By Ron Rop
Friday night’s Division 2 district title game will be the fifth time the teams have played one another since 2017. The game is at 7 p.m. at Forest Hills Central.
This season, Forest Hills Central comes in at 10-0 and is ranked No. 4 in the most recent Division 3 rankings. Mona Shores is 8-2 and ranked No. 7.
In the previous matchups, the Rangers won the first meeting in 2017, but the Sailors have turned the tables and won the last three.
Mona Shores coach Matt Koziak firmly believes this year’s encounter will be another tight battle. The Rangers won 28-21 in 2017 and Shores turned the tables and won 34-28 in 2018. In 2020, it was another close battle with the Sailors winning, 28-25. Last year was a bit lopsided as Mona Shores won 31-7.
“They are just really sound,” Koziak said. “They don’t have guys who you look at and they really blow your socks off, but they play hard, they are tough and they have a great offensive and defensive scheme and they are very well coached.”
If that doesn’t signal another barn burner, nothing will.
“You have to play well to beat them and no one has beaten them this year,” Koziak said. “You really have to play mistake free and take care of the football. They do a great job of controlling possession and limiting your possessions. When you do have the ball, you have to do something with it.”
Koziak expects the Rangers to pound the ball on the ground and mix in occasional pass to mix it up.
“They’ve got some bodies to pound it so that’s what they do,” Koziak said.
The Sailors suffered a major blow last Friday when lineman Luke Emmons suffered a leg injury. Emmons, a three-year starter, went down in the game against Traverse City Central.
“Other than that, we’re good, but this one stings because he is a 3-year starter,” Koziak said. “But other guys have stepped up and played well. We have that ‘next man up’ mantra.”
Mona Shores will be led by Jonathan Pittman, who is a sophomore, but has not been playing like a sophomore as the season has progressed. The running game is led by Dahmir Farnum and Brandon Bankard.
“Defensively, we can’t let them continue to pick up first downs because that’s what they want to do,” Koziak said. “They are not a huge, big play team, but the key is our defense, our quarterback and our running game.”
As the week winds down, Koziak is pleased with what he’s seen this week. That includes the mild weather that all area teams are enjoying.
“We’ve had a really good week of practice,” Koziak said. “It’s been a very sharp week for us.”
The winner of Friday’s game will take on the winner of the Portage Northern-East Lansing game in the regionals. If Mona Shores wins, it hosts that game at Sailor Stadium next week.