Third and final installment. I hope yâ€™all have enjoyed it because I enjoyed writing it. Good luck to all the teams this weekend and we can talk more football on Tuesday.
This is another division with teams from all over the state still competing. Perennial powers Mendon and Muskegon Catholic Central will play each other. Two of the games will be played on Saturday and two will be under the lights on Friday night.
Ishpeming vs. Traverse City St. Francis (Friday 7pm at the Superior Dome)
The Hematites were willing to play at a neutral site, something closer to Traverse City. Weather forecasts dictated otherwise. A week after getting a win over Stephenson 32-26, they will take that short 20 mile ride over to the Superior Dome. The leading running back for Ishpeming, Casey Hares, had 237 yards and four touchdowns on 49 attempts. 49 attempts! It was close and Stephenson made a fourth quarter comeback, but fell short, partly due to a great play by 5â€™4â€ defensive linemen Brad Still on a two point attempt.
The Gladiators have destroyed everyone theyâ€™ve played so far in the playoffs. They have out-scored opponents 157 to zero in their past three games and havenâ€™t lost since the season opener against Suttons Bay. Theyâ€™ve had shut-outs in five of their eleven games. Last week they scored on their first eight possessions. Within six minutes of the first quarter, they had four scores. Andrew Rushlow has been leading the charge from the offensive backfield for the Gladiators. Rushlow and some of his fellow seniors missed the bus back to the school after the game, as they were savoring their final win at Thirlby Field in Traverse City.
Merrill at Harbor Beach (Saturday 1pm)
In Merrill, football hasnâ€™t always been what it is now. They had a stretch at one point where they won only two games in five seasons. That is ancient history and the spread offense Merrill is running was set up by one of the top coaches in Mid Michigan, Mel Skillman. His top assistant John Streeter has taken over the program and really has his boys going. They have seen a power rushing attack that Harbor Beach employs because the last three teams the Vandals played run very similar offenses. Merrill has a very experienced quarterback in third year starter Jason Pratt. He threw for five touchdowns last week against Pewamo-Westphalia.
Harbor Beach is having the best season theyâ€™ve had ever. Last week they came out pumped up and jumped on Ubly quick. Their swarming defense didnâ€™t allow any passing yards for the game. Itâ€™s hard to win if the opposing defense makes you one dimensional. The Pirates have some all Greater Thumb Conference first team selections on their offensive line. They also have some all conference players in their two running backs, Brion Gornowich and Brett Buchholz. To put it another way, the Harbor Beach Pirates is a team full of great players. Not only has the defense been making plays, but the offense has as well.
Muskegon Catholic Central at Mendon (Saturday 1pm)
Two storied programs will clash in an attempt to play at Ford Field after Thanksgiving. Last week, MCC beat Holton in overtime. The placekicker won his job the first week of the playoffs on the day of the game. Even without a whole lot of practice, he was able to come in and win the game for his team even after missing a field goal in regulation. Tailback for the Crusaders Adam Shireman had 298 yards on the ground last week. As a team, theyâ€™ve rushed for 3,143 yards. Itâ€™s hard to beat a team that has had their head coach for 20 years. That is some serious consistency.
Mendon likes to run the ball as well. They typically run behind senior tailback Kyle Maurer. This week, it was sophomore CJ Nightingale who had 73 fourth quarter yards, a receiving touchdown, a rushing touchdown, and an interception to help seal the deal for the Hornets. Maurer still outscored him with three of his own and 78 yards for the game. Saturdayâ€™s game is only the second between the two football powerhouses. The two coaches have won 13 state championships in the past 20 seasons.
Grass Lake at Sand Creek (Friday 7pm)
In their attempt to reach the state finals two consecutive seasons, Grass Lake has tried to run past the competition and get that Michigan shaped trophy. Skyler Stoker has been a large part of that. Last week, he put the first points on the board for his team with a 74 yard draw play. When the game was over, he had 199 yards and three touchdowns. Stoker also made tackles on defense and played well enough to help his team move past Allen Park Cabrini to play Sand Creek for the third time in three straight playoff appearances. The best part? Stoker is a junior!
The Aggies arenâ€™t about to give up. They want to make that trip back to the championship game for the first time since 1992. Their defense is very quick and theyâ€™ll need that to contain Stoker. Last week they went up early, but it was very, very close at the end. Senior linebacker Collin Baltz sacked the Reading quarterback as time expired to seal the win. Thatâ€™s the type of play you tell your grandchildren about! Junior linebacker Garrett King was a first team all Tri County Conference pick. They even had a selection to the All-Sportsmanship Team in Brandon Delaney.
These teams may be small, but that doesnâ€™t make them any less important. It just happens that they donâ€™t have as many football players on their teams. On the flipside of that, Iâ€™ve seen city schools in Saginaw and Flint with 20 or 30 players on varsity. Iâ€™d imagine thatâ€™s about the same size as the rosters for the small schools.
Central Lake vs. Crystal Falls Forest Park (Saturday 11am at the Superior Dome)
This has been a heck of a season for Central Lake. After losing many players to graduation, they have regrouped and made it to the regional finals. The Trojans are back to back district champions. Last week they played in a seesaw battle but came out on top 21-20. As a team, they made the plays needed to put the game away, including a couple of nice defensive stops. An interception gave the Trojans nice field position which turned into the game winning touchdown. Quarterback Ryan Crawley had two passes for touchdowns.
Another strong team from the UP, Crystal Falls Forest Park has been in this situation before. Last season they beat Central Lake for the regional championship. Theyâ€™ve won the regional championship every season since 2004. Theyâ€™ve been to the big dance four times since 2000, but havenâ€™t won a championship since 1976. Last week they blanked Lâ€™Anse 32-0. Kyle LaVacque had four touchdowns and 189 yards in the winning effort. If the Trojans can keep Central Lake pinned in their own end like they did to Lâ€™Anse last week, they will have a heck of a shot at going back to the big dance for the fourth straight year.
Frankfort at Beal City (Friday 7pm)
Frankfort has missed the playoffs only once since 1988. In those years, they have played Beal City 16 times in the post season hold the edge over the Aggies 9-7. The Panthers stormed past Hillman last week 42-6. They had two players rush for over 100 yards, Scott Demerly and Kyle Brouillet, with 176 and 139 respectively. The Panthers had over 300 yards rushing in the first half alone. Beal City knows whatâ€™s coming at them and Frankford knows what to expect as well.
The Aggies piled up 299 yards on the ground last week and another 175 through the air. The win over Vestaburg put them in familiar territory. Just like Frankford, theyâ€™ve only missed the playoffs once since 1990. Coach Lou Rau wants to make sure that the offense is balanced between run and pass. Junior Kohl Bechtel had 138 yards on only eight carries but still was able to punch it in twice with long runs. Their defense has played exceptional, giving up only 29 points in the past four games, with 22 of them coming this past week. This should be a fantastic game between two small school football powers.
Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes at Fulton-Middleton (Friday 7pm)
One of the few teams to knock off last yearâ€™s state champion is Fulton-Middleton. They had a running clock by halftime with the score of 35-0 and finished with a score of 48-6. Clevelyn Jefferson had four touchdowns in the winning effort. The defense came through valiantly and even blocked a punt for a touchdown. Itâ€™s an important game for the team in the middle of the state so they can attempt to win another state championship. They last won the Class DD Championship in 1998.
Waterford keeps rolling on and on. They havenâ€™t missed the playoffs since 1996 and won a championship in 2002. Other than the fact that their coach Mike Boyd is a great one and they play in the Catholic league, I canâ€™t find much information about them. Sorry guys, Iâ€™ll post more if I can find it.
Climax-Scotts vs. Sterling Heights Parkway Christian (Friday 7:30 at Fraser High)
If you follow small schools, youâ€™d know that Climax-Scotts is one of the top teams. They are 55-3 in the past five years. This past week, they beat Martin 46-22. Everyone got in on the action, including quarterback Jordan Langs, who caught his first touchdown reception. He also had a run and a pass go for touchdowns. This team is very humble and knows that you can only win if you work hard and get a little bit of luck.
The Eagles of Sterling Heights Parkway Christian have been rolling over everyone since the school started. Before the game tonight, they have a record of 21-1. The school has only been around for two years, but already they are making an impact. Some of that success has to be attributed to junior running back Zurlon Tipton. Last week against Redford Covenant, he has 217 rushing yards and SIX touchdowns. Redford was trying to keep the ball away from and stop him, but they couldnâ€™t do it.