By SCOTT CHURCH (firstname.lastname@example.org)
EASTERN UPPER PENINSULA – Every year, football teams across the state play eight or nine games with the hope of playing at least one more. “Six wins and you’re in” has become a mantra among coaches and players, and now that the time is here, the Eastern Upper Peninsula finds itself with five teams in the postseason.
St. Ignace, Rudyard, Cedarville, Brimley, and Engadine all qualified this year and will play this weekend, hoping to stave off elimination and keep their quest for a title alive.
The first round may create a feeling of deja vu as three of the four playoff games will be rematches of regular season contests, and in the case of Brimley and Engadine, a rematch of last week’s regular season finale.
St. Ignace posted a perfect 9-0 record in the regular season and will host the 6-3 Munising Mustangs in the opening round Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. The Saints beat Munising 36-6 earlier in the season, but coach Marty Spencer trusts that his team will not enter Saturday’s contest over confident.
“It’s one and out in the playoffs,” said Spencer. “And anybody can beat anybody. Our guys know that and know what they want to accomplish so I’m not too worried about our focus.”
One thing that does worry Spencer a little bit is Mustang quarterback Kenya Oas. He torched Pickford in the opening game of the season and has continued to make plays with his fleet feet all season long.
“The game was 7-6 at the half when we played them the first time,” Spencer said. “We just came out and had a really good second half. We have to hit the quarterback early, tackle him and put him on the ground and wear him out so that he thinks twice about running.”
Another rematch pits Cedarville (8-1) against Posen (2-7) on Friday night at 7 p.m., in Cedarville in the inaugural postseason for eight-man football. Like St. Ignace, the Trojans posted a blowout win against their playoff opponent in the regular season, winning 39-0 in the opener on August 26th.
“You want to keep your guys motivated,” said Cedarville coach Scott Barr. “But you can’t buffalo them. They know we beat Posen pretty bad the first time.”
Despite the temptation to let down with the memory of the first game, Barr has little concern about his team looking past the first round.
“The guys have remained pretty focused,” he said. “We are really just focusing on doing things the right way regardless of who we’re playing. We aren’t going to anything different just because they’ve seen it before. We’re just keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’re pretty happy with the way we’ve been playing heading into the playoffs.”
In the third rematch of the first round, the Brimley Bays and the Engadine Eagles will meet Friday night at 7 p.m., for the second time in as many weeks. Both teams got into the playoffs with 5-4 records with the Eagles winning the regular season matchup 38-14 to capture the Weather Bowl in the last game of the regular season.
The Bays will host the contest which Brimley coach Ron Lounds believes will be a big advantage for his team.
“Playing the game at our place will be big,” he said. “One of our goals this season was to make the playoffs and hopefully get to host a game. There were times this year when the guys might not have believed it was possible, but we did it. Now we have to take advantage of it.”
In the only game that features two teams that haven’t seen each other in the regular season, the 6-3 Rudyard Bulldogs will travel to Hillman to match up with the 8-1 Tigers on Friday night at 7 p.m.
The teams had two common opponents in the regular season. The Bulldogs beat Rogers City 32-8 while Hillman knocked off the Hurons 50-6. Lincoln-Alcona also faced both Rudyard and Hillman, losing to both. The Bulldogs notched a 37-16 win, and Hillman beat them 6-0.
That 6-0 score might seem like a good sign for Rudyard, but Rudyard coach Pat Maloney doesn’t see it that way.
“I think that game was played in week six when it was raining sideways down there,” he said. “To me, that game says more about the weather than it does about either one of the teams playing.”
Maloney and his staff have seen several tapes on Hillman and will watch several more before finalizing a game plan, but there are some things that Maloney and the Bulldogs have noticed in the early film sessions.
“They are a very run-oriented team and they have more speed than we do,” Maloney said. “They want to control the ball and run for 300 yards against us. We have to try and hold them to 2-3 yards per carry and force them to punt the ball.”
Offensively, the Bulldogs may be inclined to open things up a little bit and put the ball in the air.
“They have a corner who’s 5-foot-4, so we might try and match Tyler Wilson up against him and take a couple of shots down the field,” Maloney said. “We want to spread them out defensively. They like to put nine guys in the box, so we might spread things out and see how they tackle in space.”
Even though the game isn’t a regular season rematch, the two teams are familiar with each other having played each other in 2008 and 2009.
“They run the same stuff,” Maloney said. “Different kids, but same coach.”