The Madison football team won the Class C state title in 1989. This is a page taken from the school yearbook that year, with various photos from the season. Photo provided by Madison Memorial High School

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of our series, “Remember When,” in which we revisit some of the memorable games, events, streaks and runs in high school spring sports we’ve covered over the last few decades.

His football team trailing by four touchdowns in the biggest game of the 1989 season (so far), Madison Area Memorial High School coach Carl Rudman did not raise his voice. Rudman did not rant and rave. He just pointed out to his Bulldogs what they could plainly see on their own.

“Coach Rudman came over and said ‘We have fans leaving. They don’t believe in you,'” said Jeff Bess a Madison guard and defensive tackle on that fall day.

This was the Class C West regional championship. and the Madison fans who left early probably regret it to this day, 31 years later. The Bulldogs rallied from that 27-point deficit to defeat Jay, 33-30. A week later, a 14-8 win over Dexter gave Madison its second straight Class C state championship.

The previous season, 1988, the Bulldogs beat Dexter, 17-3, for the Class C title. The back-to-back championships capped a strong decade for Madison football. The Bulldogs went to the state championship game six times in the ’80s, also winning the state championship in 1982. The ’82 team was led by quarterback Bobby Wilder, who went on to the University of Maine and a college football coaching career, most recently at Old Dominion University. The early ’80s Bulldogs were a huge influence on the players who formed the core of the ’88-’89 champions.

“In 1982 I was in fifth grade, and I could name every starter, his position, and his number. You wanted to be them,” said Chris LeBlanc, a fullback/linebacker on the late-’80s teams.

“We had such great coaching and such incredible community support,” added Jon Christopher, Madison’s quarterback in ’88 and ’89. “There was such pride and tradition. Of course you didn’t want to let down the previous generations.”

Over those two championship seasons, the Bulldogs lost one game, a 12-6 loss in Week 6 of the ’88 regular season at Livermore Falls. The Bulldogs avenged that loss with a 21-0 win over the Andies in the conference championship game, before defeating Dexter in the state game at Gardiner’s Hoch Field. In 1988, the Bulldogs were coming off back-to-back losses in the state game, to Dexter in ’87 and to Old Orchard Beach in Class D in 1986, the last season of Class D football before it was reinstated by the Maine Principals’ Association in 2013.

In the ’88 preseason, Madison was pegged as a team that had to overcome a number of key graduation losses. The Bulldogs were talented, but still unknown, and couldn’t wait to show people.

“That’s something that brought the team together,” said Christopher, now the athletic director at Skowhegan Area High School.

The 1988 Bulldogs saw 11 players named to the all-conference team. The glue was Rudman, who succeeded his father, Art Rudman, as Madison’s head coach. In 2012, Madison’s football field was christened Rudman Field, in honor of the state championship winning father-son coaching combination.

“He was a special coach,” said Ross Fichtorn, a linebacker/fullback, of Carl Rudman. “Calm, cerebral and exceptionally bright. He was always calm and in control. Kind of a chess player mentality. You felt he was going to make the right call, so you just had to execute.”

“(Rudman) was very methodical. Practices were laid out on a board, and we all had to come look at it,” Bess, now a mechanic at the Sappi Paper mill in Skowhegan, said.

Rudman put trust in his players, and allowed Christopher to change the play at the line of scrimmage if he saw something in the defense. Christopher said it was a trust he did not abuse and did not recall changing a play often. Christopher did recall changing the direction of an off tackle run play when he saw the defense loaded to one side. The new play wasn’t a game changer, gaining only five or six yards, but Rudman knew his quarterback turned a potential negative play into a positive.

“I remember going to the sideline and him saying ‘Nice job. That was a nice change,'” Christopher said.

Added LeBlanc: “Jon Christopher and Coach Rudman, it was like they knew what the other was thinking.”

Former Madison football coach Carl Rudman led the Bulldogs to state titles in 1988 and 1989. Morning Sentinel file photo

Along with coaching, a key to the Bulldogs success was a selfless group of players willing to do whatever it took to continue the success built by their predecessors, LeBlanc said.

“If you were a boy living in Madison, you wanted to be a part of it,” said LeBlanc, now the principal and softball coach at Madison Area Memorial High School. “It was an outstanding experience, as a young person, to be a part of it.”

Players were asked to move to new positions for the good of the team. One of those players was Bess, who moved from the backfield to the offensive line.

“You just did what you had to do. I don’t think I I really thought about it. It put me on the field,” Bess said.

“We had a good group of guys who were very committed and focused. We had a little edge, and a little more focus that the average group. We just had that little bit extra a group is willing to give,” Fichthorn added.

In 1989, Fichthorn made 192 tackles in 11 games as a junior. Christopher is still stunned by the number.

“One hundred and 92 tackles on a team with a bunch of guys who can make plays? That’s pretty good,” Christopher said.

With a title to defend in 1989, the Bulldogs were even better. Madison wasn’t held under 20 points until that close win over Dexter in the state game at Winslow’s Poulin Field. Led by Fichthorn, the defense posted four shutouts and held eight of 11 opponents under 10 points. Fichthorn recalls with pride the second half effort in a comeback over Jay in the regional final. In the first half, Madison couldn’t contain Jay halfback Matt Friedman (who went on to be a head coach at Madison and Skowhegan), and the Tigers built a 30-3 lead.

“Jay had momentum. The game was in doubt,” said Fichthorn, who went on to be an all-conference linebacker at the University of Maine. Fichthorn is now an attorney with his own practice in Skowhegan, after spending time as a prosecutor in Texas and Maine.

LeBlanc felt the game swing in Madison’s favor early in the second half, when Christopher connected with receiver Clayton Abbott on a pair of long passes. In the state game, Dexter was a familiar opponent. The ’89 Class C title game was the third consecutive meeting between Madison and Dexter for the Gold Ball, and each team had one win entering the game.

Fichthorn recalled stuffing a late Dexter drive to seal the victory and give the Bulldogs the back-to-back championships.

“They were near the goal line. We were able to hold and come away with the win. Those are games that could’ve gone the other way had we not had the coaching we had,” Fichthorn said.

As softball coach at Madison, LeBlanc led the Bulldogs to four of the last six Class C state titles, including back-to-back wins in 2018 and 2019. His daughters were members of state title-winning softball teams at Madison, and LeBlanc is proud to share the bond with them.

“That was a time period where you had all the ingredients for success,” LeBlanc said. “As I reflect back, it was certainly a highlight of my academic life.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

 

 

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