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Braves, Eskymos set to renew rivalry

Austin Hemmingson | Daily Press Escanaba’s Tyler Lawson catches a swing pass during a game against Marquette Sept. 20 at Escanaba.

ESCANABA — To say there’s a lot at stake in this year’s Gladstone-Escanaba football game would be an understatement.

Not only is it the biggest game of the year for each team from a rivalry standpoint, there’s also a lot on the line beyond that when the two bayshore rivals get together at Escanaba Friday night at 7 p.m.

The top-ranked Eskymos (5-1) can lock up a playoff spot, improve their playoff positioning and stay in the hunt for the Great Northern Conference title with a win.

For Gladstone, it’s even more simple. The Braves (3-3) are simply trying to stay in the playoff hunt. They could still make the playoffs at 5-4, but at that point it’s no guarantee.

“We said that the playoffs started for us last week (against Sault Ste. Marie),” Braves’ coach Jeff Hansen said. “Every single game is a must-win from here on out. This week the rivalry just adds to that.

“Last week was a huge win. It was kind of a swing game for us this season. It gave us good Class A playoff points, too. Our goal is to get to the postseason. I’m glad we’re playing our best football and we’re healthy going into Esky week.”

Escanaba, which is coming off a big 26-20 come-from-behind win at Menominee, will be without head coach Dave Howes. Howes, a Gladstone alum, was suspended for this contest after being kicked out in the second half against Menominee for arguing with an official.

“It’s an unfortunate thing that happened. I accept responsibility for what I said, but I don’t think it was worthy of missing the Gladstone game,” Howes said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Everyone who knows how I coach knows I don’t argue profusely or use profanity. It’s unfortunate, but this game is all about the kids and gettting them ready to play. It’s just a shame that I can’t be on the sidelines.”

Howes might not be the only Eskymo missing, as senior quarterback Ethan Silverstone’s status is still up in the air. Silverstone missed the Menominee game after suffering a concussion against Kingsford the week before. Howes noted he will probably be cleared by doctors before the game, but the Eskymos are handling the situation with extreme care in deciding whether he will play or not. If Silverstone can’t go, junior Brandon Frazer will make his second straight start.

“(Brandon) played real well (against Menominee),” Howes said. “He made a few mistakes, but as the game went on he got stronger and stronger. I’m very proud of what he did out there. Whether it’s him or Ethan, we feel very comfortable going in with our game plan.”

The game plan for each team will remain the same it has all season, but it’s no secret there’s extra juice in this rivalry.

“It’s one of those things where you just kind of have to throw records out,” Howes said. “It’s a rivalry game, so strange things happen and kids will play tight. Their coaches will have a great game plan and they’re going to be ready to go. It’s just a matter of executing the game plan. It’s a rivalry game so you never know.”

Howes had high praise for Hansen and the program he runs.

“They’re very physical and well coached,” Howes said. “I know one of their main goals is to beat Escanaba. Our kids know that and are going to try to protect their home field and have a sound game.

“With Jeff being the head coach over there, I know they’re going to be physical. Defensively, they fly around and blitz quite a bit. It comes from their coach — he does a good job. Our kids need to execute and try to take advantage of a few things.”

The Braves set a goal at the beginning of the season to beat Escanaba. Now, they get their chance.

“You can see there’s a little more juice in practice because the kids are fired up to play against their rivals across the bay,” Hansen said.

Neither coach is downplaying the rivalry or the significance of this game. Escanaba leads the all-time series 73-14-7.

“The rivalry is what football is all about,” Hansen said. “They’ve been our rival forever. It’s been the game in Delta County every single year that you mark on the calender. It’s exciting for fans, players, coaches and both communities. We’re really looking forward to it.”

Howes echoed those sentiments.

“It’s a very important game because you want to beat your rival, improve your playoff positioning and stay in the GNC race,” he said. “There’s a lot to play for. It’s a big game for both teams.”

Regardless of which quarterback suits up for Esky, Hansen noted the game plan doesn’t change.

“I expect Silverstone to play. We prepared like he’s the guy who’s going to be there for them, but the game plan doesn’t change. We’re still going to be aggressive and try to limit their big plays,” he said. “The focal point is to limit their big plays and the impact their big plays have. There’s going be points in the game (Bryant) Maki has a big catch or (Josh) Bruntjens has a big run. They’re a good team, so you’re not going to hold them down forever. If we have the opportunity to stay in good field position, we’re going to be looking to do that, too. It’s kind of an underrated thing in high school football.”

Weather might play a role as the forecast is currently calling for steady rain.

“I just think that inclement weather means you just have to focus on the little things more like ball security and the fundamentals of the game,” Hansen said. “You might not throw it quite as much, or decide to run when you’d usually pass, but overall I don’t think it changes a whole lot. Both teams have to manage it either way. It’s football. Throughout the season we practice with wet balls so we can adjust offensively.”

The Braves will be without junior Blake Servant, who is serving a one-game suspension for being ejected after an altercation against the Sault.

Elsewhere, Bark River-Harris (4-2) hosts Manistique (2-4) for its homecoming game. The Broncos are trying to continue their push for a playoff spot while the Emeralds come in upset-minded behind do-it-all quarterback Schyler Andersen. The only other Friday night contest involving a local team is Carney-Nadeau (2-4) visiting Ontonagon (1-5) in an eight-player contest.

Action gets underway tonight in a key matchup as Rapid River (3-3) looks to keep its playoff hopes alive when it visits fourth-ranked Engadine (5-1) at 7 p.m.

Two games are on Saturday’s slate as top-ranked North Central (6-0) hosts Newberry (4-2) at 2:30 p.m. EDT while Superior Central (2-4) hosts its homecoming game against Brimley (4-2) at 1.

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