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Sparks lights Floyd's fire over Madison

September 10, 2008
Aaron Sparks lit a fire in under the Floyd Central Highlanders Friday night, running for three touchdowns in Floyd's 31-21 win over the visiting Madison Cubs. The win improved the Highlanders' record to 3-0, but Floyd coach Brian Glesing said his team is still lacking a killer instinct.

Floyd Central's Aaron Sparks (front) ran for 265 yards and three touchdowns in the Highlanders' 31-21 win over visiting Madison Friday night. (Photo by Wade Bell)
"We had a chance to put Clarksville away the first week and we didn't do it," Glesing said after the Hoosier Hills Conference win. "We had a chance to put this team away and just didn't do it. I don't know if they're not used to being ahead. I don't know what it is. We took a couple of plays off and it cost us. … We can't afford to make those kinds of mistakes because we're a ground-it-out, running-the-ball offense."

Floyd's defense forced the Cubs to give up the ball on their first possession, and the Highlanders got on the board first when Cole Richards punched in a 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

The Cubs gave up the ball again on a bad snap on fourth down and with 5:39 to go in the period and Sparks ran in from 11 yards for his first touchdown of the night, giving the Highlanders a 10-0 lead.

Madison finally got on the board in the second period. Floyd kept the ball on the ground, but got hit hard when Max Guenther was sacked for a 7-yard loss for third-and-18. Sparks moved the ball for fourth-and-eight, then Richards had a 38-yard field goal attempt go wide right, giving the ball to Madison.

Madison mixed up both its passing and ground games, with Steven Curry throwing to Jonathon Head to the 2-yard line. Zach Zehren ran the keeper to the 1-yard line, then Chris Ball punched it into the end zone with 48 seconds left in the half. Trey Thurston kicked the extra point, and Floyd's lead was cut to three, 10-7, at halftime.

"We had a chance to put them away," Glesing said. "The second quarter, we're right here, 10-0, driving again, and we have one breakdown and we get sacked. Instead of going up 17-0, we give the ball up and now it's 10-7. Just like that, it went from a 17-point game to a three-point game. That's big in football."

Floyd kept the ball on the ground to begin the second half, and with 8:14 to go in the third period, Sparks ran in for his second touchdown from 10 yards out, giving the Highlanders a 17-7 lead.

Madison responded quickly on their next possession. On second-and-five Kraig Brittain silenced the Floyd crowd with a 73-yard run to score. The Cubs' extra-point attempt failed, but the Highlander lead was cut to four, 17-13.

Like they did at the beginning of the half, the Highlanders again kept the ball on the ground. On fourth-and-five the Highlanders took a timeout. On the next play Guenther aired the ball to Matt Lowe, who took the ball to the 18-yard line for first down. From there it was Sparks again, who carried the ball four times and got his third score of the night for a 24-13 Highlander advantage.

"That was a big play," Glesing said of Guenther's pass to Lowe. "We went to the right side of the field. I wasn't worried about (Guenther). I was worried about our offensive line protecting the passer. That's what I was worried about more so than the quarterback. Our quarterback makes great decisions, but the quarterback was on his back a lot tonight."

In the fourth quarter the Cubs had the Highlander fans biting their nails again. Floyd made two good defensive stops, then Madison kept the ball on the ground for the next three plays. Zach Zehren then threw to Nate Weber who went into the end zone for the 47-yard play and a score. Ball ran in for the two-point conversion and Floyd's lead was cut back to three, 24-21 with 9:51 left in the game.

Glesing said he told his team it just had to keep its composure.

"We had to just keep doing what we were doing," he said. "Grind it out, don't hit the panic button. Offensively, other than two or three breakdowns, we handled it great."

Sparks returned the kickoff to the Floyd 35-yard line. Guenther then found Sparks for an 18-yard gain to the Madison 47. Guenther kept the ball to the 32 for another first down, then Tyler Davis carried to the 27. Sparks ran the ball for another first down, then Guenther faked out everybody and carried in from 20 yards for a 31-21 lead.

The Highlanders kept the Cubs out of the end zone for the remainder of the game and took the 10-point win.

"He's just good at hiding the ball like that," Glesing said of Guenther's touchdown. "That's a big deal to get that fake in here. We teach that."

Floyd ran the ball 15 times to start the second half. Glesing said that was one of the keys to the win.

"In our first three games we've punted once or twice now," he said. "It's very encouraging. Teams that win are teams that run the football, and that was good for us. That might have been a big difference in the game. We were able to run the ball and control the ball, and with guys that can take care of it, that's a big deal. It's demoralizing to an opponent."

Sparks had a big night with 265 yards rushing, and Guenther was 5 of 8 passing for 103 yards. Floyd had 18 first downs to Madison's 13, and the Highlanders finished with 429 yards of offense to the Cubs' 399 yards.

Glesing said Guenther and Sparks work well together and both can run the ball.

"They're probably our best runners and do an excellent job," he said. "One of the things they did tonight was take care of the football. Madison turned it over a couple of times, and that was a big deal for us."

The offensive line, however, is still a big concern for Glesing and his staff.

"They made some mistakes on a quarterback sack and a penalty there at the end," Glesing said. "You cannot have that. We've got to stop putting ourselves in positions that we don't need to be. We had a chance to put them away here at the end of the game and didn't do it."

The win pushed the Highlanders to 3-0, but Floyd now has six Hoosier Hills opponents left, beginning with Seymour on Friday night. Madison dropped to 0-3 for the year.

"There's no easy ones left," Glesing said. "When you look at our defense, we haven't stopped anybody. Tonight, we give up a big play that was a blown coverage here and poor tackling. We practice it, and we'll practice it more this week. It's one thing for them to throw and catch the ball, but we want to come up and make a hit.

"When they run the ball, come up and make the play. They can gain six or seven yards, but when we miss some tackles, they get some long runs and a big pass play. That can't happen. You can live with five or six yards, but you can't with the big 20-yard gains."

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