Madison’s 2013 varsity football team on the school’s media day earlier this season. (Courier file photos by David Campbell)
Madison’s 2013 varsity football team on the school’s media day earlier this season. (Courier file photos by David Campbell)
Madison football has had its most successful season in nearly a decade but if the Cubs are going to keep it going, they will have to play their best football of the year this Friday.

Madison opens the Class 4A Sectional 23 with a home game against top-ranked Columbus East. The Olympians are not only 9-0 on the season, but already own a 41-7 win over the Cubs this season.

But first-year coach Patric Morrison is not daunted by the task. Madison faces an uphill battle, but Morrison believes his team will be ready.

"The season has gone exactly how I thought it would except for the one slip-up at Jennings County," Morrison said. "I thought we had a good chance to win a sectional game and I still believe that even though we didn't get the draw we were looking for, which would have been anybody else in the sectional. I still believe, and I told the kids tonight, I honest to God believe that we have a really good chance to knock off Columbus East. We just have to put it all together for four quarters."

Morrison has every reason to be confident. Madison (4-5) is playing its best football of the season and comes into the sectional fresh off back-to-back blowout wins over Bedford North Lawrence and Seymour. The latter game was not only the Cubs' first win over Seymour since 1982, but the 55 points Madison scored was its most since 1973.

Those wins may not mean much in the face of mighty East, but they certainly give the Cubs a reason to smile heading into the postseason.

"The kids are confident and you can tell because they're playing loose in practice and they're not uptight," Morrison said. "They look like they're having fun out there."

Even the loss to East proved to be a positive. The 41 points the Olympians scored was their fewest of the season and the 34-point margin was one of East's smallest.

Madison even held a lead in that game, the first time since 1999 the Cubs were ahead of the Olympians at any point of a game.

Of course, in the end, East still rolled to the win thanks to 194 yards and six touchdowns on just 15 carries by running back Markell Jones. The junior is already being courted by Division I schools such as Auburn.

Not to be outdone, quarterback Alex Cowan rushed for 121 yards on just seven attempts. Together, Jones and Cowan led East to 381 yards on the ground.

"When you look at that game, we were in it into the second quarter and that's when East took over," Morrison said. "The last two weeks, the second quarter has been when we've exploded. We're hoping we have that kind of success Friday night."

If there is a positive to the matchup with East, it's that Madison knows what to expect.

"Jones and Cowan, we're going to see a lot of those two guys running the ball," Morrison said. "They line up in the double tight and they're going to run the zone option to the left or right. Then they'll line up Markell Jones in the wildcat formation ... They're a very fundamentally sound team. They don't do a lot of crazy stuff. They just play good, sound fundamental football which is where we would like to be someday."

Madison has made great strides toward that goal the past two weeks. Senior running back Mitchell Sandlin has 1,232 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season while senior Jordan Partee has caught 31 passes for 452 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 206 yards on just 21 carries.

Most of Partee's damage has come the past two weeks, including a school-record five touchdowns last week against Seymour. Partee has lined up at quarterback and run the read-option, and also taken snaps at running back. He has a total of seven TDs over the past two games either running, catching or throwing.

If the past two games are any indication, Partee could play a big part in the offense on Friday.

"We're getting Jordan into some different positions. He's playing some good ball here recently. Obviously (East will) be keying on him," Morrison said. "Mitchell has run the ball well all year. Our offensive line has done good job. We're averaging over a hundred yards rushing. They're both playing good ball and (quarterback) Kody (Boles) is doing the right things. We're not turning the ball over which is a good thing."

Like his two teammates, Boles is playing his best at the end of the season en route to passing for 624 yards and seven TDs this year. The senior has also rushed for nearly 100 yards the past two weeks, including a 36-yard run against Seymour.

Regardless of what happens on Friday, Morrison's first season has to be considered a success. The four wins represent the most Madison has scored in a season since going 5-6 in 2005 and the Cubs won two games in the Hoosier Hills Conference for the first time since 2006.

The winner of this game will face the South Dearborn-Greenwood winner in the semifinals next week. The other two first-round games feature Franklin County at Shelbyville and East Central at Connersville. Those six teams are a combined 16-38 entering the playoffs and none of the six has a winning record.

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IHSAA FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS

CLASS 4A, SECTIONAL 23

(All Times 7 p.m. EDT)

Friday, Oct. 25

Franklin Co. (3-6) at Shelbyville (4-5)

East Central (3-6) at Connersville (2-7)

Columbus East (9-0) at Madison (4-5)

South Dearborn (0-9) at Greenwood (4-5)