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Northern Michigan MHSAA Football Playoffs Preview: Divisions 7-8

The brackets for the MHSAA football playoffs are out and all week long our MISportsNow team has been breaking down the playoff picture in each division for teams in the 9&10 News coverage area.

Each member of the MISportsNow team was asked to give their thoughts on the local playoff picture for each division.

We continue our coverage by taking a look at Divisions 7 and 8.

Division 7:

  • L’Anse at TC St. Francis – Oct. 28 at 6 p.m.
  • Benzie Central at Charlevoix – Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
  • Lake City at Ithaca – Oct. 29 at 12 p.m.

Tyler Driesenga/Sports Reporter/Anchor:  Traverse City St. Francis has looked completely unstoppable all season. There’s not a much bigger statement you can make as a Division 7 team than to welcome in Detroit Country Day and beat them by 25 points. The Gladiators are a very deserving No. 1 team in the state and I expect they’ll have no trouble rolling to a deep playoff run. If I had to pick only one team from our viewing area that I think can make a run to win a state championship, the Gladiators would be the team, and there are plenty of contenders in the other divisions (Gladwin, Reed City, Beal City and Marion come to mind).

Charlevoix put together another great regular season to get to the playoffs for a fourth straight year. An interesting part of the MHSAA’s playoff point system is that Benzie Central is able to get into the playoffs with a 3-6 record because of their strength of schedule. However, the Huskies went 0-4 against playoff teams this fall and, given that Charlevoix’s only loss all season was to a great Boyne City team, I think the Rayders will advance to the district title for a fourth straight year.

Finally, Lake City will look for its first playoff win since the 2018 run to the state semifinals when they play at Ithaca on Saturday. The Trojans stumbled down the stretch of the regular season, losing by 28 or more points in each of its final two games, in part due to some key injuries. It’ll be an uphill battle on the road against an 8-1 Ithaca team.

Greg Miller/Sports Photojournalist: The conversation in Division 7 has to start and end with the Traverse City St. Francis Gladiators.  They look as poised and primed for a state championship run as just about any program in the state.  But, they don’t hand out state championship trophies because you steamrolled your way through the regular season. Football can be a random game with unpredictable results, and there are a number of St. Francis teams from years past that looked as good as this year’s team that didn’t hoist the trophy at the end. 

Their first challenge may appear in the form of the Charlevoix Rayders, if they can slip past a battle-tested Benzie Central in the first round.  St. Francis ended the Rayders run in 2020, and I’m sure that there’s more than a few in Charlevoix that would love to see their well-rounded outfit return the favor to their long-time former Lake Michigan Conference rival.  Meanwhile, Lake City faces a challenging opening round draw, having to travel to Ithaca to take on the Yellowjackets.  Ithaca is a bit removed from their dominant decade of play, but they’re still an incredibly strong team.  The Trojans will need to play to the max of their potential and get a few friendly bounces in order to pull off the upset.

Danielle King, Sports Reporter/Anchor: Of these schools, I have had the opportunity to see TCSF and Charlevoix in action, so I’ll keep my commentary to these schools. There’s talent and there’s SIZE at TCSF. Not just the size as in how many players are on the team, but the players themselves are big and strong. They use that size to their advantage and explode in almost every game right off the bat. The Gladiators play smart, get down quickly and are the closes it gets to a “dream team” this fall. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them state-bound, and I’m confident Coach Sellers will be able to keep them focused on one week at a time to help get them there.

Division 8:

  • Bark River-Harris at St. Ignace – Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
  • East Jordan at Frankfort – Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
  • McBain at Evart – Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
  • White Cloud at Beal City – Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.

Tyler Driesenga, Sports Reporter/Anchor: After a state runner-up finish last fall, Beal City is ranked second in the state and looks poised for another deep playoff run. I was able to get to know some of the Aggies players pretty well through covering Beal City baseball this spring, as many of them are multi-sport athletes. This is a program filled with ultra-competitive kids who know how to win, regardless of the sport they’re playing. After finishing as state runners-up in football and baseball, I know they are more determined than ever to clear that final hurdle and emerge with a state championship. The Aggies have shown all season that they certainly have the talent to do so.

Our Sports Overtime Game of the Week also comes from Division 8 this week, with McBain taking on Evart. As Danielle explains in her assessment, the Ramblers and Wildcats have developed quite a rivalry over the last two seasons. Even though Evart beat McBain pretty handily in the regular season, I have no idea what to expect from that game on Friday night. Evart beat McBain handily in the regular season last year and then lost to them in districts, and vice versa in 2020. The unpredictable nature of that rivalry is why it’s our Game of the Week.

Frankfort is red-hot entering the playoffs, having won six games in a row. The Panthers’ performance in last week’s win over Elk Rapids earned coach Ed Schindler the Detroit Lions High School Football Coach of the Week honor. They already played East Jordan earlier this season and it came right down to the wire with Frankfort coming out on top 20-14. I’d say this one is a toss-up once again this week.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding job Mike Shepard and his St. Ignace Saints have done this season. It’s been a complete turnaround from a 2-7 finish in 2021 to a 7-2 finish this season and the opportunity to host a playoff game. Regardless of what happens this postseason, the Saints have a lot to be proud of this fall.

Greg Miller, Sports Photojournalist: Division 8 has more local area teams (seven) than any other division this postseason.  There’s so much to talk about here!  Just like with St. Francis in Division 7, our conversation in Division 8 has to hinge around the Beal City Aggies.  The unbeaten Aggies won the Highland Conference in convincing and impressive fashion in 2022.  They look like they could make a run to Ford Field, but they’ll likely be challenged along the way, with potential matchups with the likes of Fowler, Ubly, Saginaw Nouvel, and/or Iron Mountain looming. Before they can get to those hurdles, they must first knock off a White Cloud team that enters the postseason with a measure of confidence, having posted wins in four of its final five games.

In what I’m dubbing the “rematch bracket,” the team just nipping at the Aggies’ heels in the competitive Highland this year, the Evart Wildcats, will open up the playoffs with a league rematch against McBain.  The Wildcats beat the Ramblers by four scores about a month ago, and they’re a team I could see making it to a regional final.  In order to do that, they’d have to beat McBain and then get past the winner of East Jordan and Frankfort.  These two actually met the same week that McBain and Evart played the first time around, with the Panthers topping the Red Devils by a score.  This seems like it could be a game that goes down to the wire at historic Lockhart Field, although the Panthers have been on a roll to close out the regular season.  Finally, above the bridge, the St. Ignace Saints make a triumphant return to the postseason party after a handful of lean years.  The Saints are led by a defense that has only allowed more than two scores in a pair of games this season.

Danielle King, Sports Reporter/Anchor: The first-round matchup I’m most intrigued by in this division is McBain at Evart, our Sports Overtime Game of the Week. The teams have seen each other once in the regular season and once in the playoffs the last three years, forming a bitter rivalry between the two. There’s been a catch the last two seasons though: the regular season winner has then lost in the playoff matchup. When looking at the teams, McBain picked up the pieces at the end of the season and coach Pat Maloney told me the difference maker was that they have all their players back healthy. Evart has looked strong all season and its only loss came down to the wire against Beal City, one of the only close games Beal City played all year. Cole Hopkins is an absolute stud for the Wildcats and has been finding his way to the endzone one way or another all fall. 

East Jordan at Frankfort should be a really great matchup as well. Frankfort doesn’t let the size of their team (quantity that is) limit them in any way, as evidenced by the Panthers 8-1 record. Then there’s East Jordan, a team that went into the year under a new head coach in Adam Grybauskas. With a lot of new faces all around it was unknown what the season ahead would hold. This team really has put up close fights with some really good teams this year and I think Friday night will be another great battle between them and Frankfort. Regardless of the outcome, I like East Jordan as a program to watch for years to come.

Another team I would like to touch on is Beal City. The Aggies’ have a junior quarterback, Jack Fussman, who is so poised and such a great young leader. Watching this team in practice I was impressed by how much they cared on a random Monday, and it translates on Friday nights. This is the team to look out for in my book as the playoffs roll along.

As the week wears on, we have had similar articles to this for all eight divisions and the two 8-player football divisions. On Thursday we will finish up by breaking down the 8-player Divisions 1-2.