GLADSTONE Friday night, the Gladstone Braves and Escanaba Eskymos will go head-to-head for the 96th time since their football programs began.
With that much history between these two teams, this event has naturally become a heated rivalry game over the years. But besides the competitive element, former Escanaba coach Dan Flynn said it's also a very important game that both communities look forward to.
"It's huge," he said, "and it's important for the kids. These kids see each other all the time."
Current Escanaba head coach Jim Hansen said that any time rival teams meet, it is always a dangerous football game.
"You can throw records out the window," Hansen said. "Kids get very excited and anxious going into a game like this."
Josh Mileski, Gladstone's coach, said that there are a lot of things that go into making or breaking a team's season, and one individual game generally isn't considered when looking at a team's level of success over the entire year.
"But in a rivalry game, if you can win it, it does make it a lot better season," he said.
Both teams enter this contest with 2-4 records. And although their records might send one message, the way these teams have consistently played throughout the season sends another.
For example, the Braves nearly upset the powerhouse Negaunee Miners (No. 4 in the UPSSA poll) in a road game highlighted by quarterback Sam Pouliot's 226 yards and three touchdowns and Jared Vuksan rushing for 93 yards. They came up just short in the fourth quarter, falling 36-34.
In the same regard, the Eskymos handed Marquette (No. 5) a 31-22 loss on the Redmen's home field. Escanaba's defense held Marquette scoreless in the second half, and the defeat essentially removed the Redmen from UPSSA rankings that week.
Escanaba and Gladstone also both still have slim playoff hopes if they can win-out in their final three games. Five-win teams that play a nine-game schedule don't often get into the postseason, but it does happen occassionally. A loss in this game surely eliminates the chance of postseason contention.
Mileski and Hansen both stated that they have been teaching their players a 'one-game-at-a-time' approach, and it seems to bring about progress in each and every practice.
"We talk a lot about being a champion on that given day," Hansen said. "Every game and every practice is an opportunity to get better. And because of the hard work these guys have put in, everything we do on a daily basis has improved throughout the season."
Mileski also said that he has seen significant improvement from his team since their first practice to this point.
"We've come a long way," he added. "We've improved in pretty much every area. Our passing game especially has improved quite a bit. But, no matter how far you come, there's always room to improve and to get better."
As with just about any rivalry game, emotions run high, and things like records and rosters don't seem to have the same effect as they usually might.
Last year, Escanaba trounced the Braves 54-14. It was the most points scored between these rivals since the Eskymos put up 54 in 1948. The memory of that game alone could be motivation for some of the returning players at Gladstone coming into Friday night.
Mileski said that you never know how these games are going to turn out, because they often depend on several contributing factors. However, little things can also be the key to winning or losing.
"I think it's really going to come down to the linemen," he said. "Whoever wins the battle up front is going to come away with the victory Friday night."
Although nerves are certainly going to play a factor, coach Hansen believes that his quarterback, Dave Falish, can have a successful game just by going out there and being himself.
"Dave's a great player," he said. "He's one of those seniors that helps lead everyone else. He does a lot of things well."