and man-to-man defense. Malloy said Oceanside made it obvious when they would go to man to man, bringing the corners up tight and shifting the safety to cover a receiver.

“I knew if they were in man, we have athletes at receiver who can beat their corners deep. So I called a couple deep passes and we made some good plays. Mitch Jarvais had some nice catches,” Malloy said. “I love (no huddle). I especially love the freedom Coach (Franzose) gives me to audible out of plays, change things if I see something in the defense.”

Conditioning has been key for the Bulldogs, and that’s come through an up tempo practice.

“For practice, everything is no huddle, at least on offense. All practice, we’re repping things no huddle. If we have some questions or something to work on, we’ll wait until after. After all that no huddle offense, we still run and do extra conditioning at the end of practice,” Malloy said.

“At first it was kind of different. I think all of us ended up liking it more. We got in a huddle, and it felt weird,” Curtis said. “It conditions us without us really knowing it. I like seeing how the other team gets tired throughout the game.”

Madison’s next five games are against Foxcroft Academy, Belfast, Winslow, Waterville and Mt. Desert Island, teams that each made the playoffs last season. Getting better in the no huddle is a necessity for the Bulldogs.

“We always talk about, we’re not big play, we’re fundamental. But if we can get out and get lined up and know what we want to do when the guy across from us is sucking wind or maybe not sure of his assignment, that puts us at an advantage,” Franzose said. “We’re getting there. We’re getting there more and more every day.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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