Gielczyk: Don’t Count Manistee Out Yet
School hadn’t even opened yet, and the Manistee football team was 0-2 after the first two weeks of the regular season after last Friday night’s 36-26 loss to the Hopkins Vikings at Chippewa Field.
Many fans are already counting the Chippewas out of the playoffs.
Instead of walking the hallways being slapped on the back and told what a great job they’re doing, the Chippewas now try to focus on their schoolwork as they try to put the poor start out of their mind as dreams of the playoffs are already beginning to fade.
For two weeks, the Chippewas have gone through their game preparations without the student body lifting the roof during pep rallies the night of the game, which have been on Thursdays the first two weeks.
Now, at least, it’ll feel more like game week.
While I’m not saying that the absence of pep rallies has made that much of a difference in the Chippewas’ performance, but there’s no question it does have an effect on the players’ emotional attitude going in.
Let’s be honest. Pep rallies do pump everyone up, including the players. Maybe, in some respects, even the coaches.
It’s one of the intangibles you hear coaches frequently talking about, and its benefits cannot be downplayed, or overlooked.
But perhaps more than anything else the Chippewas’ season opening four-point, 36-32 loss to McBain, after they held a 10-point lead with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, might have left a lingering hangover that became evident Friday night.
Manistee’s offense was still very much in question even after scoring 32 points against the Ramblers, because of the manner in which they scored a good share of them.
The Chippewas scored touchdowns on their first three plays of the game. Three snaps, three scores. It was certainly a mind-blowing start, showing an unexpected explosiveness, and understandably had their fans all fired up.
But, while scoring on big plays is always welcome and adds some excitement, the Chippewas needed to prove whether they could mount sustained drives behind a rebuilt offensive line which, like the rest of the roster, had been decimated by graduation losses.
Unfortunately, that question remained unanswered by the Chippewas’ inability to generate enough push to pick up a couple of crucial first downs that would have kept the Ramblers’ offense off the field and given them a chance to secure the win.
Manistee cleaned up some problems between games, and the offensive line looked significantly better in helping lead the Chippewas to 295 yards rushing, most of it coming from Bryson Jensen (111 yards) and Jack Sandstedt (95) gashing the Vikings for big gains on the edges.
For the second straight game, Manistee took a lead into the fourth quarter, but this time it was starkly different as the Chippewas built that cushion on the back of some long scoring drives, the first one going for 78 yards on 10 plays.
All of which is encouraging for a team that has had to replace a slew of starters, including quarterback and running back as well as on the offensive line. That cannot be understated. This is a young team that needs time to gel.
Junior quarterback Trevor Johns has played effectively in the first two games, and while first-year head coach Troy Bytwork isn’t going to panic. He also has a safety valve in backup quarterback Mayan Liston, who doubles as a running back, should the need arise.
The running game is solid with Jensen and Sandstedt forming a powerful one-two punch. Each have good speed, and the ability to reverse their field and cut inside or out.
Despite being 0-2, things are getting better. And they really haven’t been that bad. At least offensively.
“We got a rid of a lot of dumb penalties this week,” said Bytwork. “We had some holds that are going to occur, but we got rid of a lot of dumb penalties that young teams are going to do.”
Manistee’s major issue is with its run defense, especially the interior line. Its weakness was exposed in Week One, and made even more apparent by the Vikings’ ability to run a lot of their plays up the gut in game two.
The question for the coaching staff, naturally, is how can that be remedied?
“It has to be,” Bytwork said. “It’s not like (the opponents) are not going to see video. They’re going to see where McBain and Hopkins had success against us, so we have to get better.
“There were things we did last week that we didn’t improve on this week. But, if we’re going to do something with this season, we have to do better stopping the run, especially between the tackles.”
Shore that up, and the season looks much brighter for the Chippewas. Anything is possible.
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.