By Greg Gielczyk
It’s the No. 5 ranked Boyne City Ramblers hosting the Manistee Chippewas at 7 p.m. Friday.
Boyne City is the undefeated, coming in at 9-0 and champions of the Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders Division. It’s the first time the Ramblers have run the table during the regular season since 2017.
On the other hand, Manistee is the red-hot, having won three straight games to finish the regular season 6-3 and earn its third straight trip to the post-season.
The Chippewas have outscored their last three opponents by a combined score of 139-33. They feature three-year starters Jeff Huber at quarterback and offensive tackle Caden VanSickle, and fourth-year starter guard Carter Frederickson.
Defense, though, has sometimes shown to be vulnerable, with the Chippewas giving up 46 points to Oakridge, 56 points to Whitehall and 45 points to Ludington.
Boyne City has pitched three shutouts this season and limited its opponents to 10 points or less five times in eight games. Week 5 was a forfeit from Kalkaska.
“They picked off a couple teams that are in the post-season (Elk Rapids and Charlevoix),” Manistee coach Troy Bytwork said. “Overall, they spread you out a little bit. A lot of what they run is between the tackles. But, they try to put the ball in the air and they’re a speedy team. They’ve got some weapons on the outside and in the slot as far as having some wheels.”
The game will pit speed against size.
“It’s probably more of a speed versus size type of matchup,” he said. “Defensively, they are an even-front team. They show mostly a four-man front. They’ll probably walk somebody down against us as far as the tight end is concerned.”
Boyne City’s offense is averaging 42 points a game, despite losing quarterback Jack Neer to a broken leg midway through the season. Joey McHugh, Gavin Hewitt, Mason Wilcox and Alex Calcaterra have stepped up to help fill the void, with Drew Neer taking over the signal calling duties.
Manistee finished 3-3 for fourth place in a rugged West Michigan Conference Lakes Division, which was won by Whitehall.
“Week in and week out, you’re playing some quality opponents — to say the least,” Bytwork said. “Being a Division 6 team playing those larger schools, it teaches you to play more physical.”
But, Bytwork believes his team is playing its best football now that the post-season has arrived.
“The team is starting to gel as a group,” he said. “We’ve sought to build ourselves for the post-season, and especially in Michigan as the weather starts to cool, and the fields get a little sloppier you have to get prepared for that. What we’re seeking to do is to maintain the ball and lean on people. We knew going into the season that we’d have some size and some strength up front, and in our fullback position as well.”
Filling out the fullback position is Isaiah Davis, who at 5-foot-3 and 235 pounds is a load to bring down once he picks up some steam and being built low to the ground he’s tough to see coming out of the line.
Another young guy who has sparkled on offense is sophomore tailback Kaden Kott. Kott’s ability to cut on a dime and kick in the after burners make him a dangerous weapon.
The winner of Friday’s game will face the Gladstone-Elk Rapids survivor in the district final on either Friday, Nov. 4, or Saturday, Nov. 5.