By Justin Marietti
CALUMET The regular season has come to an end, which can only mean that the MHSAA playoffs are officially upon us.
On Friday night, the Manistique Emeralds will head to Calumet to take on the Copper Kings in a matchup of two 6-3 teams that have their own fair share of momentum.
The collision of these two teams has the potential to be one of the best matchups of the first round of these Division 6 playoffs.
Manistique began their season with back-to-back losses to Negaunee and Ishpeming, respectively. However, both of those teams carry 8-1 records into the playoffs. Since then, the Emeralds have won six of seven games, including a double overtime win in their final game of the season over Harbor Springs.
"Our level of competition at the start was extremely high," said Manistique coach Todd Kangas. "But our defense really started to develop, and got a lot better as the year went on.
"I think we were able to find some things that everyone did pretty good, and we concentrated on those things."
Running back Kenner Broullire played quarterback for the Emeralds for two years before his senior year. But Kangas saw something in Broullire that couldn't be denied.
"We wanted to be able to have him run the ball 25 to 30 times a game," he said.
Manistique's offense has found great success this year. They ended the regular season leading the Mid Peninsula Conference in passing yards (Tyler Kangas, 1,060 yards) and rushing yards (Broullire, 1,247 yards). Mat Gonzalez caught the game-winning pass in the Harbor Springs game, and really gave the Emeralds an edge on defense, coming away with 22 sacks and earning four of them in the final game of the season.
According to Kangas, the offense became much better because they were diverse in their run/pass selection, and their ability to do both inevitably made the team stronger.
"We had a 1,000 yard rusher and s 1,000 yard passer. For a high school, that's pretty good to have those two things," Kangas said.
On top of that, they had three receivers in the conference's top 10 in Zach Lindemuth, Max Nelson, and Zach Lambert. Together, the trio combined for a season total of 972 yards.
However, the comparisons between the Emeralds and the Copper Kings go much further than their chosen mascots or their identical records.
Calumet lost 21 seniors from the 2011 roster, and as coach John Croze said, the bulk of their experience was gone. The Copper Kings dropped their first three games this year, and the hopes for a winning season could have easily been scrapped. But the team responded in a huge way, winning six straight games to finish 6-3 and clinch a playoff spot.
"We played three tough teams and lost good football games," Croze said. "After that, we started putting a few more points on the board, and getting the offense going a bit more. And that really started building a lot of confidence."
Running back Clark Kangas led his team on the defensive end, finishing with 131 tackles, 19 of which were for a loss. He also had 505 yards rushing. Back Tyler Roland tallied 534 yards from scrimmage, and quarterback James Sturo had 401 yards on the ground and 401 through the air.
"Another one of our captains, offensive lineman Anders Bjorn, had an excellent year," Croze added.
Kangas stated that because of the long bus trip and playing a playoff game away on the road, The Copper Kings will certainly have an advantage. But, like Calumet, they also have some momentum on their side, and they don't plan on handing the game over.
"I think both teams have some momentum," he said. "There are things that we both like to do. Whoever is able to do the most of that will probably end up winning the game. But it should be a pretty good game with two pretty evenly matched teams."
Croze also said that there are always a lot of emotions going into a game like this, and those emotions will likely play a factor in this contest.
"It will be the team that can maintain their emotions throughout the game," he said. "That's what it comes down to, especially at this level."
In Calumet, the fans are ready and waiting for some great playoff football.
"Agassiz Field is going to be rocking on Friday," said Croze.