Northern Michigan MHSAA Football Playoffs Preview: Divisions 5-6
The brackets for the MHSAA football playoffs are out and all week long our MISportsNow team will be 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 5 and 6.
- Ogemaw Heights (7-2) at Gladwin (9-0) – Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
- Kingsley (7-2) at Kingsford (6-3) – Oct. 28 at 6 p.m.
- Shepherd (6-3) at Muskegon Oakridge (8-1) – Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
- Tri-County (7-2) at Belding (8-1) – Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
Tyler Driesenga, Sports Reporter/Anchor: We’ve got five local teams in this division, split up into two different districts. Ogemaw Heights, Gladwin and Kingsley are in one district and Tri-County and Shepherd are in another.
Gladwin put together an incredible regular season in 2021 before stumbling in the first round of the playoffs. The Flying G’s have followed that up by somehow replicating the crazy numbers they put up last year, and in some ways this unbeaten regular season was even more impressive than last. Gladwin’s 33-27 road win over Pontiac Notre Dame Prep showed that this team is capable of competing with the state’s top teams. Plus, Gladwin followed up that impressive performance with a dominant 35-7 victory over previously unbeaten Standish-Sterling in the regular season finale. Not to mention, the game against Notre Dame Prep was the ONLY game this season in which Gladwin’s defense allowed more than seven points. I think the disappointment of last year’s first round exit has stuck with this group and these seniors are determined to cap off their high school careers with a deep postseason run. With all of that said, the Flying G’s get another tough first round test against an Ogemaw Heights team that has really impressed me after finishing just 3-6 a season ago.
Kingsley is Kingsley, and what I mean by that is this year’s Stags have upheld the tradition Tim Wooer’s teams have set the last few years. Since 2018, the Stags have consistently been one of the top programs in Northern Michigan and this year is no different. Facing a U.P. team always results in a hard-nosed, old-school football game, and having to travel all the way to Kingsford adds to the challenge for the Stags. The possibility of a Gladwin-Kingsley district championship game should get any Northern Michigan high school football fan excited, and there’s a decent chance we see that matchup. But the Stags and Flying G’s will have to get by Kingsford and Ogemaw Heights first, and that is no small task.
In the other district, Shepherd has had a great season, getting to six wins for the first time since 2005. The Bluejays will have their hands full in the first round against Muskegon Oakridge, whose only loss this season was to the Whitehall team we raved about in the Divisions 1-4 breakdown Monday. By playing Clare and Ithaca the last two weeks, the Bluejays have done all they can to prepare themselves well to face a great opponent. I think Tri-County has a really good chance to get past Belding in the first round. If they do wind up meeting Oakridge in the district title, it’ll be another chance for the Vikings to slay a proverbial dragon. They did that earlier this year by beating Reed City for the first time since 2003 and forcing a three-way tie for the conference crown. Just like Reed City, Oakridge is a team the Vikings have struggled to get past in recent years, having lost to them in districts each of the past two seasons. But as that Reed City game showed, this year’s Vikings can compete with anybody when they’re playing their best football. I would not be surprised to see the Vikings emerge from this district.
Greg Miller, Sports Photojournalist: I think if you were to ask me which game I would want to go to as a spectator this Friday night, my answer may very well be the opening week matchup between Ogemaw Heights and Gladwin. The Flying G’s were one of the most impressive 11-player teams in our coverage area this season. Meanwhile, the Falcons have had a solid campaign themselves, riding a 6-game winning streak into the playoffs. And the other side of that district bracket cannot be ignored either. A pair of kings is a good hand in poker (I believe… and if it isn’t, please don’t offer to play poker with me), and it’d be a good bet to lay down money to see Kingsley take on Kingsford. The Stags have put up some impressive numbers over the back half of the regular season, but that trip to Kingsford is a tough one. I’ve been up there enough times to know that “U-P Power” isn’t just a fun chant for the fans.
And, not to be forgotten, two programs having great seasons face difficult opening week matchups in district two, with Shepherd traveling to Muskegon to take on Oakridge, and Tri-County visiting Belding. That could be a particularly interesting matchup as Tri-County will probably be a bit familiar with the systems run by Belding head coach Monty Price (formerly of Reed City)
Danielle King/Sports Reporter/Anchor: To all of the schools in this division, if you are not familiar with Gladwin, Kingsley, or Tri-County…I’m sorry for what you are about to experience.
Starting with Gladwin, this team is effortlessly good. Just how in-unison they are whether they are taking the practice field or the field on game day. Not to mention, key players like Logan Kokotovich and Earl Esiline will give you a run for your money (literally….these guys run for so many yards in a game it is ridiculous.)
Then there’s Kingsley, with Coach Tim Wooer bringing the magic to the Stags. His expertise has made a team that lost many vital seniors from last year into a team that looks like they returned everybody.
Last but not least, who doesn’t love a small town school that dominates in football? Well, that is Tri-County. I would like to mention how down to earth the players and coaches are, but they are also a physical and well-oiled team. Trent Behrenwald and Stuart Gould are standout leaders, allowing their younger teammates to grow into the 7-2 team they’ve become. Their matchup against Big Rapids was one of the best high school football games I have ever witnessed. Given the turn of events, the Vikings’ attempt at a comeback was thrilling and the biggest statement when it comes to this team.
All of these teams are ones to look out for, but Gladwin just seems like a team that is impossible to defeat. I believe that their run will be longest and even state bound, but if next week calls for a matchup between Gladwin and Kingsley that will be one of the best Northern Michigan football games of the year.
- Elk Rapids (6-3) at Gladstone (7-2) – Oct. 29 at 1 p.m.
- Manistee (6-3) at Boyne City (9-0) – Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
- Montague (3-6) at Reed City (8-1) – Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
- Sanford-Meridian (6-3) at Millington (8-1) – Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
- Clare (5-4) at Standish-Sterling (7-1) – Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
Tyler Driesenga, Sports Reporter/Anchor: A full division for our local teams sees Northern Michigan represented in three different districts. The two teams I think have the best chance to make a deep run are Boyne City and Reed City. The Ramblers offense has looked unstoppable all season. It was heartbreaking to see senior quarterback Jack Neer go down with a broken leg a few weeks ago. He had been having another great season to cap off a great career at Boyne City. In the three games since his injury, though, Boyne City has hardly missed a beat, outscoring its opponents 111-6. The Ramblers offense is always one of the best in the area, and this fall they’ve had the defense to match.
Reed City will look to avenge its loss to Montague in last year’s district championship and get back to the regional round. If the Coyotes get past Montague they would run into the winner of Kent City vs Muskegon Catholic Central in the district title. Reed City just played Kent City a few weeks ago and won in dominant fashion, 52-0. I think it’s more likely they wind up seeing Muskegon Catholic Central in the district final, but I like their chances either way. Outside of the close loss to Howard City Tri-County and an impressive 16-8 overtime win over Cadillac last week, Reed City has won every game its played by at least three scores. The Coyotes are the No. 1 seed in that district for a reason and I think we’ll see them make a deep playoff run.
It’s going to be hard for Manistee, Sanford Meridian, Clare and Elk Rapids to get wins on the road in their district openers, especially for the Elks, who have a four-hour road trip in front of them to get to Gladstone. Nonetheless, Elk Rapids and Sanford Meridian have made incredible turnarounds after they both finished 2-7 a year ago. In the process, they made a fool of anyone who counted them out, so I’m not putting anything past them. Clare played spoiler in the district opener against Gladwin last year and will look to do so again against Standish-Sterling, a team that you could easily argue is deserving of a one-seed. Head-to-head, Standish-Sterling beat Millington in the regular season, and Millington is actually the one-seed in this district.
Greg Miller/Sports Photojournalist: Of the six teams from our area in the Division 6 playoffs, I only saw two in-person. One was Reed City, and they looked incredibly impressive a few weeks ago, dusting a to-that-point unbeaten Kent City team. I think the Coyotes are not just the class of their district, but of their regional as well. That regional includes a couple of other local squads looking to pull an upset in the opening round, Clare and Sanford Meridian. I feel like you almost always get a heightened performance from Clare in the postseason, regardless of how they performed during the regular season, but that was under Coach Luplow. Can Coach Spranger follow in his mentor’s footsteps and keep that tradition rolling? I wouldn’t bet against it.
Boyne City is an interesting team to me. As Tyler mentioned is his assessment, the injury to Jack Neer cannot be understated. You can’t lose a player of that caliber and not be diminished at least to some small degree. But, kudos to the staff and the Ramblers players for answering the bell and rolling to an unbeaten season. Those achievements are rare and worth celebrating, regardless of how long the postseason run lasts. The other team I saw in person from Division 6 was the Manistee Chippewas, and they struggled a bit in their rivalry game against Ludington. While I was there, their defense was holding its own, and that will be a big key for them. In the games they won this season, the Chippewa defense played well.
Last, but certainly not least, Elk Rapids takes its act on the road to the Upper Peninsula. They are probably underdogs going up against a Gladstone team that has the most playoff points in the region, but this will be the Elks’ fourth straight game against a playoff team, so they should already feel like they’ve been playing playoff football. Perhaps that can give them a bit of a mental toughness edge.
Danielle King/Sports Reporter/Anchor: The matchups that stick out to me are Elk Rapids at Gladstone and Manistee at Boyne City. Elk Rapids at Gladstone should be a close one but I believe that the Elks will come out on top. This team went from not having enough kids who wanted to be a part of the football program to kids seeing success on this team and being eager to be a part of it. The Elks want to continue to see that success as they transformed from 2-7 last year to 6-3 this year. Now, Manistee at Boyne City should end in favor of the Ramblers in my opinion. Nothing against Manistee, but the Ramblers just have been filthy good this season and know how to put up points. I cannot imagine they will let up in the playoffs.
My best guess, Reed City and Boyne City are the teams that will have the longest run, with the Ramblers taking at least a district title.
As the week wears on, we will have similar articles to this for all eight divisions and the two 8-player football divisions. On Wednesday, we will break down Divisions 7-8 and on Thursday we will break down the 8-player Divisions 1-2.