By Greg Gielczyk
However, they fell short of that goal.
Now, the Chippewas are knocking on the door again when it travels to Gladstone in the MHSAA Division 6 playoffs for a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday.
The Chippewas survived a wild fourth quarter rally to knock off previously undefeated and fifth-ranked Boyne City in a 28-27 upset last week.
Boyne City scored with less than 2 minutes left in the game and opted to go for the win with a 2-point conversion. But, the Chippewas defense rose up to snuff it out.
Although they’re on the brink of capturing their first-ever district title, the Chippewas insist they aren’t focused on anything other than just playing their game and doing their jobs.
Manistee is riding a four-game winning streak and hit the post-season playing its best football.
“You want to bring that trophy home,” said Manistee coach Troy Bytwork. “That’s why we’re making the trek, is to play the best possible ball. Like I told the guys, if we’re still improving at this time of the year, which I see, we can go a long way. Just being more crisp and quicker in what we’re doing, taking out any mistakes that we may have and continually raise that bar.
“If we strive for perfection, if you can continually do that, you’re putting yourself in a position to be successful.”
But, the road doesn’t get easier for the Chippewas (7-3).
Gladstone also is on a winning streak, having won three in a row, including a 51-14 demolishing of Elk Rapids in a pre-district game last Saturday.
The Braves (8-2) have not had much recent success in the playoffs, either, going 0-3 since 2008, when they last hoisted a district title trophy.
Over the last three games, Gladstone has outscored its opponents 120-41 behind an offense led by senior running back Cole Portier and junior quarterback Nate Young. Portier scored three times against Elk Rapids, on runs of 62 and 11 yards, as well as a screen pass that covered 70 yards. Young passed for one TD and ran for another.
“They’re a pistol team, sort of like we used to line up in the pistol, with the quarterback two and half yards behind center,” Bytwork said. “They’ll throw the ball 10-15 times a game, kind of dependent on the game. And they have a running back they give the ball to 20-25 times a game. They kind of lean on their tailback back there and then try to get their quarterback in space. He can move a little bit.
“They throw a couple screens here and there, but mostly inside-outside zone, kind of get you moving then cut up underneath you or get to the outside.”
Bytwork has emphasized to the defense that it has to be more physical than the Braves between the tackles, shed blocks and get to the ball.
Gladstone’s defense battered Elk Rapids, limiting the Elks to just 86 yards total offense in the first half, with no passing yards. The Braves sacked Elks’ quarterback Chase DeArment three times in the first 24 minutes.
“(Defensively) they are similar to us,” Bytwork said “They’ll put in four down linemen, and they’ll roll their outside linebackers up if you put a tight end in, which we obviously do. They’ll probably try to get a fifth or sixth guy up on the line and they just play pretty aggressive. They try to get up field. They’ll try to run the alley with their free safety.”
Manistee is hoping to ride the momentum from its winning streak and the huge upset of Boyne City to its first-ever district championship.
“The deeper you get in the playoffs, the more games you’ve won, obviously, and so that confidence builds,” Bytwork said. “You believe in yourself, you believe in each other, which is probably more important than anything else. Even though you probably in your head don’t try to script that close of an ending (as the Boyne City upset), when it comes out in your favor, then it can push you even further.”
Bytwork is hoping his team can build on the momentum built up in recent weeks.
“I said it before going in that we’ve been playing real good football that last three weeks, and that just adds to that mentality that you have to bring this time of the year,” he said. “You’re in a one and move on (or be done) situation and that type of game can really build that mentality. Right down to the last second, you’ve got to maintain.”
The winner of the game will advance to the regionals and take on the winner of the Menominee (6-4) at Negaunee (10-0) game, which also is being played Friday night.