One of the premier matchups of the early part of the high school football season takes place Saturday in Lake Linden when Hurley heads north for a Great Western Conference battle.
The Gogebic Miners are headed to the Superior Dome to take on Rudyard Friday while Ironwood heads to Washburn.
Both Ontonagon County teams are home Friday night — Ontonagon plays Northland Pines; Ewen-Trout Creek hosts Engadine.
Rudyard vs. Gogebic Miners at the Superior Dome, Marquette, Friday — JV, 5 p.m ., varsity, 7:15 CDT
After their dramatic 28-26 overtime victory in their season-opener against Hancock Saturday, the Gogebic Miners take a road trip to play in the Superior Dome against Rudyard on Friday at 7:15 p.m.
Gogebic coach Mark Mazzon said playing in the Superior Dome will be a great experience for his team and the players are “very excited” about it.
“They are really looking forward to it,” Mazzon said. “We knew we had to get away from playing Northland Pines. They are just too big and we wound up with three concussions the last time we played them. We looked around and called schools. It’s a one-year contract, but hopefully it works out and we can play there again in the years to come.”
Mazzon said team morale was still “sky high” from their overtime thriller, but reality began to set in as they began watching a tape of the Hancock game.
“I was proud of the kids,” Mazzon said. “We had eight or nine kids (out of 11 positions) with no playing experience. In the heat, they gutted it out and never gave up. And there was a lot of first game nerves. We overcame adversity in that game and gained confidence and that’s what we needed to lead into more good things happening.
“But when we watched the tape, it showed we have a lot of things to work on. The inexperience of the guys showed. It was kind of a shock to watch the film. We have to make huge improvements to be able to compete with teams on our schedule.”
Mazzon said each individual player has to do his job better. He said the coaches will stress the basics of blocking and tackling better. In regard to blocking, he said the line has to block until the whistle blows and not just for two to three seconds. And the backs had to block better for each other, also.
In summary, Mazzon said the Miners should be happy and excited about the win, but they know they have to work harder, too.
Despite the offensive breakdowns, Gogebic rushed for 244 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry and Mazzon gave credit to the line. Hancock coach, Matt Walter, called the Miner backs of Paul Buerger, Jess Mazzon and Trent Quade “very powerful.”
After two Gogebic turnovers in the fourth quarter put Hancock in scoring range, the defense turned back the Bulldogs’ offense and sent the game into overtime. Buerger and Nick Cossi were active on defense and led the team in tackles.
Rudyard lost to Newberry in its season opener, but coach Mazzon said no one should should underestimate this team.
“We have a big line, but their line is bigger than ours,” Mazzon said. “They are big, but they are also tall. We have our work cut out for us.”
Mazzon said Rudyard kind of reminded him of Ironwood offensively. Rudyard runs from the I formation and has the quarterback in the shotgun. They like to really split their receivers out wide.
On a positive note, Mazzon said Gogebic came out of the Hancock game without any new injuries and he is hoping to get senior lineman Daylin Suckow back in a few weeks.
Hurley (2-0, 0-0 Great Western) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (1-0, 1-0), Saturday, 12:30 p.m. CDT
The Midgets have won three straight games over the Lakes to tie the series at 6-6 since Hurley joined the Great Western Conference in 2000.
Just one of those wins has come on the shores of Torch Lake, a 32-6 Hurley victory in 2011.
It’s not an easy place to play and the Lakes get all of the Great Western’s top teams there this year: Hurley, Crystal Falls Forest Park and the Gogebic Miners.
“They certainly have an advantage in that area,” Hurley coach Scott Erickson said.
Both teams posted impressive marks in their opening weeks. The Lakes started with a 59-6 rout of Baraga last week while Hurley has outscored its two opponents 81-7.
On the one hand, it’s good to get your feet wet without playing top teams. On the other hand, maybe it has its drawbacks.
“Maybe you found you think you’re good at some things you’re not going to be good at,” Erickson said. “You’re not sure where your measuring card is, so we’ll continue to work in practice, pick things out on film we need to improve on and hopefully we will handle this tough four-game stretch.”
Tough is right. Forest Park comes to town next week, the Midgets are at Northland Pines the following week, and Hurley hosts the Gogebic Miners on Sept. 27.
It’s not the way Erickson would have built the schedule, but it’ll be an exciting stretch.
“I would prefer all the hard ones spread out,” he said. “I don’t want want four hard ones back-to-back, but I suppose if you’re in the Cloverbelt like (Eau Claire) Regis, you get that all the time. You’ve got to play better teams to see how much better you need to get and evaluate yourself as a player and as a coach.”
The Lakes certainly qualify as one of the better teams. Just ask Baraga, which watched Lake Linden put up 41 points — in the first quarter.
Quarterback Mitchel Kumpula threw for two touchdown passes, one to Konrad Klein, the other to Lucas Klein. Cole Beauchamp, Tylor Rickard, Tyler Roose and Coy Budweg all ran for TDs in the opening quarter. Fumbles and a blocked punt sure didn’t help the Vikings.
Konrad Klein kicked two successful extra points and Austin Serotzke had another, but the Lakes missed five extra point kicks in the game.
“They’ve got a lot of guys back from last year and they looked pretty crisp in that game with Baraga,” Erickson said.
These teams know each other as well as any.
“There’s a lot of familiarity between the coaches and we share ideas during the course of the season,” Erickson said. “Just not this week. It’s almost like you’re coaching against yourself here. They’ll run the same offense as us. Defenses will be similar. It comes down to executing and who makes a brave call at the correct time.”
Lake Linden will probably need to be successful in keeping the Midgets’ explosive offense off the field, much like in 2009 when Hurley’s state semifinal team only had the ball a handful of times in a 22-14 loss.
“When we have had some of our classic battles, the team that had more possessions and made one less mistake usually won,” Lake Linden coach Andy Crouch said.
Hurley’s first team defense hasn’t given up a touchdown yet this season either and having two games in while Lake Linden has just one should be a big help.
“There is no question the extra week helps to iron out a lot of early-season issues,” Crouch said. “Hurley is very impressive. They have not missed a beat. With all the talented athletes and superior coaching, I am sure they are looking at making a run at a state title.”
The backfield would be a huge part of any postseason run Hurley makes. Fullback Mark Saari ran for 126 yards, Roman Lupino was solid at 99 yards and the No. 3 back Mitchell Maki stole the show with four touchdowns and two interceptions Friday.
“The offense evolves around the fullback position and generally one other halfback,” Erickson said. “Certainly when you get contributions from your third halfback, and the quarterback, now you’ve really got something going. We’re going to continue to work on those things. And the offensive line makes it happen. If one guy scores, the whole team scores. I want to make that a focus for our kids.”
Quarterback James Sukanen is 5 for 7 early in the year, which is what Hurley is looking for.
“Maybe we’ll have a chance to throw a little more in a game that’s a little bit closer,” Erickson said. “We feel pretty good where he is in pass protection. We feel pretty good in that James has been putting it on the receivers and we’ve got some pretty good guys who can catch it and run with it.”
The Midgets’ defense won’t have to worry as much about defending the pass this week as it did last week against Ironwood quarterback Adam Mackey. Hurley got to Mackey on each interception.
“He was throwing with someone in his face, so he probably didn’t get to step into it like he wanted to or unload it before he would have liked to have,” Erickson said. “Our pass defense was really fantastic. We probably don’t need a lot of pass defense this week, but we’re going to have to need it in crucial situations, obviously, because the offense lulls you to sleep, gives you similar, similar, similar looks, and then all of a sudden, there’s a tight end behind you.”
Not only does Hurley have another game on Lake Linden, the Midgets have played a Saturday game — week one vs. Boscobel — while the Lakes haven’t. Game 1 was on the road Friday in Baraga.
“We’ve got our routine down for it,” Erickson said.
Ironwood (0-1) at Washburn/Bayfield/South Shore (1-1), Friday, 7 p.m. CDT
After going 1-6 during the 2012 season, the co-op team of Washburn/Bayfield/South Shore has 34 players out for football and has a 1-1 record so far in 2013.
The Castle Guards were thumped by a good Turtle Lake team 40-0 but came back to defeat the Menominee Indian High School 12-7 in week two.
Second-year-coach Brandon Madison knows he has an inexperienced, young team that is in a rebuilding stage, but he said he is happy with the direction the program is going. A few years ago, Washburn was down to 13 to 14 players and the program looked to be on life support.
“Players won’t come out for football unless its fun,” Madison said. “We have to get the kids out so we make football fun, but we also work hard at it. I hope the fans will be patient with us because we’re trying to bring football back here.”
It was one reason Madison brought in the spread offense. The spread offense became popular with college teams and it has now filtered down to the high school level.
The spread offense begins with the quarterback in the shotgun formation most of the time. It involves spreading the field using three, four and even five receiver sets. As the defense is forced to spread itself too thin across the field to try to cover everyone, large seams are opened up to run and pass.
Football players seem to like this wide-open style of play that features more passing. Madison said he has sold the offense to the athletes, but WBS also runs some wishbone and power I plays.
To run the spread offense, a good quarterback is needed. Madison rotates two quarterbacks in Robert Wilkins, who is the better runner and Zeke Neider is the better passer.
Madison said the strongest area of the WBS team in 2013 is its defense and Wilkins is its top player and leader there, too.
Madison said he knows a team can’t do anything without a good offensive line and this where his team is lacking. Madison is even taking players from the backfield and putting them in the line to see if they can block.
Like everyone else in the U.P. and northern Wisconsin, Madison knows WBS must stop (or at least slow down) All-U.P. player Adam Mackey to have a chance at winning. He said the Castle Guards will need to adjust their defense on Friday night to try and clamp down on Mackey.
Ironwood coach Dan Niemi has heard the old sports saying that teams improve the most between their first and second games. Niemi is hoping this comes to pass and the Red Devils have something to prove to their fans after their 47-7 thumping at the hands of the Hurley Midgets Friday.
“We have a lot of improvements to make,” Niemi said. “Offensively and defensively, we’ve been working on coming off the ball harder. Our backs are hitting the holes harder and we’re making sure we’re running our plays fluidly and we have everybody is on the same page. Everything was about a step to a step and a half slow in the Hurley game.”
Niemi gave credit to Brody Stefonich, Mackey and sophomore Zach Combs for playing well last Friday. He said the line play had its ups and downs.
Niemi said his scouting information on the combined WBS team is that they can be explosive on offense and have some good, hard-nosed athletes. He said that when you pool all three schools together, you come up with a pretty good team.
Niemi said that some day he would like to see the same kind of arrangement with Bessemer, Wakefield-Marenisco and Ironwood as one team.
Very few schools in the U.P. and northern Wisconsin run the spread offense, so Ironwood had little time to prepare for this type of offense. Niemi knows it would be a mistake to make wholesale changes in his defense now.
“What we’re going to do is work on getting pressure on the quarterback and make him make quicker decisions,” he said. “We need our DBs (defensive backs) in good position, so we have some athletic guys moving back to those DB positions.”
Ironwood’s defensive backs had trouble with pass defense in the Hurley game and the spread offense likes to throw the ball.
Niemi said the Red Devils will be helped by the return of running back/defensive back Denver Sharrow this week.
Northland Pines (2-0) at Ontonagon (0-1), 7 p.m. EDT, Friday
Northland Pines may have became the favorite in the West-PAC with Friday night’s victory over Calumet, another league power.
Ontonagon coach Dave Linczeski was at the game. Pines’ John Puffer dove for a touchdown with 36 seconds left to give Pines the 26-20 win. Neither team turned the ball over.
“They’re excellent all around,” he said of the Eagles. “Excellent team speed. They do a nice job throwing the ball. They’ve got a couple good running backs. Defensively, they’re very, very quick to the ball.”
The Gladiators suited up 16 players in last week’s 48-0 loss at North Central. One of those, was injured at practice Wednesday night. Taylor Beaudry started at split end and cornerback, but a doctor will check his knee today.
The team gets back two other players, but it still can’t afford injuries this year.
“The list of subs is pretty short,” Linczeski said.
North Central was a tough first game.
“They were excellent,” Linczeski said. “We knew they were going to be a good team going in. They’ve got a lot of real good athletes in the skill positions. Defensively, they’re very quick and they had an outstanding linebacker.”
There were positives for Ontonagon.
“We had a few penalties, but not too bad for the first game,” Linczeski said. “Defensively, we had quite a few tackles for losses. We had some pretty good holds on defense. At times, we rushed the ball successfully. We gained a few yards in the air. We were 6 out of 10 passing for about 45 yards.”
Engadine (0-1) at Ewen-Trout Creek (0-1, 0-1 Bridge Alliance), Friday, 7 p.m. EDT
Both teams lost in week one, Engadine to Portland St. Patrick 30-8 and E-TC to Rapid River 44-12.
Engadine finished 4-5 overall last year while the Panthers were 1-7. Engadine won the head-to-head matchup 45-8 last year.