MARQUETTE This Saturday, the three U.P. football teams that still remain in the MHSAA playoffs will take the field against three powerhouse teams from Lower Michigan. Whoever comes out from the trenches on top will claim the right to represent their school in the state championship game at Ford Field.
In Division 5, the Menominee Maroons (11-1) will face off against the Grand Rapids West Catholic Falcons (9-3) at the Superior Dome in Marquette at 2 p.m. But this is far from the first time these two teams have met. The Maroons and the Falcons have played each other in four out of the last six years.
The Falcons have won the previous two meetings, and it can easily be assumed that there is no love lost between the two schools after meeting so often.
Justin Marietti | Daily Press
The Ishpeming Hematites raise their helmets together in victory after defeating the Mancelona Ironmen Nov. 3. Ishpeming is set to play in one of the Superior Dome games this weekend.
Paul Gerard photo
The Menominee Maroons gather in celebration after they beat Kingsford 48-14 on Nov. 3.
Paul Gerard photo
The St. Ignace Saints, their coaching staff, and their cheerleaders pack together for a photo after they defeated the North Dickinson Nordics on Nov. 9.
"It has become a nice rivalry," said Falcons coach Dan Rohn.
Grand Rapids West Catholic had been to the regional game in 2010 and 2011, so the bar was set high for this year. When they began the season 1-3, the seniors sat down with the team and said they didn't want to be the team to drop the ball.
"We stayed the course and believed in ourselves, and did the little things it takes to win football games," Rohn said.
He added that the defense was a huge contributor to their turnaround. Having players like Max Boorsma, their leading tackler, and Danny Green, an all-state defensive player, didn't hurt either.
"Our front seven plays as well as anyone," he said. "But Menominee is a whole different beast. We have to limit their opportunities."
The Maroons fought their way past Claire (9-3) to get into this game, and head coach Joe Noha said his team's resilience is what gave them the extra push to win and get here.
"We really earned it," he said, "but our kids showed true grit in the end. Our defense stopped them, and we were able to score."
Noha said that keeping their eyes on the prize is the biggest reason for his team's success.
"Our mantra all year has been to think big, focus small," he added. "They've done that by playing each play 100 percent, and embracing what the coaches expect of them. The goal has been to get to Ford field, but we're hopeful that we have enough to get through the game this week."
The first game of the day at the Superior Dome will be a Division 7 matchup, as the Pewamo-Westphalia Pirates (9-3) square off against the Ishpeming Hematites (11-1) at 11 a.m. This stands to be an excellent matchup, as both of these teams have earned a trip to the state finals in the past two years.
Eight members of the current Pirates team were on last year's bus to Ford Field, so they know how it felt to get there. According to their coach, Brad Weber, they also knew what they had to do to get back there.
"We worked hard in the offseason," he said. "They kind of knew what it took to get back to this point, and hopefully we can keep building on that experience."
Weber said that they are aware of the challenge ahead of them, but they are confident in their abilities, and confident that it will be a good matchup.
"If it comes down to a battle in the trenches, (the winner) will be who can control the line," he added. "If we can get our offensive line to play well, and our tailback Jared Myszak has a good game, we should be alright."
For Ishpeming, 2012 has been an emotionally charged season. But with all the adversity they have faced over the year, they have found ways to overcome it and fight their way to an 11-1 record.
"We have a great group of kids," said coach Jeff Olson. "Great on the field as well as off the field. They are one of the hardest working groups I've had. It's been a total team effort."
Olson, like Weber, knows that this football game will be about controlling the line of scrimmage, and it will be a defensive battle. Luckily, that happens to be one of the Hematites' focal points.
"We've been playing great defense all year long, and any time you're playing good D, you have a shot," he said.
Olson concluded that it was it was truly great to win the regionals, but being able to do it in Ishpeming made it even sweeter.
"The fact that we did it in front of our home fans was great," he said. "Playing in front of your home crowd for another championship is a great reward for these kids and for this town."
The St. Ignace Saints (12-0) will hit the road to take on Beal City (12-0) in Traverse City at 1 p.m. in a standoff between two undefeated teams. Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, there can only be one winner. However, both of these teams know what's at stake, which means that fans should be in for an absolute fight to the end in this game.
"When you're both undefeated, you've got a quality shot," said Saints coach Marty Spencer. "It's going to come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes, and which team gets a break. Either way, it'll be two great football teams battling it out on Saturday."
Spencer said that he knows his two captains, Joe Ostman and Curtis St. Louis, will pull their team together once more to try and push them to the game of games for high school football.
"This class has worked really hard," he added. "This has put us on the map a little bit. Hopefully they've created an atmosphere of hard work and dedication."
As a fairly young team, some of the local teams didn't expect much out of Beal City this year. They had no idea how wrong they were.
"It's been quite a surreal season for us," said coach Lou Rau. "The kids have been able to rise to the occasion for 12 weeks and make things happen when they need to. For what was supposed to be a 'down year' for us, it's been fantastic."
All the coaches had the same sentiment when it came to the state finals game; it's still one game away, and they don't get there unless they win on Saturday.
"We've got to take care of business this week before we can even think about that," Rau said.