Key prep grid games ahead

Dennis Grall | Daily Press Escanaba teammates Alex Lynch (20) and Christer Carne (21) converge on the football to break up a pass intended for Kindall Wilson (6) of Detroit Loyola late in the second quarter Saturday at Escanaba Athletic Field. The Eskymos rallied in the second half to win 27-24. Escanaba visits Marquette Friday night.

ESCANABA — A pair of epic confrontations in the Great Northern Conference and a sterling showdown among potent eight-player teams highlights the weekend’s high school football schedule.

Escanaba and Gladstone both hit the road Friday for GNC games, with Esky at Marquette High School’s newly-installed turf field while the Braves visit Kingsford. Gladstone tripped Menominee 14-0 in its GNC debut last week while Esky and Marquette have their GNC openers.

Rapid River visits top-ranked Pickford in the Great Eight Conference battle. The Rockets dropped a 26-20 decision at North Central two weeks ago and Rapid River coach Steve Ostrenga said the Panthers “will be the best team we’ve seen so far. North Central is really good, but this team (Pickford) across the board, they are more diversified.”

Ostrenga said the Panthers have two excellent running backs, 6-foot-8 receiver Nick Eddington, good speed and they are sure tacklers.

Jim Storey, an All-U.P. linebacker last year, is also the quarterback. He has nine touchdown passes this season and has thrown for 336 yards and run for 151 yards.

The Panthers boast a balanced backfield led by Matt Bush, Stephen LaMothe and Chase Warner and Eddington has seven receptions for 169 yards and four TDs.

“Coach (Josh) Rader does a nice job with them. They have been good every year,” said Ostrenga, noting the Panthers are coming off an impressive 38-20 conquest of state champion Crystal Falls Forest Park. Isaac Brown had an opening 95-yard kickoff return to send the Panthers ahead for good. Storey and Eddington connected on 10 and 57-yard scoring plays.

Ostrenga said several players have been key contributors for his Rockets, naming Lenny Menard, Steven Taylor and Sam Orth on defense and Tyler Sundling, Brent Lundquist, Nate Olson and Gunner Larson on offense.

“We’re just continuing to get better. We’re not there yet, we have things to clean up yet,” Ostrenga said. “Our whole defense has improved since day one.”

Gladstone (2-1) is visiting a dangerous Kingsford team reeling from three losses against powerful Wisconsin teams, most recently a 49-6 thrashing against Fond du Lac, which snapped Kimberly’s state record 70-game winning streak in week one.

“Believe it or not, we did some good things in the game,” Kingsford coach Chris Hofer told the Iron Mountain Daily News.

“Kingsford will be a really hungry football team,” Gladstone coach Jeff Hansen said. “We’ll see a typically solid football team. They try to grind you, their defense looks stout and they hit. I expect their best effort.”

With All-U.P. quarterback Sawyer Perpich graduated, the Flivvers are back to running their potent Wing-T offense.

“They are doing more with their running backs, things you’ve seen in the past,” said Hansen.

“They have played some really good teams (each of them are 4-0), some highly touted teams who are very successful. I think they are ready to get back into playing U.P. games,” said Hansen. “The road (to the GNC title) goes through Menominee and Kingsford. Every single program in the GNC has raised its level of play. It takes your best football to win in every GNC game.”

Last week Zach Hanson got the Braves rolling by returning the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. “(Assistant coach) Casey Young does a fantastic job with our special teams units,” Hansen said. “That has the ability to tilt the field in your favor. He understands the impact, he sees it through a special-teams eye (as a former Gladstone and NMU standout). What he has and what he brings really gives us a tremendous advantage.”

The Eskymos have prevailed in two tight games at home, beating Petoskey 15-14 in the final minute and edging Detroit Loyola 27-24 in the final minutes.

“The first half we had three-four chances to make plays and the kids didn’t make plays,” said coach Dave Howes about trailing 16-7 at halftime. “In the second half the kids caught balls and made plays. We are a physical team and we could see we were wearing Loyola down on defense.”

He also said quarterback Craig Kamin did a better job of “putting the ball in everybody’s target” after intermission.

Friday the Eskymos will see another stud speedster, receiver Ethan Martysz, whose father Boris Jr. is a former Escanaba resident and one-time All-U.P. player at Marquette. “He’s just explosive,” Howes said, noting Martysz has attended numerous football camps.

“He has a burst on him. He won’t drop a pass and his footwork is amazing. He and the quarterback (Andrew Koski) have a special connection. Give him an inch and he’ll take it.”

Howes would not reveal Esky’s defensive plan of trying to contain Martysz other than saying “we will try different things.”

The Redmen also feature running back Andrew Gale, who has been sidelined the past two games. “He is fast. He torched us for about 180 yards last year,” said Howes.

The Redmen whipped Sault Ste. Marie 42-20 last week, after losing to Traverse City St. Francis 42-3 and Traverse City Central 35-7.

“I thought Marquette would be one of the better teams in the U.P.,” Howes said of the challenge awaiting the Eskymos.