POWERS - One of the premier football matchups in the first round of the MHSSA playoffs will be held Friday night and a community is ready to pack the stands at North Central for the first time in the postseason.
The best Jets (7-2) team since 1993 is set to take on the streaking Munising Mustangs (6-3).
"They are very hot right now, very solid," said Jets coach Kevin Bellefeuil of the Mustangs. "(Jeff Seaberg) does a great job coaching those kids."
The two teams met in Week 2 of the regular season, at Munising, with North Central escaping with a 14-12 victory after a failed two-point conversion attempt from Munising in the closing minutes.
Though the Jets won on the road and this game is at home, Bellefeuil doesn't put much stock in it.
"We won in Week 2 when we were both trying to figure things out. I think both teams are better now. It means nothing," he said. "I talked to Jeff the other day and we both feel whoever makes fewer mistakes and commits fewer penalties, that will determine the game."
The Mustangs started out 0-3 but have since reeled off six straight victories.
And that 0-3 start? That's nothing to overlook.
Munising played as well as a losing team could have, falling to West Iron County 7-0 and North Dickinson 24-20. The Mustangs became playoff eligible by beating a very good L'Anse team 17-10 in Week 9.
"We kept it exciting the entire year. We had three close games that could have gone either way to start the year," said Mustangs head coach Jeff Seaberg. "We had to bear down and get things done because there wasn't much room for error."
The Jets come into the game having won their last two, including a hard-fought 27-22 victory over Stephenson in Week 9, exhibiting enhanced control over the ball over the season's final weeks.
"We were very happy the other night, being ball conscious against Stephenson - you don't want to make a mistake against them, and against Bark River too," said Bellefeuil. "We've taken care of it the last couple games and we've come out on top. It's a big deal for us."
Bellefeuil and Seaberg were selected as co-coaches of the year in the Mid-Eastern Conference.
Offensively quarterbacks Rob Granquist for North Central and Austin Kelto for Munising will take the spotlight. Granquist was the Mid-Eastern Conference Back of the Year and Kelto was an honorable mention. Both are very good tacticians at the position, Kelto being more of a dual-threat quarterback and Granquist being an accurate gunslinger that prefers to drop back in the pocket.
"You have two guys that were listed as All-Conference quarterbacks in our meeting and you can't go wrong with either one," said Bellefeuil. "Rob is a little bit taller and Kelto is faster. That's the difference."
Said Seaberg, "We expect to see Rob put the ball in the air. That's how they beat us last time and they'll probably stick to the same type of gameplan. Hopefully we've corrected those problems."
On defense, the Jets have talent in linebacker Eric Prestay, tackle Zach Ryan, and defensive ends Travis Vincent and Dylan Dombrowski, but Munising counters with a very disciplined defense that may not be stacked with big names, but plays as a team, rarely getting caught out of position.
"We do well as a team," said Seaberg. "Ian McInnis is probably our best defensive player, but our kids just rally to the ball. They aren't super fast, but they're very smart in pursuit of the ball.
"We have to execute against their defense. They have a good defensive end in Vincent and a heck of a middle linebacker with Prestay. If we keep them from controlling the game on that side of the ball, we'll have a chance to move the ball. They have good size up front and our kids just need to stay low and drive them off the ball."
Said Bellefeuil of Munising, "Their kids are very assignment sure. They don't do too many crazy things either."
Both teams have made additions since early in the season. North Central now has midseason call-up, freshman receiver Jason Whitens making a big contribution. Munising will have receiver/kicker Andy Cooper, who has made a big impact during the win streak.
A lot of teams have a kicker, but Cooper is actually a big part of the offense, having kicked multiple field goals, including a 40+ yarder.
Against Stephenson, Cooper accounted for all 17 Munising points, catching two touchdown passes and kicking a 25 yard field goal.
"The Cooper kid adds a huge dynamic. He had a broken collarbone early in the year but he's hit a field goal in almost every game," Bellefeuil said. "He's a weapon.
"You don't want to give him good field position, especially before halftime. You don't want to them to sneak three points on us right before the half. They did that to Stephenson and it was a big deal. L'Anse as well, right before the half, off a turnover. You can't give up points like that, to a good team like that. You can't make mistakes."
One thing both coaches agreed on, it should be a classic game between two evenly matched teams Friday night. The Jets plan on making the first home playoff game in school history, one to remember.
"Everyone is really excited to finally get a home playoff game after all of these years," said Bellefeuil. "This group of kids has worked hard on and off the field for this home playoff game and I'm so happy for these guys."