Gielczyk: Manistee Gets Confidence Booster, Reclaims Dad’s Trophy
He’d been through four of these rivalry games with Ludington before, but as an assistant coach after coming over from Portage Northern with Tod Miller.
Last Friday night was different for Troy Bytwork. Now, he was calling the shots as the Chippewas’ head coach as Manistee renewed its long standing football rivalry against Ludington.
The Chippewas pulled away from a 21-21 halftime tie for a convincing 42-28 victory that brought the Dad’s Club traveling trophy back home after the Orioles had won last year in Ludington.
“I didn’t think about it too much until one of my assistant coaches said to me, ‘Well, coach, that was a good first win,'” Bytwork said Tuesday night. “Then it kind of hit home. Yeah, it’s kind of special.
“Yeah, it was meaningful. I guess if you’re going to get your first win, I would rather have had it week one, or week two for that matter. But, yeah, it’s pretty cool to get it against your rival.
“Obviously, people around here, they like to beat Ludington. It makes it pretty special, I have to be honest. It was cool. I know it makes my mom and dad proud. So, it’s probably more meaningful to me for them, because they’ve been to every game I essentially ever coached for 18 years. And for my wife, too.”
Manistee has gone 3-2 against Ludington in Bytwork’s time with the Chippewas, and have won three out of the last four contests against the Orioles.
The Chippewas, a young team without many veterans, came into the game 0-2 after squandering a pair of fourth quarter leads at McBain and at home with Hopkins, and were quite frankly desperate to get a win.
“Just for the simple fact of how we lost those two games, it kind of made this win all the more special,” said Bytwork. “You lose a couple games like that, you start to doubt yourself a little bit because you don’t have the checks in the right column.
“It kind of felt like that fourth quarter lasted forever, to be honest with you, that game felt like it lasted forever. You feel good for the kids. I told them after Hopkins, ‘I might be the only one, but I still think we’re pretty good.’ I meant it. It wasn’t just fluff to make them feel better about themselves.
“I still knew what I see in practice every day. I still knew we had speed. I knew we were still young. I told them I still believed in them, even though people were doubting them. To get a win in this rivalry, it feels good. This game is so meaningful for the people who have lived here all their life.”
Kids were taking “selfies” posing with the trophy, and the players carried themselves with a little more pride Monday morning when they walked through the halls to their classes.
Bytwork took the trophy with him to practice Monday afternoon, and as he walked from the weight room he received loud cheers and applause from the volleyball players who were practicing in the gym.
Manistee caught an early break when the Orioles muffed the opening kickoff, and the Chippewas recovered to trigger the drive to their first touchdown of the game.
Jack Sandstedt’s crucial fourth quarter interception in the end zone prevented a Ludington touchdown that might well have changed the complexion of the game.
The Orioles threw the pick from the Manistee 15 or 20, and if they had punched in a touchdown there would have been no doubt they would have tried an onside kick, and anything could have happened at that point.
A couple daring fourth down calls were also key, as the Chippewas succeeded in picking up the needed yardage on both to allowed Manistee to maintain possession. One resulted in a score, the other didn’t, but both worked and that was the bottom line.
It the call works, fans think the coach is a genius. If not, well….
“I don’t want to give away all my secrets, but on the first one I was kind of peaking at a kid on Ludington’s defense,” Bytwork said. “You’re gambling. I try not to coach scared.
“You go with your gut on a lot of those things. I like Mayan (Liston) and I like (quarterback) Trevor (Johns) both. They’re different kids, personality wise, but they’re both gamers in their own right.
“Having one throw to the other on that first one, as long as their outside linebacker didn’t bump off of Trevor. The nice thing about Trevor is he’s pretty slick and he’s pretty smart. It was a heck of a pass.
“On the second one, it was similar to what we ran against McBain on the first play of the game. Blake Mikula made a heck of a catch. He got drilled, especially for a young kid. That was his first catch in a varsity game, and he held on to it.”
Bytwork admitted he likes taking chances like that. He plays the odds and percentages as much as everyone else, but there are times when he’ll roll the dice.
It not only has the other coach throwing his headset to the ground in frustration, but it pumps up your team, giving them a shot of confidence. Often at pivotal times in the game.
“Typically, I don’t call fakes like that on a whim,” Bytwork insists. “But, there is that aspect of it, too. You just go for it, and if it works, it works. Those are momentum changers. They get your kids going.
“A lot of it, too, is trying to instill confidence in your kids. I told them early on I don’t want them to play scared. I can’t call with the belief that I’m going to make a mistake.
“They can’t play with the fear of making a mistake. You just got to play. I think sometimes kids love doing things that are out of the box, and running plays that are different. They like to take chances.”
Now that the glow of this big win is beginning to fade, and the thrill is finally waning, the Chippewas can return to the business at hand. The season is far from over, even though some people consider this particular game THE most important one.
Bytwork isn’t putting his feet up.
Six games remain on the schedule, beginning with this Friday’s home game against Muskegon Heights Academy, and a shot at the Lakes 8 title and a return to the playoffs are still possible.
There’s still challenges ahead, and the job is far from finished.
But, beating Ludington and getting their first win was a big confidence builder for the Chippewas.