The three Gogebic Range teams are home Friday night.
Crystal Falls Forest Park comes to Hurley for a pivotal Great Western Conference match. Ironwood hopes to turn its fortune around with its home opener against Houghton. The Gogebic Miners face Baraga for their only game at Massie Field in Bessemer this season.
Ontonagon goes to L’Anse Friday and Ewen-Trout Creek plays Bellaire at Engadine Saturday.
Crystal Falls Forest Park
(2-0, 0-0) at Hurley (3-0, 1-0), Friday, 6:30 p.m.
The favorite hasn’t fared so well in this matchup recently.
The Trojans were favored to win the 2011 game at Veterans Memorial Field and were ahead 16-0 in the second quarter. But Hurley scored 33 unanswered points to win an exciting game with the go-ahead touchdown on a Tylor Jackson QB keeper in the fourth quarter.
Hurley may have been an even bigger favorite in 2012 than Forest Park was the year before. And the Midgets racked up more than 450 yards rushing and still lost, 13-12, in another good game.
Both teams are undefeated coming into the 2013 matchup; Hurley at 3-0 and Forest Park at 2-0. Both teams breezed through their first two opponents, Forest Park outscoring Bark River-Harris and Norway a combined 80-12. Hurley has faced a test with a 30-20 victory over Lake Linden-Hubbell Saturday.
The favorite is less clear this year — maybe the much deeper Midgets who also have won two straight times over Forest Park at home. But one thing is clear, this is one of the most-anticipated matchups of the year.
“Those are the things that add to the excitement of high school sports,” Forest Park coach Bill Santilli said. “That you still believe you have to play the game to determine the winner. If you can just hang in there and get a break or two, that little word called momentum in high school sports is so critical.”
Santilli has similar questions this season as to whether his team will make it a game.
“I really hope we can put our best foot forward and our kids are ready to show up and play at the level we feel they need to play at,” he said. “I’m sure Hurley’s saying the same thing. If both of those things happen, it has the makings of a pretty good game. I just have question marks with the young players we have in the positions we’re playing them at, that they play to their potential. If they don’t, it’s going to be a long night for us.”
Hurley is preparing for traditionally tough Forest Park.
“They’ve got a lot of talented players for certain,” Hurley coach Scott Erickson said. “It didn’t look a whole lot different than it usually does. Ask Norway (lost to FP 41-6).”
Forest Park has been playing its traditional run up the gut offense led by Lee Graff and Austin Snell. The Trojans played a spread offense late last year out of necessity and have left the option open to do it again this year if the run doesn’t work. Quarterback Jeff Johnson has the abilities to make that happen.
“He’s a heck of a scrambler,” Erickson said. “He can use his legs. I think that’s why they kick around using the spread.”
The Midgets aren’t a mystery. They’ll run the clock most of the game and try to wear down Forest Park, which unlike most every other year is playing a lot of people both ways due to depth issues.
Mark Saari leads the Midgets in rushing at 362 yards. That puts him on pace for more than 1,000 yards.
Saari has been learning how to read blocks better and he broke for long runs the past two games. The tight ends are blocking downfield and the fakes freeze the defensive backs just long enough for him to get by, Erickson said.
Saari also pointed out that adversity Hurley faced Saturday is a good thing for the Midgets after starting the season with two blowouts. The Midgets’ special teams turned it over three times late in the first half and Lake Linden tied it up heading into halftime.
“You can draw on that if you ever get in that situation again,” Erickson said. “Teams that play from ahead all the time, sometimes you don’t play from behind very well. If you play through some tough times, continue to press on and don’t panic, you’re hoping things will work out.”
Hurley’s size is often talked about, but height should be included in that conversation.
Jordan Kolpin and Chris Edyvean at end are 6-5 and 6-4, respectively, and they cause problems. Edyvean slammed a ball to the grass on a pass attempt by Lake Linden’s 5-5 quarterback in the fourth quarter.
“That was a grade A spike,” Erickson said. “He just rammed her right in the ground. He would have been good on the volleyball team with that spike.”
Like sacks and turnovers, those are momentum changing plays.
“I was really proud how our defense hung in there in some tough defensive scenarios on Saturday,” Erickson said.
Santilli said his defense will have to play assignment football and the young players will have to realize they won’t the see the ball with Hurley’s fakes.
“I’ve always kind of felt, since Hurley joined our league, we’ve had some awful good battles where our kids play to the bitter end with every amount of effort and emotion they had,” he said. “Sometimes the better team didn’t win, but they’ve always been physical battles. I’m hoping this can be another one. I think our young kids need to be in that, playing against bigger, possibly stronger players and faster to make us work.”
The Midgets are slightly banged up after the physical Lake Linden game. Cole Huotari is expected to miss time with an injury.