By Greg Gielczyk
When the two teams meet on the gridiron at Oriole Field for the 7 p.m. kickoff Friday night, it will mark the 145th time they’ve done so in a rivalry that dates back more than a century, with the series kicking off in 1895.
It’s the fourth oldest series in the state, surpassed only by the Battle Creek-Kalamazoo Central match-up that began in 1893, and Saginaw Arthur Hill-Saginaw High and Menominee-Marinette, Wisconsin that started in 1894.
The two teams are also playing for the Dad’s Club Trophy, which was first awarded to the winning team in 1987. Each team has won it 14 times since.
This year, the game also culminates homecoming week for the Orioles, who come in 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the West Michigan Conference Lakes Division after rallying for an exciting 34-14 win over Montague last week.
“It’s always been a great match-up between Ludington and Manistee,” offered long-time Orioles head coach Charlie Gunsell. “They’ve kind of had their way with us.
“They’ve beaten us the past two years. Two years ago it was a one-point game (when Keith Barkey intercepting a 2-point conversion pass in the end zone to clinch a 21-20 Manistee win), and last year they beat us by 30 (42-12).
“Since like maybe 2010, they’ve won two games to us winning one. So every three, they’ve been winning two. So we’re hoping that we can get on a roll here.
“But, obviously it starts Friday night with Manistee coming down.”
Despite their recent two-game losing streak to Manistee, the Orioles lead the all-time series 69-64-11.
Ludington played a clean game in last week’s win over the Wildcats, not committing a turnover while forcing three Montague miscues.
After trailing, 14-0 at halftime, the Orioles scored 34 unanswered points to pull out the exciting comeback win to remain in the hunt for the conference title.
“We feel like we’re playing solid football right now, and we need to continue that,” Gunsell said. “We understand that Manistee is a very dangerous football team, so there’s a lot of preparation going into this Friday night.
“We do expect a huge crowd. I think we played in a wonderful atmosphere last Friday against Montague. I really felt like that aided us in the second half.
“Our student section I think is one of the best around, and the people really came out. I think this week with this being homecoming, I really think it’s going to be a fun environment to watch a high school football game.”
Manistee (3-2, 1-2 WMC-Lakes) is looking to rebound after a 56-0 beat down suffered at the hands of undefeated Whitehall (5-0, 2-0 WMC-Lakes) last week.
Chippewas head coach Troy Bytwork is confident his team will respond to the challenge in a positive fashion to the challenge.
“We’ve certainly had some success here within the rivalry, and I would certainly imagine that’s something they would like to change,” Bytwork said.
“Obviously from our perspective, we’re definitely looking to continue.”
Two years ago the Orioles rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter, scoring with six seconds left in the game to make it a one-point difference.
“It was one of the two most exciting games I’ve ever coached in,” added Bytwork. “It certainly has been a fun rivalry.”
Ludington actually had the lead, 12-7 after the first quarter in last year’s game before the Chippewas went on a 34-point run to close out the game.
Bytwork has noticed some differences in the Orioles’ personnel groupings this year from what Gunsell did last year.
“I know he likes his skill players, and he’s going to get those guys to the edge,” the Manistee coach said. “He made a quarterback change from last year, and put him at running back, puts him in the slot, does some jet stuff with him, and runs him on some off-tackle stuff as well.
“They have some speed, and their quarterback can throw it, so I know they are going to try to put it downfield. There’s no mystery as far as what they’re going to give us offensively.
“Defensively, we’ll find out a little bit more as we get into it. They’ve done some different things to us us the last couple of years, so we’ll expect an even front, but it remains to be seen.”
For his part, Gunsell recognizes the Chippewas’ size up front and expects them to get the ball to their running backs, and give them room to run.
He also expects the Chippewas to show a tighter set than what the Orioles have observed in recent games.
“I have a ton of respect for Troy, and his staff, and the way they prepare their kids,” Gunsell added.
“When we execute, and play with a high level of energy, we have the opportunity to do some good things. We just have to make sure that we do that for an entire game this Friday.
“Manistee is going to want to pound on us, and they’re going to want to eat up clock. That’s kind of their philosophy, I think. Chew up clock and score when they have the opportunity.
“We’re pretty much polar opposites this year. We used to be fairly similar offensively, and now we’re almost complete opposites.
“Defensively, they’ve always done a good job against us. We just need to stay disciplined, and when we get opportunities take advantage of them.”