Gielczyk: Onekama Passes First Test

There might have been three fewer players on each side of the line, but it was a good, old fashioned football game when the Onekama Portagers met the Marion Eagles in the non-conference opener for both teams at Marion last Friday.

Fans were treated to some hard hitting action from both teams as the Portagers made a successful debut in the 8-man game with a 30-6 non-conference win over the Eagles, and began their quest of qualifying for the MHSAA playoffs for a fourth straight year.

It was exactly the kind of challenge first-year Portagers’ head coach John Neph wanted in an opener, where his team had to work for hard for every yard gained, and every touchdown scored.

Because that’s the way it’s liable to be the rest of the season. The Portagers know they can’t afford to take anyone on their schedule lightly, especially in the Midwest 8-Man Football League where potential hurdles lurk at every turn.

Defending league champion Wyoming Tri-unity Christian looms on Sept. 15. Before then, though, the Portagers will play Forest Area, a playoff team last season that rolled to a big 68-14 win over Brethren in its lid-lifter.

So, finding themselves in a very competitive game against a good team with talented and highly skilled athletes was a blessing for the Portagers. They learned far more from it than had they breezed to an easy win in which they barely worked up a sweat.

It definitely was a good win, in many different aspects for the Portagers.

“Marion has a nice football team, physical and we had a lot of hard hitting,” Neph said at the end of practice Tuesday night. “We were able to break a few plays, and that’s how we got our scores.

“We’re glad to get off to a good start. There was an adjustment. But, the players accepted what was going on, they learned. They’re working together. They have a lot of input on what we’re doing, which is really beneficial for me as a first-year head coach. We have a great group of seniors that knows what’s going on.”

Football success, whether of the 8-man variety or the traditional 11-man version, comes down to the battle in the trenches, and who wins it. On this occasion, it was the Portagers who did.

But, it was only the first game, and the Portagers still have things to work on and clean up. That’s something Neph and his staff are preaching in practice. As well as the Portagers might have played, it was still the first game. Eight games remain, and Onekama needs to improve each week.

As the score indicates, it was outstanding for the Portagers, but especially the defensive ends according to Neph. Defensive tackle Jay Sturgeon broke through the line, jarred the ball loose from a Marion ball carrier and recovered the fumble, while Wade Sedlar and Ryan Clarke did a great job on the edges.

Meanwhile, linebackers Jacob Mauntler, Ben Acton and Grant Johnson filled in and came at the Eagles hard, making some great tackles to keep the Marion offense largely under wraps the entire game.

Jeremiah Torrey started and took most of the snaps at quarterback, and generally did a fine job marshaling the offense, while backup signal caller Jacob Mauntler had a monster game with 224 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

“We got into a groove early, and I felt that our line was winning most of the battles,” Mauntler said. “I felt like we all just hung together and we were on the same page. When we got down, we picked each other up.

“Things just went our way. After I got through the line, it was basically one on one with the safety or the corner, or sometimes the linebacker. It’s more open field. We have some good backs, and we capitalized on that.”

Mauntler cautioned the Portagers’ need to keep things in the proper perspective. After all, this was just one game in a nine-game season.

Onekama has to guard against overconfidence. Many tests still await the Portagers.

“I hope we can keep our composure going into Hale (this week),” Mauntler said. “Marion had some big kids, and they were really tough. I felt like they gave us a really good fight. We got the win. Now, we have to move on to the next game.”

Hale kicked off its season with a convincing 78-12 victory over Manistee Catholic Central last week, and runs a different style offense than Marion.

These Eagles present an entirely new challenge for the Portagers, and that makes Neph happy.

It will force the Portagers to stay sharp.

Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. 

Categories: Football