DeTOUR - Earlier this season, Rapid River suffered its worst loss since making the transition to 8-man football when the Cedarville Trojans romped 70-12 on the Rockets home field. It was one of only two losses Rapid River (8-2) suffered all season.
The Rockets are hoping this time, in the MHSAA regional final, things will be different as they attempt to secure back-to-back regional titles.
"We have to eliminate space," said Rockets' head coach Steve Ostrenga. "Coach Tyler Kiehl stated that the game normally comes down to special teams, mistakes and penalties. If you can eliminate those three things, you have a chance."
Paul Gerard photo
Robert Metter of Rapid River looks for space after hauling in a catch from quarterback Jake Pearson Oct. 26 in the Rockets’ regional semifinal at home against Superior Central. Rapid River plays Cedarville tonight at 7 p.m. at DeTour for the regional title.
Rapid River came out on top in their postseason opener 44-34 over Superior Central on Oct. 26 while Cedarville (10-0) survived Engadine 19-6 in what Trojans coach Scott Barr called an "odd night."
"We turned the ball over a bit against Engadine and had quite a few penalties," he said. "But the defense was solid and stepped up. We have to be more disciplined on the offensive end this week. Typically, we have been."
Ostrenga didn't hesitate to express his respect for the Cedarville offense.
Running back Kaden Barbeaux was the Bridge Alliance Conference player of the year and an All-U.P. selection at linebacker, but the Trojans are more than just a one-man team.
"I wish it was just Barbeaux. Cedarville does several things well. They come off the ball well offensively and defensively. On offense, they thrive on the big play but their defense sets their offense up in good position," Ostrenga said. "Barbeaux is as good at linebacker as he is as running back. Todd Hecht is also a very good linebacker. Their nose guard plays well. They have two big defensive ends.
"They have speed to make up for their mistakes. You think you have them beat, but they make up ground quick. Offensively, they throw the ball well and run some misdirection. They have four capable receivers. It's a triple threat, it's a tough offense to stop. Last time, in a five minute span, they scored 22 points based on our two turnovers and a short field drive by them."
Tall order indeed, but Ostrenga was encouraged by the performance of his defense against Superior Central.
"We played better defensively than we have been playing last week. We tackled better and covered better as far as pass coverage," he said. "We put pressure on Trevor Maki, who is an excellent quarterback. He had maybe nine completions. We played disciplined and that was good."
Leading the way on offense and fighting through an ankle injury was quarterback Jake Pearson.
"Jake still has the ankle and hamstring healing up. We've limited him in practice but he's such a smart, savvy player that he picks things up pretty quick," said Ostrenga.
"He had plays called last week where he had the option to keep or give. The opening was there and how do you argue? What impressed me is that he went both ways and covered (All-U.P. receiver) Dan Steward."
Also coming into the game banged up is fullback Eli Orth who suffered a mild concussion last week.
"Eli has been cleared to play," said Ostrenga. "We're going to watch and limit his snaps. He had a concussion and neck sprain and tweaked his knee a bit. He also still has the hip problem from his sophomore year. He'll probably be a little sore tomorrow but he wants to play and that's a tribute to him."
Barr said his team's gameplan is almost solely focused on shutting down Pearson.
"The thing that concerns me the most is the dynamics of Pearson," he said. "We want to contain him and that's been the focal point of our defensive gameplan. That's pretty much it. We know he'll get the ball 40-50 touches a game. We have to minimize his production."
A decision was made on Thursday to move the game to DeTour, whom Cedarville shares a football co-op with, based on the unfavorable conditions at Cedarville's field.
"Our field conditions were bad. We had some drainage problems so we shifted to DeTour for safety reasons," Barr said.
Inspired in part by Engadine's effort against the Trojans last week and Rapid River's own improvement, Ostrenga knows his team will have a shot if they stick to the gameplan.
"Cedarville certainly has a lot of firepower and a lot of speed at the skill positions. We have to eliminate mistakes if at all possible and we have to tackle well. If we don't do that, the guys know they're in for a long night," Ostrenga said.