The Road to Ford Field: St. Francis Readies for Rematch with Ithaca
This is the first in a four-part series profiling the remaining four area high school football programs and their journey towards a state championship.
TRAVERSE CITY – With just two weeks remaining in the high school football season, Traverse City St. Francis finds itself right where it wants to be.
In one of the most anticipated semifinal matchups in the state this weekend, the Gladiators (11-1) will collide with Ithaca (12-0) in a rematch of a 2015 Division 6 state semifinal. The two perennial powers will meet at Mt. Pleasant High School on Saturday, with a spot the Division 6 state final up for grabs.
The Gladiators secured their second regional championship since 2011 with a 33-26 win over Millington last Friday, in a game in which the score does not indicate how dominated it was defensively by St. Francis. Through 12 games this fall, the Gladiators have only surrendered 96 points and gave up just six points combined in district wins over Calumet and Glen Lake.
“Our motto this year was finish the fight,” St. Francis junior Nathan Schmuckal said. “Last year, we weren’t quite able to finish it. And this year, we were able to finish this fight. But you know, the ultimate fight, getting to Ford Field, that’s not quite over yet.”
A win for St. Francis on Saturday would put the Gladiators back in the state finals for the first time since winning the 2009 Division 7 title and would avenge Ithaca’s 28-19 victory in the 2015 meeting. The Gladiators have a storied postseason history, with six state championships and four runner-up finishes.
“We talked about taking the next step this year,” St. Francis coach Josh Sellers said. “Where we lost in the regional last year, we can go ahead and have that regional title this year. We talked this week about going from the round of eight, which is a great accomplishment to the round of four. Only four teams playing in Division 6 and we’re one of those four.”
With five Division 6 state titles and one runner-up finish since 2010 to its credit, Ithaca has advanced past the district round every year since 2009. Winners of the Tri-Valley Conference West, the Yellowjackets handed previously undefeated Montague a 33-23 loss in Saturday’s regional final, and have outscored opponents 582-101.
Not to be outdone by St. Francis and its 30-game regular-season win streak that was snapped by Boyne City in Week 9, Ithaca has won 73 consecutive regular-season games and has lost just four times since 2009.
The winner of Saturday’s game will face either Jackson Lumen Christi (10-1) or Warren Michigan Collegiate (12-0) at Ford Field in Detroit on Friday, Nov. 24.
Saturday’s kickoff in Mt. Pleasant is slated for 1 p.m.