By Mark Lewis

Local Sports Journal

SHELBY – The Shelby Tigers have a pretty good idea what they’ll be facing Saturday in their Div. 6 regional final game against visiting Schoolcraft.

That’s because the Eagles’ offense looks a whole lot like the host Tigers’ offense.

“They like to do a lot of the same things as us,” said Shelby head coach Lorenzo

Shelby players celebrate with the district title trophy, its second in as many years. Photo/Mark Lewis

Shelby players celebrate last week with the district title trophy, its second in as many years. Photo/Mark Lewis

Rodriguez, who has his team playing for a regional title for the second straight season. “They run a belly play that we like to run, and some traps, counters and sweep plays like us too. They are a very solid squad. We’ll have to be at our best.”

The Tigers (10-1) have tested that theory the past weeks, trailing at the half against Montague in the first round of the playoffs and against Grandville Calvin Christian last week in the district title game. Of course, Shelby rebounded both times with strong second-half play, but versus Schoolcraft the Tigers might not be so lucky.

“We’ll have to come out faster than we have the past few games,” said Rodriguez. “This is a perennial power that can get after you quick. We won’t have the luxury this week of waiting around to play well.”

Leading the Schoolcraft (10-1) ground game is Blake Zemek, with quarterback Tom Hurst managing the game and receivers Trevor Stoddard and Charlie Schultz

(Photo by Mark Lewis)

Senior Shelby fullback/linebacker Forrest Courtright is the heart and soul of the Tigers.  (Photo by Mark Lewis)

looking for mid-and long-range passing opportunities against the Tigers defense. Schoolcraft running backs Cody Mikel and Ryan Landis could also figure into the mix.

Charged with stopping the Eagles will start upfront with defensive linemen Graham Herin and Kevin Brink. Linebackers Forrest Courtright and Kasey DeWitt will prowl the second level, while David Guerra, Devin Mussell, Dylan Unger and Andy Fortier will need to display their fill and contain skills from the defensive backfield.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles will have their hands full stopping an innovative Shelby offense, which is led by quarterback Fortier. Guerra, Mussell

Shelby's Kevin Brink recovered a Montague fumble in the end zone to put his team on top 28-17. Photo/Mark Lewis

Shelby’s Kevin Brink will be counted on to slow down Schoolcraft’s running game. Photo/Mark Lewis

and Courtright form a three-headed Shelby rushing attack, while wideout Unger and tight end Brody Lee will try to keep the Eagle defenders on their toes.

Rodriguez said Schoolcraft features an attack-style defense that often utilizes edge pressure to force schemes into the middle of the field. In that vein, the Eagles sometime use a 4-4 front in an attempt to collapse the edges.

“They’ll have eight in the box,” said Rodriguez, “so we’ll have to find a way to use that to our advantage. I think we may have a speed and size advantage, that’s what it looked like on film, so we will try test their defense using what we do well and where we may have an edge.”

With the slow starts in recent games, Rodriguez said he’s been hammering into his team the importance of putting together an entire game effort.

“We have to play all four quarters,” he said. “We want to come out on fire and then play a solid game the rest of the way.”

Though the Tigers have now made the regional finals two straight years, this is the first time in school history the team has hosted the first three rounds of playoff games.

“We are very happy about hosting this late in the playoffs,” said Rodriguez. “It’s nice to be able to wake up at a normal time in our own beds and go play a playoff game in our home stadium, in front our home crowd. It’s much better than getting up early and sitting in a bus for couple hours or waking up in a strange bed. We feel good where we are at.”