By Greg Gielczyk
MANISTEE — Coach Scott Briggs knew what his Mason County Central Spartans were getting into when they faced the Manistee Chippewas in a non-conference football game at Chippewa Field on Thursday night.
The Spartans (1-3), who were scheduled to play Manistee in the first game of the season but had to pull out when some players tested positive for COVID-19, had just blitzed Shelby, 50-0 last week for their first win of the season, hung tough with the Chippewas in the first half.
But the Chippewas, comeback winners over Sheperd, 41-18 in their last game, eventually grinded out a 27-0 victory over MCC that took them to 4-2 on the season.
“We kind of ran out of gas, that’s a little bit of it,” Briggs said later. “That’s a hard offense to stop all game long. You’re going to start making mistakes here and there, and as soon as you do, they can take advantage of it.
“So, it’s a hard offense to cover. It’s triple option, so if you happen to all of a sudden think ‘All right, I’ve got to help out on a dive back’ and that’s not your responsibility, and all of a sudden there goes the quarterback, or vice versa.
“I thought Manistee was a very good team coming in, and I feel that way coming out of it. I think they’re 4-2 now, and a couple of tough losses that they had were against good teams, so they’re a quality program.”
The Spartans presented the Chippewas with a short field early into the first quarter when they punted from their own 25, and Manistee set up on its own 49 for its first possession.
But three plays later a Manistee receiver fumbled after making the catch, and senior Gage Ruiz recovered for the Spartans on the Mason County 28.
On its third play from scrimmage after the fumble recovery Mason County had a pass intercepted by Manistee freshman Kaden Kott, and so it went.
Both teams kind of slogged along offensively, with neither gaining any traction, until Manistee finally began to find its footing and clipped off a nine-play, 52-yard drive which culminated in a one-yard dive by junior Ben Ceplina for the first score of the game with 9:58 left in the second quarter. Senior kicker Luke Kooy booted the extra point for a 7-0 Manistee lead.
The Spartans set the Chippewas up at Mason County 35 with a short punt, and junior quarterback Jeffry Huber threw a 30-yard strike to senior tight end Connor Rischel down to the Spartan 5.
After a two-yard gain by senior running back Connor Beaudrie, the Chippewas hit paydirt on the next play when Beaudrie punched it in from three yards out. Kooy’s kick made it 14-0 for the Chippewas at the half.
“We knew what we were going to get out of them (the Spartans),” Manistee coach Troy Bytwork said. “They didn’t change much up front.
“It’s kind of like the way you run veer. I mean, you know what you’re going to get out of that. I don’t know if it was a lot of adjustments from the first to the second half, it was just playing a little more physical up front.
“Connor Beaudrie runs hard, so he had some big runs there, and he’s a physical kid. So he started to spring some of those. At times Jeffry (Huber, the Chippewas’ junior quarterback) read it well, at times a couple shaky ones, and he knows that. We started to spring some of those in the second half.”
Manistee came out and began to assert its will over the Spartans in the third quarter, taking the second half kickoff and marching 62 yards in 11 plays, chewing up all but 4:59 of the clock to a three-yard touchdown run by Beaudrie that grew the Chippewas lead to 21-0.
Beaudrie then stuck a dagger into the Spartans when he broke through the line, cut to his left and rambled 50 yards to the Spartans 15. Two plays later Huber swept right for a five-yard score at the 11:19 mark of the fourth quarter.
“It’s always a learning curve,” Bytwork said. “There’s only one starter on the offensive line that’s a senior, so you need them to improve every time on the field.
“So those snaps are manna from Heaven, so to speak, because they give you the opportunity, in game, to learn how to be more physical. We expect and want our tackles and guards, to continually to be more physical.”
Beaudrie touched the ball just eight times, but gained 87 yards and scored two TDs for the Chippewas. Huber rushed for 26 yards on nine carries, Ceplina had 33 yards on six totes. Huber also was 4-for-6 passing for 71 yards. Rischel made three catches for 51 yards.
Defensively the Chippewas were led by Beaudrie and sophomore Isaiah Davis each had eight tackles with one tackle for loss, Kooy had five tackles and an interception. Ceplina and Da’Kary Watson each had a sack. Trevor Spencer had an interception.
“I thought our kids hung in there tough, we fought, but we made a lot of mistakes,” Briggs said. “So those are things we have to look at film, and correct, and try to get better.
“And hopefully, that will happen in the next couple of weeks. We have two weeks to get ready for the next game, and got a lot of things to correct.
“But, the big thing is our team needs to stick together, and fight for one another. Good things will happen then.”
Spartans senior running back Xander Gajeski was their leading rusher with 41yards on 12 carries, followed by Ruiz with 14 yards on five tries while senior quarterback Ethan Wood picked up 10 yards on 14 attempts and freshman Peyton Merz had 10 yards on six attempts.
Junior defensive end Riley McLouth led with 10 tackles, Myer had six and junior Max Nichols had four stops.
Manistee next faces a huge road trip when it travels to Muskegon Catholic Central with a chance to gain a share of the last Lakes 8 Activities Conference title.
“One of the main goals we talk about in the summertime is winning a conference championship,” Bytwork said. “It’s always going to go through Muskegon Catholic.
“Ultimately we’ve got to go down there and beat a quality football team. Everyone of these kids know that. I know that. We can do that.”
The Chippewas wrested the title away from the Crusaders in 2018 for the program’s first conference championship in almost 70 years, and would like to win the last one before moving on to the West Michigan Conference.