FELCH -Head coach Joe Reddinger's undefeated Nordics will host Gogebic in a pre-district playoff Friday night at 6 p.m.
Rand Hruska Photo
North Dickinson knocked off Lake Linden last week to finish the regular season undefeated. Coach Joe Reddinger’s 8-0 Nordics, front, from left: Derek Wagner, Noah Berg, Matt Schultz, Tim Hruska, Logan O’Neil, Dylan Dario, Blake Lindeman and Ken Pekarek. Back row; Dylan Fesnick, Dominic Christian, Brady Mashak, Sean Conery, Justin Clark, Travis Wischmeier, Brad Gustafson, Cody Berg and Jonas Christian.
Four second-half touchdowns helped the Miners (6-2) complete their best regular season since 2006 with a 26-6 win over Ironwood last week.
Gogebic finished 4-1 in the Great Western Conference, sharing league honors with Forest Park and Hurley. Prior to the co-op with Bessemer, Wakefield-Marenisco, Bessemer last won a conference title in 1999.
"We came back together as a team this season, but it was really three communities, coming together as one team," Gogebic head coach Mark Mazzon told the Ironwood Daily Globe. "It's everybody believing and working together. The kids worked their butts off in the summer and fall."
While North Dickinson (8-0) shows one of the U.P.'s highest scoring offenses at nearly 50 points per game, at the Miners possess a stingy defense, allowing just a shade over 16 points per game this season.
"They're pretty good," Nordics coach Joe Reddinger said. "If we want to be in the game, we've got to move the ball and play a little defense when they get the ball."
Reddinger thinks defense will win this matchup.
"They are really good defensively," he said. "They've got good, quick linemen, couple of good linebackers, and they are extremely well coached.
"They pose a lot of problems. Not to take anything away from any our previous opponents, but this could be the best team we've played until now."
Reddinger said the Nordics are "guardedly optimistic" entering this postseason. Expectations are high for this group, but the Nordics have had a history of hitting some bumps in the postseason.
"We have a lot of skeletons in the (postseason) closet," Reddinger said. "We're going to take it one game at a time. When you look back, we've been to the semis four times, but there seems to be a hurdle there. I think I've had two or three undefeated teams go out in the first round.
"But this is just a good bunch of kids. They have high expectations. There's great senior leadership here. But we haven't faced much adversity this season. We've never trailed. Can we play from behind? A lot of things can happen in the postseason and we just don't know yet how the kids will react."
The Nordics last faced Bessemer in the postseason in 2006, winning that game 48-22.
Forest Park (7-2) at L'Anse (7-2), Division 8, 6 p.m. -Coach Bill Santilli's Trojans have not opened a postseason on the road since 2009 when they knocked off North Dickinson 21-15.
The Trojans, a playoff qualifier for a 16th straight season, head north to battle L'Anse which was undefeated until a Week 7 loss at Calumet. Northland Pine handed the Purple Hornets their only other loss, in a 68-24 Week 8 drubbing, but L'Anse ended the regular season on a high note with a 47-6 rout over Munising.
"L'Anse is a very good quality football team this year," Santilli said. "They are very big. They are the type of football team that we've seen in our two losses.
"They are physical up front on the line and have a fast powerful running game. We've had trouble against that this season."
The Purple Hornets enter the playoffs for the first time since 2007, which is also the last time the team finished a regular season above .500. That season began with a playoff win against Lake Linden-Hubbell, but ended the next week at Forest Park, 32-0. Santilli said few in and around L'Anse have forgotten that game.
"Revenge motivates kids on their own," he said. "This is their first playoff at Meadowbrook Field. There is a lot of hype there and justifiably so. Hopefully we can go to their place and play to our potential."
Santilli said the Trojans will have to step up and play better defense in order to have success Friday.
"Defensively we've given up more points than in other years," he said. "We've felt at time like we have to strike back, and that has meant putting the ball in the air more to stay competitive, and we have a pretty darn good quarterback and some good receivers."
While the Trojans have not been afraid to take shots this season through the air, Santilli hopes his team can resort to the tried and true Trojan method of ball and clock control.
"We've got to maintain some sort of ground game, try to keep the ball out of our opponent's hands," he said. "But we know that this year's team was non-typical (of teams from the past). We're not real big or strong up front, and we've had some challenges moving bigger guys."
Santilli and his staff have been pleased with the Trojans 7-2 record, considering the amount of young guys they have inserted into games with the cancellation of the jayvee season.
"We very pleased," he said. "It's been a pretty decent year."
As for moving forward this postseason, Santilli says he sees potential.
"I see the desire is there," he said. "There is some determination in their eyes. We keep telling to believe in the system, hang in there and do what we do best."
Forest Park enters Friday's game a bit banged up.
"The past few weeks has been physical for us," he said, noting that at least two starters will be out. "We're filling in with some other guys, sort of a makeshift lineup, but it's better that we know during the week than at game time so we can prepare."
North Central (5-4) at Saint Ignace (9-0), Division 8, 6 p.m. - North Central may be a longshot against St. Ignace Friday night in a Division 8 pre-district, but that doesn't bother the Jets one bit.
"We aren't afraid to go out there and play," head coach Kevin Bellefueil told the Daily Press. "We know we are a big underdog, but we're going to go out there and see how the chips fall. We are going with every intent on playing a good, solid football game."
The Jets, after a 3-1 start to the season traded wins and losses the rest of the way. Still, a 5-4 record has the Jets in the postseason for just the second time since 1998.
North Central's last playoff game was 2010, in a first round contest at St. Ignace. The Saints won that game 48-21.
St. Ignace's 9-0 record included a forfeit win in Week 3, but the Saints were dominant in every other victory, posting four shutouts and allowing just 28 points all season.