RAPID RIVER - After making it to the title game in 2011 and the semifinal game in 2012, Rapid River appears to be in good position for another deep playoff run.
The Rockets (9-0) just finished up the first undefeated regular season in school history, they're the top-seeded eight-man team in the state and will have home field advantage for all their playoff games.
Rapid River hosts the Posen Vikings (4-5) on Friday. The Rockets beat the Vikings 64-26 in the second week of the season but Rapid River head coach Steve Ostrenga said the Vikings are better than their record shows.
Rapid River quarterback Jake Pearson bolts past the Posen defense in a game earlier this season.
"They've had some unfortunate things happen recently with some injuries but I'm anticipating they have everybody back," Ostrenga said. "They were ahead of Cederville the first game of the year 32-6 at one point, ended up losing 42-40. They beat Bellaire 62-14, and they were beating Engadine 20-0 before some injures hit."
The Vikings were actually forced to concede the game against Engadine, after losing their starting center and both quarterbacks. Posen head coach Wayne Karsten said the team is still without their starting quarterback and center, who have been injured since the week six loss to Engadine.
Injures aside, Ostrenga knows the Vikings can be a dangerous team. They took a 6-0 lead against the Rockets in the first matchup and tied the game at 14-14 early in the second quarter.
"It's always tough to play a team twice, you know the first time it was 14-14 early in the second quarter," he said. "They had just scored on a fairly long pass that was tipped, they were fortunate they got the tip and they finished off the catch and run and it was a tough ball game."
"It's hard to get a read on what they've done at the end of the year because they've had guys out."
While the Rockets are quite sure what to expect from Posen, the Vikings know what area they will have to focus if they're going to have any success against Rapid River.
"We know that Jake Pearson is their go to guy," Karsten said. "I know he's got a great supporting cast up there, but Jake is really the guy you've got to look to stop and that is our focus this week, just getting prepared to contain Jake."
In the teams first matchup this sesaon, Pearson erupted for 295 rushing yards and four touchdowns, while adding 26 yards and a touchdown pass through the air. The senior racked up the mega numbers without playing the fourth quarter.
"We had a plan the first time we went in and they kind of tore that apart so were coming up with a plan "B." Eight other teams who played them this year didn't have a whole lot of success stopping him so we're just trying to come up with something," Karsten said. "He's going to get his yards, he's going to make his plays we've just got to contain those plays and keep them at a minimum."
Ostrenga, noted the importance of having a good week at practice and not overlooking any teams in the playoffs. He also said his squad had areas to improve on during last weeks 74-42 win over Bellaire.
"We're just focused on this game, like we told the guys, we're 0-0 right now," Ostrenga said. "It's a great body of work they did that gave them an opportunity to get that first game at home and it'd be great if we play well. We're going to prepare this week the best we can, we're going to try to correct the mistakes we made at Bellaire. We gave up quite a few big plays at Bellaire and we had quite a few penalties so that's what we're focused on correcting this week."
Rapid River will enter the playoffs with a 26-man roster that includes five seniors. Ostrenga said the Rockets have had a good week at practice and are working on staying healthy heading into the first round.
The Vikings lost their last regular season game, falling 42-6 against Owendale-Gagetown. Karsten
said the Rockets are an elite team and his Vikings are ready for the challenge.
"We know that Rapid River is one of the better teams in eight-man," he said. "Our goal is to dance in the playoffs and to be the best you've got to beat the best. Whether you play them at the end or you play them at the beginning, you've got to beat them sooner or later. We're definitely up to the challenge and we're going to give it our best shot on Friday night."