*Schedules subject to change
The Johannesburg-Lewiston football team has both brains and brawn.
The Cardinals, who were 9-2 overall and fell to Beal City in the second round of the playoffs, finished with the third highest grade-point average in Division 8 to earn Academic All-State honors this season.
Harbor Beach and Beal City each tied for first with a 3.847 GPA. J-L was just behind those two schools with a 3.826 cumulative team GPA.
Central Lake (3.640) was sixth in the state, and St. Ignace (3.181) finished 13th to put four of the Ski Valley Conference's 10 teams on the list.
Other area teams earning D8 recognition were Baldwin (3.640, fifth in the state), Frankfort (3.610, seventh) and Newberry (3.561, ninth).
The Cardinals open the 2015 season by visiting Mancelona at 7 p.m. Friday, August 28th, 2015
JOHANNESBURG — The loss of the Pellston, Pickford and Onaway football teams from the Ski Valley Conference has created an opportunity for each current league member to schedule three non conference games this upcoming season.
Johannesburg-Lewiston took advantage of its opportunity Friday by scheduling a game against Detroit Consortium College Prep. The Cardinals will host the Cougars during Week 6 of the 2015 season. A tentative date of Saturday, Oct. 3, has been set.The game is not part of a home-and-home series. There are currently no plans for J-L to play a 2016 game in Detroit as of now. "It'll be a great experience for both schools," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "It'll be great for them to come up here and see what it's like to play in Northern Michigan. It'll be great for our kids to see a Detroit school that has great speed and athleticism. "Our kids are excited and are already watching tape on them." Consortium is an upstart program that began playing football in 2009. According to michigan-football.com, the school had an enrollment of 425 students (Class B) last season. It has qualified for the postseason only once and has never won more than seven games. It finished 3-6 as a football independent in 2014 and played games against Southeast Michigan powerhouses such as Dearborn Divine Child, Orchard Lake Saint Mary's Prep, Birmingham Detroit Country Day and River Rouge, among others. The Cougars believe playing against J-L gives them opportunity to face equal competition and alleviates their need to schedule games against some of the best Class A and B schools in their area. "Johannesburg is good and has made the playoffs the past few years," Consortium coach John Pittman said. "They're a team about our speed. Last year, we had to play schools like Country Day and Orchard Lake. That's a little too much for us. "We want to continue the tradition of playing good teams, and Johannesburg is one of those teams." Consortium believes the game will help prepare them for the playoffs, both from a competitive and logistical standpoint. "We've never played a wing-T team," Pittman said. "Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central runs the wing, but nothing like what Johannesburg runs. If we make it to the playoffs, we'll see a few teams with the wing-T. This game gives us an advantage to see a team like Johannesburg mid season and to prepare for what's to come later in the year. "We also want to get used to traveling. When you go to the playoffs, you have to travel. We want to get used to traveling a long ways, getting off the bus and playing good football." The game isn’t the first time the Cardinals have played a Detroit area school during the regular season. J-L faced Detroit East Catholic in 1985, with the Chargers edging the Cardinals 20-15. Despite Consortium's six-year history, this game will also not be its first experience against a Northern Michigan team. The Cougars topped visiting Kalkaska 44-24 last season at River Rouge. Cameron Lewis led Consortium with 212 all-purpose yards and two touchdown rushes against the Blazers. Quintez Stokes was 12-of-14 passing for 250 yards and a pair of TD throws. Consortium's defense forced three fumbles and returned an interception for a 47-yard score. Consortium, and its spread offense, will face Kalkaska again this season. This time they'll visit the Blazers the week following their game against J-L. "Kalkaska was a great team and will be good this year," Pittman said. "They play a different kind of football (pistol offense) that will make us better and get us ready. We wish we could get in a league up there and play teams like Kalkaska on a regular basis to get us ready for the playoffs. Those teams up there play great football, and we want to be part of it." Smokevitch said Kalkaska's experience with Consortium is part of the reason why he scheduled the Cougars. "I called (Kalkaska coach Jeremy Wilkinson) to see if Consortium was for real about actually playing against teams like us," he said. "They're a bigger school but after watching some on their tape against Kalkaska, we want to play them and play up." Scheduling Consortium completes J-L's schedule for 2015. The Cardinals will face six Ski Valley opponents in Central Lake, Mancelona, Inland Lakes, Forest Area, St. Ignace and St. Mary. They'll also play non conference games against Manton, Lincoln Alcona and, after Friday's announcement, Consortium. "We're really happy with our schedule now, because Consortium gives us six home games," Smokevitch said. "We wanted to schedule up this season, and no one on our schedule is a slouch. "St. Ignace added Ispheming and Fowler and that helps them get better as a team. That's the thought process that we have, too. Not only do we want to get our six wins to qualify for the playoffs, we want to get our six wins and play games that'll help us improve as a team." In addition to J-L's scheduling announcement Friday, it received other news worth celebrating. The Detroit Free Press released its All-State football team Saturday, with J-L linebacker Logan Huff earning recognition on its Division 8 team. Huff was named the Ski Valley's Defensive MVP and set a school record for making 207 tackles (103 solo) this past season. He finished with two interceptions, one sack, one fumble recovery and two defensive touchdowns. The newspaper tabbed J-L kicking specialist Nathan Fox as an Honorable Mention. Fox made 41 extra point attempts and punted 11 times for 627 yards. Both players were named All-State by the Associated Press earlier this postseason.
The Cardinals (9-2) ended their season with a loss to Beal City in the district championship.
EAST LANSING — Standing out among their peers.
The Associated Press selected Johannesburg-Lewiston kicking specialist Nathan Fox and linebacker Logan Huff as Special Mentions to its 2014 Division 7-8 All-State football team.
The two guided the Cardinals to a 9-2 overall record and an appearance in the Division 8 district championship against Beal City on Nov. 7.
Huff set the school record for most tackles in a single season by notching 207 (103 solo). He also added a pair of interceptions, one sack, one fumble recovery and two touchdowns. The Ski Valley Conference named him the Defensive MVP for his performance.
Fox nailed 41 extra point attempts and punted 11 times for 627 yards, earning First Team All-Conference accolades as both a punter and kicker.
St. Ignace defensive back Gage Kreski was named All-State, while St. Ignace offensive lineman Mitchell Snyder earned Special Mention honors.
The AP also named the following area players as Honorable Mentions: Inland Lakes running back Daniel Flowers, Inland Lakes guard Stanley Schramm and St. Ignace offensive lineman Keegan Fulgenzi.
Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port coach Adam Grybauskas, the former Central Lake coach, was named a Special Mention. Grybauskas led the Trojans to a pair of Division 8 regional games in 2006 and 2007, among several other district playoff appearances during his tenure.
Johannesburg-Lewiston linebacker Logan Huff added to his stellar list of offseason accolades when the Detroit News tabbed him as an Honorable Mention to its Division 7-8 All-State football team last week.
Huff was named the Ski Valley Conference’s Defensive MVP and set a school record for making 207 tackles (103 solo) this past season.
NORTHERN MICHIGAN — The Ski Valley Conference will have a different look during the 2015 football season.
Sources told the Gaylord Herald Times Thursday that three Ski Valley teams — Pellston, Onaway and Pickford — are leaving the conference to play 8-man football.
The Ski Valley has seen its share of changes in the past 10 years. Bellaire left the conference to play 8-man football, and Rogers City, St. Ignace, Pickford and Rudyard were added at different times.
The league will have seven teams in 2015 — Johannesburg-Lewiston, Gaylord St. Mary, St. Ignace, Central Lake, Mancelona, Inland Lakes and Forest Area.
J-L has already scheduled non conference home games against Lincoln Alcona and Manton, and St. Ignace has picked up games with Ispheming and Cheboygan.
Pellston was forced to forfeit its final two games of the season and finished 0-9. Pickford started off strong but was decimated with injuries and lost its last five games. Onaway finished 4-5, but has struggled with numbers during the past few seasons.
The Ski Valley isn't looking to add any teams until the 2016 season.
Pickford and Onaway have already voted on the move and Pellston is expected to soon.
Beal City tops J-L in district finals shootout
BEAL CITY — Points weren't hard to come by but stops were.
In the end, visiting Johannesburg-Lewiston couldn't keep up with Beal City in the second half of a 53-27 loss in the Division 8 district final Friday.
It was the third time the Cardinals lost to Beal City in the playoffs in the last three years.
J-L (9-2) came ready to play as Logan Huff scored on a 68-yard run on the game's first drive. After Beal City (10-2) scored, Trevor Picklemann found the end zone on a scoop-and-score to put the Cardinals up 14-7.
Another Aggies touchdown was neutralized by an 86-yard kickoff return by Ethan May.
A turning point in the game came after that score, as Beal City's Luke Farrell scored two touchdowns late in the second quarter to give the Aggies a 25-20 halftime lead.
Beal would add upon that early in the third quarter with a touchdown run by Chase Rollin before Brandon Huff's 1-yard touchdown run made it 32-27.
The Aggies took control of the game after that, scoring the game's final three touchdowns.
Logan Huff's 95 yards paced J-L.
Rollin had 159 yards on the ground for Beal City, while Farrell added 143 yards.
Johannesburg-Lewiston holds on to beat Hillman in playoff shootout
JOHANNESBURG — Defense wins district championships.
Johannesburg-Lewiston linebacker Logan Huff batted down a pass from Hillman quarterback Ty Jones on fourth and 13 with 6:13 left to secure a 35-19 win over the visiting Tigers in the Division 8 district playoff opener Friday at J-L.
The junior's play on the ball in the end zone secured his team's two touchdown lead and allowed J-L's offense to eat the rest of the clock on the ensuing drive.
"That was a big play in the corner Logan made," said J-L coach Joe Smokevitch, whose 12th-ranked Cardinals are 9-1 overall. "In the second half, we told our defense we wanted bracket coverage, with Ethan (May) chucking their receiver at the line and Dominic (Cassisi) playing over the top at safety.
"Logan was playing in the flats on the play, and we had three kids right there ready to bat it down."
The win pits the Cardinals against No. 6 Beal City in the district championship at 7 p.m. Friday. They suffered blowout losses to the Aggies in 2011 and 2012, the only two meetings ever between the schools.
To refrain from a third blowout, they'll need to shore up their pass coverage.
Jones finished 9-for-22 passing for 145 yards and two touchdowns, including one score right before halftime that kept Hillman in the game.
The senior hit Travis Powers with a 26-yard TD pass with 6.6 left, shrinking J-L's lead to 21-12 as each team jogged into the locker room.
The Cardinals also gave up a 5-yard TD reception to Mason VanPamel in the third quarter and a big play to Dylan Steinke for 24 yards prior to that.
Aside from Huff's shootout-ending effort, defending the pass was J-L's weakness.
"We need to do better in pass coverage next week," Smokevitch said. "Limiting mistakes is a big thing, too. It's been a theme the whole year but if we play wild and crazy or give up big plays, that will definitely hurt us against Beal."
The Cardinals didn't have a problem springing big plays of their own on offense.
Huff carried around the end for a 14-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter and also punched in another from 7 yards in the third. He finished with 16 carries for 126 yards.
After a Cassisi 21-yard sprint to the goal line, quarterback Brandon Huff scored from 4 yards in the second. Minutes before halftime, he reached pay dirt on a 7-yard keeper.
"I attribute our rushing to the offensive line," Smokevitch said. "They're playing really well and have been as of late. They got out there and made some blocks. They're making calls on the line, and that's what's nice about having smart kids who can make adjustments on their own."
Nick May, who had a 41-yard rush to set up Logan Huff's second TD, led all rushers with 25 attempts for 167 yards and the game's final TD, a 7-yard jaunt across the goal line. He was the catalyst that opened running lanes for other J-L backs and helped the offense finish with 401 yards rushing.
"Nick ran like crazy in the middle tonight," Smokevitch said. "The offensive line did a good job popping Nick free.
"On his big carry, he took advantage of their blitzing linebackers and ran right down the middle wide open."
The Cardinals limited Hillman to 118 yards rushing, recovered a fumble on Hillman's first drive and Cassisi picked off Jones in the first half.
Logan Huff led the defense with 19 tackles (nine solo), Alden Nickert, added 14 (three solo) and Trevor Pickelmann had 10 (four solo).
Hillman fullback David Julka scored from five yards in the second quarter, and Steinke gained 68 yards on 16 attempts.
Nate Fox was 5-for-5 kicking extra points, despite attempting each try in the snow and against howling wind.
J-L rushes past Hillman to set up battle with Beal City
JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston football team took advantage of the home playoff atmosphere in a 35-19 win against Hillman in the Division 8 pre-district game Friday.
The Cardinals will play at Beal City in next week's District final. The Aggies defeated Coleman 55-19 Friday.
A snowy track slowed both teams early and led to a scoreless first quarter, but the Cardinals (9-1) broke the ice on a 14-yard run by Logan Huff on the first play of the second quarter.
J-L made the score 14-0 when quarterback Brandon Huff scored from seven yards out. Hillman (8-2) got on the board thanks to David Julka's 5-yard touchdown, but the Cardinals quickly answered with Brandon Huff's second TD run of the game.
The Tigers would score on the second-to-last play of the first half on a 26-yard pass from Ty Jones to Travis Powers to make it 21-12.
The high scoring pace continued into the second half when a 41-yard run by Nick May set up Logan Huff's second touchdown run of the game.
Hillman answered on a 5-yard touchdown reception by Mason VanPamel to make the score 28-19.
J-L's rushing attack accounted for its fifth touchdown of the game when May scored early in the fourth quarter to make it 35-19. Nathan Fox nailed his fifth consecutive extra point after the play.
Logan Huff came up with a key defensive play with a pass breakup to seal the deal for J-L.
Ski Valley names Johannesburg-Lewiston's Logan Huff Defensive MVP
JOHANNESBURG — The Ski Valley Conference had no choice but to award Johannesburg-Lewiston linebacker Logan Huff its Defensive MVP award after the junior averaged more than 18 tackles per game this fall.
Huff finished the regular season with 167 tackles, two interceptions and two defensive touchdowns and helped the Cardinals, 8-1 overall and second place in the league, finish as the 12th-ranked team in the state.
On the other side of the ball, St. Ignace junior quarterback Gage Kreski earned the Offensive MVP honor by throwing for 1,177 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also added 506 yards and eight TDs on the ground and led the third-ranked Saints to their third consecutive Ski Valley title, a 9-0 record and a Division 8 home playoff game today (Friday) against Newberry (5-4).
While J-L is the only team from Otsego County to earn a postseason bid — a Round 1 home game against Hillman (8-1) on Friday — Huff wasn't the only player the Cardinals relied upon to get there.
In fact, the league named J-L offensive lineman Nathan Fox and defensive end Dan Nieman to its First Team. Fox was also named to the First Team as a punter and kicker. Huff's MVP award automatically qualified him for one of the First Team linebacker spots on the list.
Joining those three players, center McGwire Mathewson, offensive lineman Joel Kussrow and linebackers Alden Nickert and Brandon Huff earned Second Team accolades.
St. Mary placed defensive end Ethan Szymanski and defensive lineman Cole Loffer on the First Team list, while quarterback Adam Nowicki and running back Jack Lochinski made Second Team, and running back/linebacker Anders Marquard made the cut for Honorable Mention.
Trick or treat?Area teams hoping for sweet Halloween success
This Friday, you can trick or treat, you can trunk or treat, or you can be treated to some good playoff football one of four area towns hosting playoff games on Halloween.
Or, if you are at Curtis Field in Petoskey, you can do all three. According to the Petoskey Northmen Football page on Facebook, the resourceful Northmen fans known for their fun pre-game tailgate, are stepping it up a notch.
There will be candy and snacks for the kids, coupled with decorated vehicles for the adults. It will all add to the festive atmosphere which will culminate with the Northmen's 7 p.m. kickoff against Bay City John Glenn in the opening game of the Division 3 playoffs.
In the spirit of Halloween, here is the "treat," that will be doled out to each of the local playoff teams:
Pay Day — Petoskey
The Northmen earned their first trip to the playoffs since 2011 and cashed in on some good fortune by winding up as the No. 1 seed in a very manageable bracket.
It will not be easy — any of the four teams in this quad could become district champs, but the road will go through Petoskey. Bay City John Glenn is a solid, if not spectacular team, as is Marquette and Mount Pleasant, the other two district opponents for the Northmen.
100 Grand — Boyne City
100 Grand is what the attendance might seem like at Boyne City, where the community has gotten behind their beloved Ramblers like never before. Coupled with a charged-up stampede of Elk Rapids fans, and you'd better get there early if you want a seat.
While Boyne City will come in humming the sweet tune of a perfect 9-0 record, Kit Kat will be the familiar refrain of the Elks, as in "gimme a break." Boyne City narrowly escaped with a 28-23 victory against the Elks on Oct. 17, a game that ended in a way we could go 100,000 years without seeing again. The Elks were driving with a chance to stun the Ramblers before a fumble on an attempted spike caused chaos and a swelling of Boyne City pride.
Elk Rapids wasn't happy with the way that game ended and will look to take out their frustration this week. If you are looking for fireworks on Halloween, Boyne City might be your place.
Sweet tarts — Charlevoix
What's the sweetest candy you can think of? Candy corn and Peeps both made the list, but let's go with the candy that has "sweet" in its name.
That's how sweet it will be for Charlevoix Friday, when the Rayders host Negaunee in their first playoff game since 2009.
Charlevoix had to scratch and claw its way into the second season. The Rayders, who were once 2-3, won their last four games to make it into the Division 6 field. They were rewarded with a home game, albeit against a traditional power in Negaunee, who had an uncharacteristic 5-4 regular season.
What would be sweeter than simply making the dance? Winning a playoff game for the first time in school history. The playoffs have been tart to Charlevoix, who is 0-6 all-time in the second season.
Snickers — Johannesburg-Lewiston
"Snickers" may have been the audible sound coming out of Johannesburg Sunday, as the nutty playoff pairings surprised almost every so-called "expert," who had the Cardinals facing a much easier road.
We thought the Cardinals had earned the No. 1 seed and would play in a bracket that featured Central Lake, Hillman and, say, Frankfort.
But instead, J-L finds itself in the same sweet spot as No. 1 seed Beal City, who has played in the past two state championship games.
It's not all evil for coach Joe Smokevitch and his Cardinals. This is one of the best J-L teams in a recent run of excellent success, so expect the Cardinals to beat orange (pumpkin)-clad Hillman before giving Beal City a true run for its money. No joke.
3 Musketeers — Inland Lakes
The real 3 Musketeers — at least those from literature — traveled across Europe in the 17th century.
While Inland Lakes may not traverse Europe, the Bulldogs will cross the Mackinac Bridge and play at the Upper Peninsula's Munising. It's been said that when a Lower Peninsula team crosses the Mighty Mac, they immediately fall behind 10 points. That may or may not be true, but it is a fact that L.P. teams struggle when playing in the land of the Yoopers.
If Inland Lakes is to pull of this Division 7 upset, the Bulldogs will have to rely on its "4 Musketeers," halfbacks Daniel Flowers and Garrett Key, fullback Ryan Howery and quarterback Ethan Jankowiak, to swashbuckle their way to success.
Jeremy Speer is sports director for the Petoskey News-Review, Charlevoix Courier and Gaylord Herald Times. He can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
Playoff surprise: J-L hosts Hillman in round 1
Those following the Johannesburg-Lewiston football program were surprised when the Division 8 playoff brackets were unveiled Sunday night. Thinking they would be in a bracket with three other Northern Michigan teams, the Cardinals were quietly preparing to face Ski Valley Conference opponent Central Lake in the opener as the No. 1 seed.
But that changed when the Cardinals drew the No. 2 seed in the same district as Beal City, who has played in the state championship each of the past two years.
And while coach Joe Smokevitch admits Beal City — whom the Cardinals battled in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs — is on the Cardinals' mind, it is first things first. And that means a home playoff game against Hillman (8-1) at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31, in Johannesburg.
"When we looked at the brackets, we saw the possibility of this happening, but we were 99 percent sure we'd be playing Central Lake," Smokevitch said. "(Beal City) is on the back of our mind, but our kids are focused on Hillman. We're a little disappointed (to not be the No. 1 seed), but we've been saying all year long that in order to be the best, you have to beat the best."
That quest includes beating Hillman, the best in the North Star League this season. While it sometimes can be easy to knock the level of small-school football on the Lake Huron side of the state, the Tigers come in as a balanced offensive juggernaut who in nine games have already scored more points than any team in school history.
Hillman's only blemish came in Week 8 in a 31-14 loss to Division 7 playoff entrant Whittemore-Prescott, despite beating Rudyard, Rogers City and Mio by a combined 15 points.
The Tigers are led by senior quarterback Ty Jones, a longtime starter and tremendous baseball player. Jones passed for 1,426 yards with 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions in the regular season.
"He throws the ball pretty well — you see the same kind of talent that he has on the baseball field," Smokevitch said.
Hillman relies on a pair of senior targets in Mason Van Pamel (38 receptions, 747 yards, 11 TD's) and Travis Powers (24 receptions, 482 yards, 6 TD's). The Tigers also boast a strong rushing attack, even without the potential absence of senior Kenny Kolcan (517 yards), who has missed the past handful of games because of injury.
The team's leading rusher is junior Dylan Steinke (531 yards, 9 TDs), with senior Josh Reinbold (394 yards, 6 TDs) and freshman William Kolcan (301 yards, 4 TDs) also posing threats.
"They are a lot like us — they keep it simple," Smokevitch said. "They do what they do, and they do it well."
This year's J-L team is less balanced and probably more stout on defense than Hillman. The Cardinals, as usual, churn up yards in the rushing game, led by 791 yards and 15 touchdowns from junior Logan Huff. The weapons are plentiful with Nick May (389 yards, five TDs), Brandon Huff (368 yards, 10 TDs) and Dominic Cassisi (333 yards, five TDs) all chipping in, along with the speedy Ethan May.
Smokevitch said he believes his team is playing its best football of the season following last week's 42-6 blowout of a very good Inland Lakes team.
"I think we are," he said. "It all starts with our line play. If we can play as well as we did on the offensive line and defensive line, we will have success."
If Hillman has any bugaboo, it's on the defensive side of the ball, where they have struggled against decent competition, with Whittemore-Prescott, Rudyard, Rogers City and Mio all scoring more than 30 points on them.
The Tiger defense had major trouble stopping J-L's wing-T attack in the 2012 playoff opener, where the Cardinals rolled to a 62-14 victory. That was a year when J-L advanced all the way to the regional, where J-L lost 49-16 to Beal City in a game that many current Cardinals still remember vividly.
It's a game that will serve as motivation this week, and again with a potential rematch in Beal City next week. The Aggies (7-2) will open the playoffs Friday at home against Coleman (7-2).
INDIAN RIVER — The game of the season in the Ski Valley Conference lived up to the hype for 10:02.
That’s when Johannesburg-Lewiston running back Logan Huff scored a touchdown on a 3-yard dive to break an early 6-6 tie, and the Cardinals never looked back, ripping off four more touchdowns to down host Inland Lakes 42-6 on Friday.
Despite what implications were on the line — home field advantage in the Division 8 playoffs and second place in the league — the Cardinals (8-1) had no trouble putting away the Bulldogs (7-2) in a game many parents, fans and media members dubbed as the most-anticipated tilt of the regular season.
“We started off hot and got the ball early and didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot like we have in games earlier this season,” J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. “After Logan scored our first touchdown on a 22-yard pitch play, we got the ball back and scored again right away.”
Inland Lakes running back Daniel Flowers scored his team’s lone touchdown 8:15 into the game, and the Bulldogs couldn’t recover following Huff’s two touchdowns.
“We just had a tough time executing on both sides of the ball,” Inland Lakes coach Stan Schramm said. “We had some stops, but penalties hurt us, and you can’t do that against good teams.”
J-L’s defense limited Flowers to 114 yards on 16 carries — with 73 of those yards gained on two broken plays — while linebacker Alden Nickert made 24 tackles (six solo), Logan Huff added 19 (10 solo) and Nathan Fox had 14 stops and recovered one fumble. Billy Priest notched eight tackles and one sack.
To add to that effort, Trevor Pickelmann recovered a fumble and returned it 65 yards for a score in the third quarter.
“Our defense was lights out tonight,” Smokevitch said. “Billy Priest dominated and was huge for us, and Nathan Fox was huge for us, too.”
The win did in fact give J-L home field advantage for its first round playoff game against Hillman (8-1) on Friday. The matchup will be the third meeting between J-L and Hillman in the playoffs since 2009, with the Cardinals winning each of the previous two games by more than 35 points.
They’re expected to play against Beal City in the second round if they can down Hillman on Friday.
The Bulldogs visit Munising (8-1) for its first-round playoff game. Should the they pull off the upset, they’ll likely face St. Ignace in the second round.
They fell to St. Ignace 53-12 during a Week 4 matchup but strung together four consecutive wins following the loss.
Scrhamm hopes Inland Lakes can do that again after its Week 9 loss.
“They responded well after the loss to St. Ignace,” he noted, “and we expect they will respond well after this loss, especially going into the first round of the playoffs.”
• Quarterback Brandon Huff scored a pair of 1-yard rushing touchdowns and finished with nine carries for 62 yards. Backup Orin Kierczynski scored with 2:27 left in the game for his first TD of the season.
• Pickelmann’s touchdown marked the second scoop-and-score for him this season.
• Fox made four extra points and continued his dominance as the top kicking specialist in the conference.
• The Cardinals held Flowers to the fewest amount of yards (114) he’s had in a single game this year.
Inland Lakes Highlights
• Flowers — who missed one game with an injury — has rushed for more than 100 yards eight times this season.
• Ryan Howery gained 60 yards on 13 carries, while Garrett Key added 44 yards on seven attempts. Key also caught a pair of passes for 44 yards.
• Doug Lagone and Key each made 11 tackles, and Dylan Hopkins recorded one sack.
• The Cardinals downed Inland Lakes 22-6 in junior varsity football action Thursday.
Petoskey News-Review sports assistant Kurt Grangood contributed to this report.
Inland Lakes ends regular season on 42-6 loss to Johannesburg-Lewiston
INDIAN RIVER —Not the ending they were looking for.
The Inland Lakes Bulldogs dropped their final regular season Ski Valley Conference game to the Johannesburg-Lewiston on Friday, falling 42-6.
While they'll be heading to the playoffs nonetheless, a tough loss in the regular season finale can certainly make them work a bit harder come next week.
"A positive, after this game, the boys will be going to practice on Monday and working hard," Inland Lakes coach Stan Schramm said. "They responded well after the loss to St. Ignace, and we expect they will respond well after this loss especially going into the first round of the playoffs."
JoBurg jumped to an early 14-0 lead before a Danny Flowers would score on a 44 yard touchdown run for Inland Lakes.
The Cardinals added another touchdown late in the second quarter, and went halftime leading, 21-7.
"We just had a tough time executing on both sides of the ball," Schramm added. "We had some stops, but penalties hurt us, and you can't do that against good teams."
Inland Lakes started the second half with the ball, and sustained a drive into JoBurg territory, when the Bulldogs fumbled.
The ball was recovered and ran back, 65 yards, for a Cardinal touchdown.
"They (JoBurg) did, and we didn't, " Schramm said. "We came out flat and they came out ready to play tonight."
For Inland Lakes, Flowers had 19 carries for 126 yards and the touchdown, while Ryan Howery added 13 carries for 60 yards, and Garrett Key had seven carries for 44 yards. Ethan Jankoviak completed two passes, both to Key, for 44 yards
Key and Doug Lagone each had 11 tackles, while Dylan Hopkins had a one sack.
For JoBurg Logan Huff 166 yards on 15 carries and Brandon Huff picked up 66 yards on nine carries.
On defense for JoBurg Alden Nickert led the Cardinals with 25 total tackles, while Logan Huff added 20 tackles and Trevor Pickelmann turned in a fumble recovery into a score.
Inland Lakes finished the regular season 7-2 overall, 7-2 in league.
Johannesburg-Lewiston, Inland Lakes ready to meet in Ski Valley football game of the year
INDIAN RIVER — Even during those hot and humid two-a-day sessions in August, all coaches, fans and media members alike knew today's (Friday) Week 9 matchup between 12th-ranked Johannesburg-Lewiston and Inland Lakes would be the Ski Valley Conference game of the season.
It's a game that always comes down to which team has the ball last, and the games are hardly ever blowouts. This time around, the Bulldogs (7-1) host the Cardinals (7-1) with both league and playoff implications on the line. St. Ignace (9-0) clinched its third consecutive Ski Valley title since joining the conference in 2010 following its forfeit win over Pellston last Friday. That pairs J-L and Inland Lakes in a de facto runner-up game Friday.
And what's more, the winner of the game will likely garner home field advantage during the first round of the playoffs.
"I don't think second place matters to our kids because if it's not for first place, it doesn't matter to us," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "The biggest thing for our kids is home field advantage for the playoffs. It'll be a big thing for our kids. They want to be home and not be road warriors. That'll be our primary focus Friday."
The Cardinals, one week removed from gaining 461 yards rushing against Forest Area, will rely on its six-headed backfield of quarterback Brandon Huff and running backs Logan Huff, Ethan May, Nick May, Jac Bandt and Dominic Cassisi.
How Inland Lakes stops J-L's full-house and Wing-T formations could determine who wins Friday.
"They're almost a spitting image of us in terms of what they do," Inland Lakes coach Stan Schramm said. "Their base offense is a full-house T, the same as ours, and offensively they run very similar plays, and their blockers have very similar assignments.
"The thing that makes them the most dangerous is that they have great athletes in the backfield, starting with the Huff cousins. They're both juniors and are very athletic, very skilled and a real threat on every play. Add a player like Ethan May to that equation, and you've got a tough offense to stop."
For every Logan Huff, Brandon Huff and May, there's a Daniel Flowers, Garrett Key and Ethan Jankowiak on Inland Lakes' depth chart.
It's a coin flip between Logan Huff and Flowers on who the most dangerous player on the field will be, but the one thing confirmed is that Flowers is the fastest running back in the Ski Valley — as verified by his 40-yard dash time last spring.
Helping Flowers in the backfield, Key has proved this season he can eat up just as many yards en route to the end zone, while Jankowiak has removed all negative connotations associated with the term "game-managing quarterback."
"They really have a good backfield and have a comparable backfield to ours with their size and speed back there," Smokevitch said. "All four of their kids are good runners, and you can't focus on just one kid. You have to focus on all of them, including their quarterback. Their QB is a quick guy and does a nice job managing the game, but when he runs the ball, he is fast."
If there is one advantage Inland Lakes has entering the game, it isn't anything schematic.
Slow starts have plagued the Cardinals in six different games this season, and it usually takes one quarter for the team to regroup and find its bearings.
While early setbacks such as personal foul penalties, turnovers on offense and breakdowns on defense have hurt J-L, only once has it resulted in a loss — a 28-0 shutout against No. 5 St. Ignace. If Inland Lakes can exploit the Cardinals' first quarter miscues, it could set the tone for the rest of the game.
"The one thing we need to avoid is another slow start," Smokevitch said. "We've talked about how to get these kids going, and sometimes we have to chew on the kids a bit at halftime."
J-L leads Inland Lakes 14-11 in the all-time series, with the Cardinals winning last season's meeting 44-30 in a Week 2 matchup.
There's no question what's on the line for each team but should the Bulldogs earn the win, it'll be their first eight-win season since 1995.
"If we win, we'd finish with one of the best records we've had in a long time here at 8-1, but it's going to be tough," Schramm said. "It seems like every time we play Johannesburg, it's a great game that comes down to the final play, and this year shouldn't be any different."
Johannesburg-Lewiston beats Forest Area, sets up crucial week 9 game with Inland Lakes
JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team continues its hunt for home field advantage in the postseason.
The Cardinals, 7-1 overall and in conference, utilized its ground game to defeat visiting Forest Area 47-8 in a muddy, wet Ski Valley Conference game Friday.
J-L junior running back Logan Huff rushed 12 times for 162 yards and four touchdowns, while senior Jac Bandt added 95 yards on nine carries.
Also helping the Cardinals, junior quarterback Brandon Huff gained 76 yards, junior Ethan May finished with 58 yards and sophomore Dominic Cassisi had 60.
While May, Bandt and Cassisi scored TD's, the Cardinals finished with 461 yards of offense — all rushing — and credited their offensive line with the win.
"Our interior linemen played well for being undersized in the mud," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "It's not our strong suit when the team we play against is bigger than us, especially when we play in the mud, because it negates our speed a bit.
"Trevor Pickelmann had great blocks, Billy Priest and Dominic Vogt played tackle well and our guards made great blocks all night."
Forest Area senior running back Austin Vance led his team with 30 carries for 103 yards, while J-L limited the Warriors (1-7) to only 156 yards of total offense.
"In the first half, Forest Area was able to move the ball," Smokevitch said. "They controlled the clock in the first half and ran the ball 18 times in the first quarter, and we only ran three plays in the first quarter. Vance is a great running back in muddy conditions because he is so big, but we limited Forest Area to 39 yards in the second half after motivating our kids at halftime."
Logan Huff also played lights out on defense by recording a game-high 26 tackles. Senior Wesley Olds, who started in place of linebacker Alden Nickert (illness), and Brandon Huff each made 12 stops apiece.
However, Olds suffered a hand injury during the game. It's unknown how that will impact his availability in Week 9.
The Cardinals enter their most important game of the season, as they visit Inland Lakes (7-1) in a much-anticpated regular season finale. As the de facto runner-up game, the winner of the tilt will finish in second place in the Ski Valley, behind fourth-ranked St. Ignace, and the loser is guaranteed a third-place finish.
Earning a win over the Bulldogs is also important for J-L if it wants to host a home playoff game in the first round. The Cardinals are projected by snooze2you.com to garner a second seed in the playoffs and host a home game, but that will all change should Inland Lakes pull off the home upset.
Also playing in Week 8, the J-L junior varsity football team fell to host St. Ignace 34-12 on Thursday.
Johannesburg-Lewiston gunning for SVC second-place finish, home field advantage in playoffs
JOHANNESBURG — Following last week's win over Pickford, the 13th-ranked Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team joined 295 other programs in the state that have already secured enough wins to play in this year's playoffs.
The Cardinals, 6-1 overall and in the Ski Valley Conference, scored seven touchdowns, including six rushing, to down the Panthers (2-5) on the road.
They're next objective is to win their last two games to garner a high enough seed to host a Round 1 playoff game and finish second overall in the Ski Valley standings — as No. 4 St. Ignace has all but won its third consecutive league title with only games against Pellston (0-7) and Pickford remaining on its schedule.
Currently, J-L and Inland Lakes (6-1) are set to meet in a de facto runner up matchup in the Week 9 regular season finale. Each will enter the game with losses against St. Ignace. The Cardinals fell to the Saints 28-0, while I-Lakes lost to them 53-12.
J-L should be the favorite to beat the Bulldogs, despite the game being hosted in Indian River.
That's especially true after Inland Lakes struggled against visiting Central Lake (4-3) in Week 7. The Bulldogs trailed 14-0 in the first quarter before relying on running back Daniel Flowers' and his 132 rushing yards to surmount a late comeback and defeat the Trojans 28-22.
"They (Inland Lakes) made a comeback like that last year against us," said J-L coach Joe Smokevitch of his team's 44-30 win over the Bulldogs in 2013. "We let up in the second half, and I-Lakes came back. We still beat them by 14 points, though.
"But we have an advantage when we play I-Lakes this year because we're following Central Lake. I like following Central Lake because I get to watch their wing-T and full house and see what I-Lakes does when Central Lake run its. Their offense isn't too much different than ours."
If the season were to end this week, snooze2you.com projects third-seed J-L to visit second-seed Frankfort (5-1) in the first round of the playoffs. The site also projects the winner of that matchup to face either Hillman (7-0) or Central Lake in the district final.
Before the Cardinals can worry about beating Inland Lakes, they must focus on downing their Week 8 opponent, Forest Area (1-6), at 7 p.m. Friday.
J-L controls a 7-3 lead in the all-time series against a Warriors team that will call upon running backs Austin Vance and Zak DenBoer to move the chains in the double-wing offense. Vance is 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds and is a tough rusher to bring down with just one tackler, while DenBoer also gets a lion's share of the Warriors' carries.
Also helping Forest Area, playmaker Paul Korn (shoulder) should be back form an injury he sustained earlier this season. Korn is a proven runner and pass catcher who could add a couple of wrinkles to Forest Area's offense.
"The biggest thing is that they keep it pretty simple on offense," Smokevitch said. "The philosophy of doing only what you're good at is what they seem to do. It might be different with the Korn kid back this week, but they keep it pretty simple."
While the Cardinals will be without Dale Wells and Gary Murphy, who are still recovering from injuries, their defense will be ready to face the Warriors.
"We're going to run our regular 5-3 and 5-2 defense," Smokevitch said. "We're not going to do anything crazy. We're just going to run our standard stuff."
On offense, J-L will return fullback Nick May. He sat out the Pickford game with an illness, but is an asset for the Cardinals. He is currently the sixth-leading rusher in Otsego County with 57 carries for 346 yards and five touchdowns.
Johannesburg-Lewiston 49, Pickford 12: Cards thwart slow start against Panthers to clinch playoff bid
PICKFORD — An early turnover and a slow start couldn't stop the 13th-ranked Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team from winning Friday.
The Cardinals, 6-1 overall and in the Ski Valley Conference, rebounded from a fumble on its first drive that led to a Pickford touchdown to defeat the Panthers 49-12 in a league road tilt.
On J-L's third play of the game, junior Brandon Huff fumbled the quarterback-running back exchange on Pickford's 29-yard line.
The Panthers (2-5) used a 20-yard pass from junior quarterback Ian Firack to sophomore wide receiver Derrick Edington and a 14-yard Firack rush to reach the red zone on the ensuing drive. A 5-yard touchdown carry by junior running back Jaykob Soeltner capped off the seven-play, 71-yard drive that gave Pickford an early 6-0 lead.
After the sluggish start, which marked the fourth time J-L has struggled early in games this season, the Cardinals used the early deficit to ignite its offense and score the next seven TD's of the contest.
"We had yet another slow start in this game, and I just don't know what is with our guys starting slow," said J-L coach Joe Smokevitch, whose team clinched its fourth consecutive playoff birth with the win. "Maybe it was the long bus ride up here. Maybe it was the guys thinking we were going to roll over Pickford and get an easy win. Whatever it was, our kids woke up after Pickford scored on that play and started playing up to their potential."
J-L junior running back Logan Huff rushed five times for a game-high 168 yards and three touchdowns, while senior Jac Bandt, who filled in for injured starting fullback Nick May, rounded out the Cardinals' effort with nine carries for 88 yards and a score.
Also contributing to the win, Brandon Huff was 2-of-3 passing for 28 yards and rushed for a TD, junior Ethan May had 48 yards and a score and sophomore Dominic Cassisi added 36 yards.
The Cardinals finished with 378 total yards, including 350 yards rushing, and 16 first downs.
"We were pretty much able to do anything on offense," Smokevitch said. "Everything was working for us. We ran our full house and jet series. Logan was able to score on a jet sweep, a dive and off tackle.
"We thought about playing Logan at fullback in place of Nick May, but we went with Jac. Jac did well against their defense."
It didn't matter, however, where Logan Huff played. He kicked off J-L's rebound by scoring a 51-yard rushing touchdown 46 seconds after Pickford's opening TD. He went on to score again in the first quarter from 25 yards out and once more from 39 yards to start the second quarter.
Another highlight for the Cardinals occurred 20 seconds before halftime. Facing fourth and 13 from its 37-yard line, Pickford's punt was blocked by a J-L defender and junior Nathan Fox recovered the loose ball and returned it for a 15-yard return TD.
J-L's defense controlled Pickford's offense up until 24 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, as Wyatt Boik scored on a 4-yard rush to notch the Panthers' second TD. The sophomore running back's effort finished off what was a 10-play, 61-yard drive.
Leading the Panthers' offense, Boik carried 11 times for 38 yards, while Soeltner added 40 yards on 10 carries and Firack had 28 yards. Firack also finished 6-of-8 passing for 50 yards, and Edington reeled in three receptions for 33 yards.
Logan Huff and junior Alden Nickert each recorded 16 tackles apiece to lead a Cardinals' defense that limited Pickford to 163 yards and forced six punts.
"We were able to fly to the ball on defense," Smokevitch said. "Soeltner is good and is a bowling ball when running, but he was getting gang tackled every play by our guys. Every time a bunch of our guys got on him, he limped out of the pile and was grunting in pain."
The Cardinals move on from their win against Pickford by hosting Forest Area, 1-6 overall and in the Ski Valley, for a league game Friday. In order to secure home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, they must beat both the Warriors and their Week 9 opponent, Inland Lakes (6-1), and finish the year 8-1.
Coincidently, J-L's regular season finale against the Bulldogs will likely be the de facto Ski Valley runner up game, with the winner of the matchup finishing second in the conference, behind fourth-ranked St. Ignace (7-0), and the loser earning third place.
Before the Cardinals can focus on downing I-Lakes, they must prepare to take on a Forest Area rushing attack that stumbles into Week 8 after a recent loss to visiting St. Mary (3-4) 19-0 at home. The Warriors rely on a pair of tailbacks, seniors Austin Vance and Zac DenBoer, to make their double-wing offense go.
Vance, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound bruiser, is one of the top backs in the Ski Valley this season. Whether its off tackle, dive or even throwing the ball, he's a big, tough rusher to bring down with just one tackler. DenBoer didn't enter the year as a standout rusher, but he's taken advantage of his recent opportunity to carry the ball.
Also helping the Warriors, junior Paul Korn (shoulder) is always a threat to score when he gets the ball and should be back from a mild injury he sustained a few weeks ago. Sophomore quarterback and running back Hollis Thomas might be Forest Area's second toughest runner, behind Vance, while freshman wide receiver Zac McLeod has already proven he can find holes in opposing secondaries to help his team's passing game.
The Cardinals hold a 7-3 lead in the all-time series against Forest Area, with their last loss to the Warriors occurring five years ago — a 22-0 shutout late that season that kept J-L out of the playoffs.
While Smokevitch's squad stumbled early against Pickford, his team can't do the same Friday or else Vance will make the Cardinals pay on the ground.
Johannesburg-Lewiston to clinch fourth consecutive playoff birth with win over Pickford
JOHANNESBURG — With a win over host Pickford on Friday, the 13th-ranked Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team, 5-1 overall and in Ski Valley Conference play, will clinch a playoff birth for the fourth consecutive season.
The Cardinals rolled over visiting Onaway 41-6 during a homecoming matchup last week and look to continue their dominance when it visits Pickford this week.
J-L and Pickford are tied 2-2 in the all time series, and Friday marks the first time the Panthers will face J-L as a member of the Ski Valley. The two teams last met in a home-and-home series in 1984 and 1985, with Pickford beating J-L 33-27 in a shootout in the most recent meeting. J-L edged Pickford 14-6 en route to a 8-1 record in 1984.
This time around, however, the Cardinals will visit Pickford and be without the third-best rusher in Otsego County, as junior running back Nick May is battling an illness and will miss the game. May leads the J-L offense with 346 yards and five TD's rushing on 57 carries.
While the Panthers, 2-4 overall, enter the matchup as an underdog, J-L will ask junior running back Logan Huff and junior quarterback Brandon Huff to carry the ball more than normal to fill the void May leaves behind. Logan Huff has rushed for 295 yards so far this season, and Brandon Huff has added 222 yards on the ground and 87 yards in the air.
The Cardinals also haven't ruled out giving more playing time to players who are further down the depth chart, such as Jac Bandt, to help in May's place.
"We're going to keep it fairly simple on offense this week with Nick May out," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "He's battling a virus, so guys like Logan will see time at fullback. We had him play exclusively at fullback in practice Tuesday and work some at running back today (Wednesday). Jac Bandt worked out at fullback, and we may give snaps to Brandon at half back in practice just in case we need him to be ready."
While Pickford stumbles into its game against J-L one week removed from a 40-0 loss to St. Mary (2-4), it does have one of the top running backs in the Ski Valley, junior Jaykob Soeltner, leading its unbalanced, wishbone ground attack. Soeltner, who is 5-foot-6 and 190 pounds, has carried 89 times for 634 yards and five touchdowns, while his partner in the backfield, sophomore Wyatt Boik has gained 430 yards and six TD's on 78 carries.
Behind center, the Panthers employ a two-quarterback system with sophomore Derrick Edington and junior Ian Firack, with Edington leading the offense as the top passer (252 yards, three TD's).
"They have a bunch of different formations we need to be prepared for," Smokevitch said. "They have eight or nine formations they do with two different quarterbacks. We worked on that hard last night in practice. The biggest thing is that (defensive coordinator Cody Proctor) is got three different coverages that we'll change throughout the game. If Pickford comes out in a different formation, we'll have a coverage change to be ready for it.
"He (Soeltner) looks like a solid runner. He's not very fast, but he looks like he is a powerful runner. It'll be key for us to gang tackle him when he carries the ball."
Should the Cardinals return from the Upper Peninsula with a win over Pickford on Friday, Smokevitch said he'll start taking orders for playoff merchandise Monday. Parents and fans alike, get your pocket books ready because J-L fully expects to bring that sixth win home.
Johannesburg-Lewiston back in win column after 46-0 victory over Onaway
JOHANNESBURG – Johannesburg-Lewiston took advantage of the homecoming crowd to route Onaway, 46-0 Friday.
With a week five loss to the Saint Ignace Saints, the J-L Cardinals looked to bounce back with a win over the Cardinals of Onaway.
With a three and out drive to start the game for Onaway, they looked to punt the ball away when it was blocked by Trevor Picklemann who then ran it for the first score of the game.
The J-L Cards kept their foot on the gas when junior quarterback Brandon Huff tossed the ball to Dan Nieman for a 55-yard touchdown pass.
Nick May topped off a 52-yard drive with a two yard run to put J-L up 21-0.
Late in the fourth quarter with the Cards up 40-0, the handoff went to senior Cody Teceno, who dashed past the line for his first ever varsity touchdown.
"He had gotten stopped at the one yard line in Pellston, and that left him a little flustered," said Coach Joe Smokevitch "him getting in tonight was a big deal for him and his teammates."
With that final touchdown the tally was put under the win column, putting the Cardinals at 5-1.
"All of our guys played great tonight," said Smokevitch "no one had an off night."
The Cardinals look to become an automatic qualifier into the playoffs next Friday as they travel to Pickford.
Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team wants homecoming win over Onaway to avenge first loss
JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team is geared up for its homecoming tilt against visiting Onaway on Friday.
J-L fell to fourth-ranked St. Ignace 28-0 last week after standout Gage Kreski rushed for a pair of TD's and threw for another to give the Cardinals their first shutout loss since 2012.
Onaway (2-3) hasn't defeated J-L in six seasons, and that streak will likely continue as the Cardinals (4-1) hope to avenge last week's loss to the Saints.
"Our kids are fired up to play Onaway this week," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "The one thing this team likes to do after a loss is put together a long run of wins. Following that loss to St. Ignace, the kids had a players-only meeting Monday and we watched a lot of video. We picked us apart and then went outside and worked on the sled. Our guys are fired up for Friday."
J-L enters the matchup as the third-highest scoring team in the league, paced by running backs Nick May and Logan Huff. After five weeks of play, May has rushed for 269 yards and Huff has punched in seven TD's on offense. To add to that depth, Dominic Cassisi, Brandon Huff and Ethan May are also options for the Cardinals' offense.
With the way Onaway gambles on defense, Smokevitch is hoping one of those backs can break off a big gain for a score Friday.
"On defense, they bring seven of their eight guys in the box on a blitz every time," Smokevitch said. "Offensively, we have to block that and need to be able to pop a back through their defense. If you can break one, you're gone.
"I think we're going to try and get on the perimeter, but we'll also run in between the tackles because that's what we do. We're not going to deviate too much from what we like to do."
Onaway junior running back Cortez Washington leads his team's offense as a dynamic runner and pass catcher. Already this season, he's gained 359 yards rushing on 71 carries and has scored three touchdowns.
Also helping the Cardinals, Cody Morell spearheads the offense as the team's quarterback and senior captain, while senior running back Ray Self and junior wide receiver Bradly Brewbaker have shown flashes of brilliance carrying the football.
Although Onaway has a few playmaker's, Smokevitch isn't worried about his defense against the Cardinals' I-formation offense.
"Their offense isn't simple, but it's not diverse either," he said. "They only run a handful of formations like the offset I, and they run twins on the right and twins on the left. Sometimes they jet motion across the formation or do crack-back option on the linebacker, but that's about it."
While J-L is excited to celebrate homecoming, the team will do so without Dale Wells on the field. Wells, a talented back and lineman, broke his hand against St. Ignace and will miss the next six or so weeks to rehabilitate the injury.
Should the Cardinals earn the home win, they'll be one victory away from clinching a birth in the playoffs.
Penalties cost Johannesburg-Lewiston in loss to St. Ignace
SAINT IGNACE — St. Ignace, 5-0 overall and in Ski Valley Conference play, defeated visiting Johannesburg-Lewiston 28-0 in a league game Friday.
St. Ignace scored on its first drive of the game and added a score before halftime to lead the Cardinals 14-0 going into the locker room.
The Saints went on to add a pair of scores in the second half to hand J-L (4-1) its first loss of the season.
J-L left a few opportunities to score on the field. For example, on the first drive of the game, the Cardinals drove into the red zone and ate six minutes off the block but were flagged for penalties six times. They ultimately had to punt on fourth down after being just 20 yards away from the end zone.
The Saints, which faces Mancelona at 7 p.m. Friday, stand as the only undefeated team in the conference.
J-L continues league play Friday when it hosts Onaway for homecoming.
Boyne City, Gaylord, J-L ranked by AP this week
BOYNE CITY — Northern Michigan football fans are well aware of Boyne City's football success.
Now, the Associated Press is taking notice.
The Ramblers (4-0, 1-0 Northern Michigan Football League 1), who have yet to give up a point this season, showed up at No. 10 in the state on AP's Division 6 state football poll, released Tuesday.
Boyne City scored its biggest win of the season in a 28-0 defeat of a solid Kingsley team Friday. Boyne City looks to keep it up at home Friday, Sept. 26 against a Traverse City St. Francis team ranked No. 8 in the state in Division 7. The Gladiators are 3-1 on the season. Boyne City has won the past two meetings against rival St. Francis, who is 2-0 in league play.
This season, Boyne City has outscored its opponents by a combined score of 166-0.
Other Northern Michigan teams to crack the AP poll include Gaylord (No. 8 in Division 3), Cadillac (No. 4 in Division 4), St. Ignace (No. 4 in Division 8) and Johannesburg-Lewiston (No. 10 in Division 8).
Gaylord (4-0) hosts Traverse City Central (3-1) Friday, while Cadillac (4-0) hosts Ogemaw Heights (1-3).
Johannesburg-Lewiston plays at St. Ignace Friday in a battle of Ski Valley Conference unbeatens.
GAYLORD — It will be a battle for supremacy in the Ski Valley Conference next Friday.
Johannesburg-Lewiston (4-0) set up a battle at St. Ignace (4-0) with a convincing 50-14 win against St. Mary Friday at Gaylord Intermediate School.
The Cardinals used a strong defensive effort, capitalizing on four turnovers in a physical, penalty-plagued contest.
"I thought we played well," said J-L coach Joe Smokevitch. "We're looking forward to next week. St. Ignace is a good team and is very balanced. They run and throw the ball really well. We're going to have to play some outstanding defense and find a way to score points by exploiting them on offense."
Nick May had two rushing touchdowns, Brandon Huff two and Logan Huff and Dominic Cassisi one apiece in the Cardinals' victory.
The game was close in the first half with Logan Huff's 4-yard touchdown run and subsequent kick by Nathan Fox giving J-L a 7-0 lead on the first drive the day.
The Snowbird offense, led by quarterback Adam Nowicki, who was 9-of-23 passing for 157 yards, played ball control for most of the first half, and the St. Mary (1-3) did a good job of containing J-L's Wing-T attack.
"We kind of sputtered in the beginning, which has been what has happened to us this year," Smokevitch said. "We had too many costly penalties. That's something we need to clean up in order to beat good teams."
J-L didn't score again until midway through the second quarter when quarterback Brandon Huff snuck in from three yards out.
From there, the Cardinals amped up their attack, recovering a fumble on the next play and posting two more scores just before halftime.
The fourth score was the true back breaker as St. Mary gained a bit of momentum back when Nowicki connected with Brandin Milbocker on a 48-yard scoring strike with 40 seconds left in the half to make it 21-6.
However, Logan Huff returned the ensuing kickoff back to the Snowbird 10 and Brandon Huff punched it in on the next play on a 10-yard run.
It was all J-L in the second half with three more touchdowns being posted.
St. Mary's final score came on an 11-yard run by Nowicki in the third quarter.
Dominic Cassisi had a pair of interceptions for J-L, while Smokevitch credited strong line backing play by Logan Huff, Brandon Huff and Wesley Olds. Defensive end Dan Nieman also made a handful of impactful plays.
"I like how we stepped up defensively and played with toughness," Smokevitch said. "Holding them to 14 points was an excellent effort by us."
Johannesburg-Lewiston 29, Central Lake 14: Cardinals edge Trojans in comeback win
JOHANNESBURG — Phew! That was close.
The Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team (3-0) overcame a 14-point deficit in the second quarter to take down visiting Central Lake 29-14 in a Ski Valley Conference matchup Friday.
The Cardinals managed to tie the game 14-14 entering halftime and pulled away from the Trojans by scoring a pair of touchdowns in the second half.
“It stinks that we stumbled, but it shows that our kids have a determination to win and overcome mistakes and key penalties to make adjustments and earn a comeback win,” J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. “Coming back from 14 points was huge and shows the character of our kids. There’s no give up in our kids.”
J-L junior Logan Huff carried 17 times for 102 yards and two scores, while junior Dale Wells added 84 rushing yards and junior Brandon Huff had 44 rushing yards and a TD.
Senior running back Luke Seaney led Central Lake (1-2) with 17 carries for 158 yards.
The Trojans scored the first two touchdowns of the game. Jake Szcezepanski scored on a 1-yard rush on Central Lake's opening drive, a seven-play, 74-yard series. Junior running back Ben Hicks scored from five yards out in the second quarter to cap off another long 10-play drive.
“Our kids had the deer-in-the-headlights look, and I talked to them after Central Lake scored their second touchdown,” Smokevitch said. “They got fired up and were ready to play for a comeback.”
The Cardinals managed to score a pair of TD's to tie the game before halftime, as Logan Huff scored a 3-yard rushing touchdown with seven minutes left in the second quarter and a 1-yard touchdown with 26 seconds remaining.
The comeback was completed late in the second half.
On the second to last play of the third quarter, the Cardinals called an off-tackle run play for reserve running back Dominic Cassisi that the sophomore carried 6 yards before reaching the end zone. Logan Huff converted a two-point conversion on the ensuing play to give J-L its first lead of the game, 22-14.
“Dale Wells threw out his rib so we gave Cassisi a chance in the backfield,” Smokevitch said. “I have the utmost confidence with Dominic because he can play either half back spots for us. He does a great job and has great vision.”
With six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Brandon Huff punched in J-L's final touchdown from five yards out. The score came on a designed quarterback run where Huff followed the fullback through the hole until he reached pay dirt.
Despite the win, the score was much closer than J-L would have liked it to be.
“We didn’t come out and play with intensity,” Smokevitch. “This was our second game out of three that we’ve fumbled on the first drive or did something stupid. We need to fix that going forward.”
The Cardinals will have an opportunity to do just that Friday when they visit rival St. Mary (1-2) at Gaylord Intermediate School.
St. Mary enters the matchup with back-to-back losses against Central Lake and St. Ignace. While the quality of opponent is somewhat to blame, some of St. Mary's struggles have been with injuries and depth. The Snowbirds lost Orion Beningo for the season in Week 1, and seniors Jack Lochinski and Anders Marquard have battled soreness of their own. It's possible St. Mary plays Friday with fewer than 15 players on the sideline.
That's something J-L wants to exploit come game time.
“Our biggest advantage is that we can wear them down,” Smokevitch said. “That’s what we did to Central Lake. Central Lake was bigger than us, but they didn’t have our depth or level of conditioning. I guarantee St. Mary is bigger than us across the line, but they won’t have our depth.”
St. Mary hasn't beaten J-L since 2008 but Smokevitch said with all that's on the line, his team will be ready for the Snowbirds.
“This group of kids has never lost to St. Mary in football and they want to continue that streak,” Smokevitch said. “I can guarantee they’ll be jacked up for Friday. This is a big game for our kids. It's for bragging rights for our kids for the whole year.”
JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston football team escaped with a 29-14 victory after a hard fought game with Central Lake Friday.
Starting off slow, the Cards gave up 14 quick points to put them in a big hole. But they were able to come back to move to 3-0 on the season.
"We came out a little slow to start the game tonight, but we overcame that in the second quarter." Said head coach Joe Smokevitch
The comeback was started with a 45 yard drive, then topped off by a 6-yard quarterback sneak by Brandon Huff to get the Cardinals on the board.
With less than a 30 seconds to play in the half, the Cardinals put their foot on the gas trying to tie the game up before halftime. Logan Huff squeaked by the defense and ended up in the end zone, dead locking the game at 14.
"I thought Logan Huff had another excellent game tonight, he played his heart out again." Smokevitch said
J-L travels to rival St. Mary Friday.
Football preview: Past result assures J-L isn't overlooking Central Lake
JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team had the date “Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012” written on its whiteboard this week.
The Cardinals host Central Lake (1-1) Friday but many fans are looking ahead to next week’s matchup against rival St. Mary.
Why shouldn’t they?
Central Lake is a middling team in the Ski Valley Conference that doesn’t pose a serious threat to J-L. The Cardinals (2-0) are gunning for St. Ignace and Inland Lakes for the league title this season. The Trojans will be lucky if there isn’t a running clock in the second half.
But if you ask any junior or senior on this year’s squad, they’ll tell you just how important beating Central Lake is to them.
It dates back to a junior varsity game Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, when the Cardinals overlooked Central Lake and were upset by the Trojans 36-34 in a game J-L should have won.
“This group of kids lost to Central Lake as freshmen and sophomores over there at their place by two points and they overlooked them,” J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. “That’s a sticking point for them. They remember that game and it’s a constant reminder for them not to overlook anybody. They’re focused and will be ready to play this week.”
While the Cardinals must wait a week to face St. Mary, that doesn’t mean their offense has to be as patient. They recorded 342 yards and scored eight touchdowns in a win over Pellston last week.
Smokevitch said they’ll utilize their ground game this week.
“We think we can run through the tackle holes against Central Lake,” he said. “Watching them play defense, we can use misdirection. In the past, they’ve chased our motion in our jet series. We should be able to make them pay when putting guys in motion.”
A player who will help the Cardinals’ ground game is junior Logan Huff. Huff received state recognition from the MHSAA this week for scoring six touchdowns in just two quarters against Pellston.
Whether it’s catching passes from his cousin, junior quarterback Brandon Huff, or pounding the ball after a handoff, Logan Huff should have another huge week.
“Logan is a tremendous athlete and when we talk about him, he’s another coach on the field,” Smokevitch said. “He’s a kid you get once in a coaching career. I had Marcus Ewing, who was a tremendous athlete, when I first started here. Now I have a kid like Logan who trains hard and works hard in the offseason. He’s going to have a huge, huge year this season.”
On defense, J-L will key on Central Lake quarterback Isaac Mortenson and running backs Luke Seaney and Ben Hicks. Seaney and Hicks beat up St. Mary in the second half of last week’s rout of the Snowbirds. They gashed St. Mary for long runs and found the end zone multiple times.
If J-L isn’t prepared, the Trojans may find success running the ball.
“They like to run between the tackle holes,” Smokevitch said. “Late in the game last week, Pellston was able to run the ball through the tackles against us. I think Central Lake will look to do that against us.
“We’ll have to shore up our defensive tackles, but we get Dan Nieman back this week. That puts Dale Wells back inside.”
Wells filled in for Nieman last week at defensive end. Nieman sat out the Pellston game with an injury but has since returned to practice and has been a full participant during drills.
Smokevitch said Nieman will help the Cardinals on defense against Central Lake but will not see time on punt returns or kick returns. That ensures the senior isn’t subject to any high-impact, fast-paced hits immediately following his return.
Nieman led J-L last season as one of the team’s top defenders in the league. He is also one of the team’s best players this season. He’s shown in the past an ability to shut down and contain the run while also playing as a threat on passing downs.
The Cardinals will need his best effort against Seaney and Hicks, and they’ll need the rest of the team to ensure 2012 doesn’t happen all over again.
“They’re focused and ready to play,” Smokevitch said. “They played poorly in that 2012 game, and it’s been a constant reminder for them ever since.”
Grace-fully Setting MHSAA Records
Logan Huff’s incredible Friday night (Sept. 5) – six touchdowns in Johannesburg-Lewiston’s 75-14 win
Johannesburg-Lewiston beats up Pellston 75-14
PELLSTON — Johannesburg-Lewiston junior Logan Huff scored six touchdowns in the first half to help the varsity football team race past host Pellston 75-14 in a Ski Valley Conference tilt Friday.
Huff scored touchdowns off a pair of rushes, two interceptions, one reception and one punt return. His biggest TD came off a 45-yard punt return.
Junior quarterback Brandon Huff finished 2-for-3 for 34 yards passing and one touchdown.
Sophomore reserve running back Dominic Cassisi scored touchdowns from 46 and 91 yards out, while tailback Nick May helped with four carries for 55 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown.
The Cardinals finished with over 300 yards rushing.
Early mistakes nearly cost J-L's varsity football team in season opener
The Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team overcame their early mistakes to take down visiting Mancelona 21-0 in what was both the Ski Valley Conference and season opener Thursday.
Junior Brandon Huff led J-L’s rushing attack with 81 yards, while Dale Wells added 67 and Nick May had 51.
The Cardinals notched their first touchdown with two minutes remaining in the first half. After they stalled Mancelona’s offense, junior Logan Huff received an Ironmen punt and scooted 65 yards for a touchdown. He utilized key blocks from Joel Kussrow and Nathan Fox on the play.
“They punted it to him, and he got to the outside and ran right,” J-L coach Smokevitch said. “Joel and Nathan made key blocks. Joel blocked his kid to the outside, and Logan went into the inside. Nathan Fox got another block while Logan was running against the grain, and he made it to the end zone untouched. It was a nice touchdown, and Logan has got great vision and is just that kind of a kid to make a play like that.”
Huff scored J-L’s second touchdown in the third quarter. The offense called an off-tackle run, and he rushed inside the end for nine yards until he reached pay dirt.
The last touchdown came from quarterback Brandon Huff. After the offense pounded Mancelona up the middle with tough runs, he jumped up and over a pile of Ironmen to score from one yard away.
Although the final score doesn’t indicate so, the Cardinals struggled for most of the game with ball control and penalties. They finished with three fumbles and had over 70 yards in penalties. Most of the penalties were mental errors, something a veteran team like theirs should be accustom to easily overcoming.
“We shot ourselves in the foot tonight,” Smokevitch said. “I think we had 128 yards in the second half and didn’t capitalize on most of our scoring opportunities. We shot ourselves in the foot big time. It was big penalties for stupid stuff. Our kids got a little down, got chippy and that cost us.”
Logan Huff also led the defense with 22 total tackles.
Fox finished the game 3-for-3 kicking P.A.T. attempts.
J-L (1-0, 1-0 SVC) visits Pellston at 7 p.m. Friday with a chance to redeem itself and all of the mistakes it made.
“For us, the biggest thing is working on what hurt us in this game,” Smokevitch said. “We need to work on ball control and limiting penalties. We’ll discuss that in practice. If we wouldn’t have made so many mistakes, it would have been a much bigger score.
“We’re ecstatic that we came out and took down Mancelona. We haven’t beat them in eight years. But in the past, little mistakes like the ones we made tonight would have made us put our heads down. They overcame that tonight, but we should have scored more. We just shot ourselves in the foot. We didn’t play really well.”
Season Preview Revamped defense could propel J-L's football team to another playoff run
JOHANNESBURG — Graduation ripped out the heart of the Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team's defense last spring.
Gone are defensive tackle Brad Kussrow, middle linebacker Kalin Leonard and safety Coalton Huff. Each of those players, among a host of other standouts, helped J-L finish 8-3 and race to the second round of the Division 8 playoffs last season. With most of its talent back on offense, J-L has dedicated fall camp to revamping its 5-3 defense.
Junior Billy Priest has stepped into Kussrow's old position, while the Cardinals have experimented with sophomore Dominic Cassisi and junior Joel Kussrow at strong safety. For the most part, those spots are filled heading into the season opener.
However, junior Alden Nickert and senior Trevor Pickelmann are still in a two-way battle to replace Leonard at middle linebacker.
"I don't know who we're going to start, but we're going to have an open competition at the position up until our first game," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "It's down to Alden and Trevor, but I still don't know who is going to win the job."
Smokevitch said defensive coordinator Cody Proctor will make that decision later in the week.
Also making decisions, J-L returns second-year quarterback Brandon Huff, a player accustom to calling plays at the line. The Cardinals, a wing-T, run dominant offense, are determined to produce an effective passing game this season, and Huff is the key to achieving that goal.
In a recent scrimmage against Suttons Bay, Farwell and host McBain, Huff put his arm on display against some tough defenses. He performed well, despite his offensive line struggling with certain matchups.
"Brandon threw the ball well out of the spread against Suttons Bay," Smokevitch said. "He had some pressure in his face, but he threw the ball well in the full-house (backfield). Our line had a little of confusion, but that's because we tinkered with some stuff we haven't really worked on.
"Our spread package stills needs some work. It's nothing too hard to fix, but we're going to do some video stuff to make those fixes this week. They're going to come around. They're smart kids, great athletes and will be OK."
Although J-L looks to pass more this season, it still hangs its hat on its running game.
Back are speedsters Ethan May and Logan Huff. May is a threat to bust a long run on the outside, while Huff can make a play from nearly anywhere on the field, something he proved in the scrimmage.
The team also uses bruisers Nick May and Dale Wells as part of its backfield rotation.
"All of our backs ran really well and played well against McBain," Smokevitch said. "Logan Huff busted a couple of nice ones, and Dale Wells was big and physical. He ran kids over. Nick May had a slow start but once he got going, he was fine. Ethan was quick to get to the outside and he had some nice gainers."
J-L begins the season by hosting Mancelona at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28, for a league contest.
Smokevitch said his team will spend this week preparing for the Ironmen's multi-look offense. Mancelona uses a pair of quarterbacks, Chase Wilcox and Cole VanWagoner, to orchestrate both the full-house and the Wildcat.
Stopping Mancelona's offense will be key for J-L.
"Mancelona runs a full house and wing-T, but they also run double wing and Wildcat stuff, too," Smokevitch said. "We'll focus on preparing for that aspect of the game. They're offense is similar to ours, but they do run a counter that gives us fits. We'll work on that and work on defending against the Wildcat.
"They run two different quarterbacks. One is the Wildcat quarterback, and it looked like they swapped those kids in and out. They did that last year, so we're going to focus on stopping that. Proctor has some things in the mix that Mancelona hasn't seen yet, so we'll be ready for their offense."
The Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
High School Football: 10 questions surrounding Otsego County teams
GAYLORD — The high school football season is less than two weeks away, but there are still questions surrounding each team in Otsego County.
Here, the Herald Times does its best to answer 10 of those questions as fairly as possible.
1. Can Gaylord maintain its composure when trailing in a game?
If you ask any Gaylord player from the recent past, they'll tell you how much a lack of composure has hurt them when they were losing games. Instead of plotting their comeback, the Blue Devils resorted to yelling at each other on the sidelines, pointing the blame at different positional groups.
The seniors claim that will change this fall, but first they must put those words into action before anyone can believe they've actually changed.
2. Will J-L take the next step and beat Mancelona and St. Ignace for the Ski Valley Conference title?
The Ironmen (South) and Saints (North) were the crown jewels of the Ski Valley Conference last season, winning their respective divisions. Mancelona downed J-L during the regular season, while St. Ignace knocked the Cardinals out of the playoffs in the second round.
This could be the season the Cards overcome both foes and make a statement as a league contender.
However, it must not forget Inland Lakes while doing so.
3. Can St. Mary put together a winning streak?
After it went 1-26 from 2009 to 2012, St. Mary coach Kevin O'Connell led the Snowbirds to three wins in 2013. They won back-to-back games against Ubly and Forest Area.
This year's schedule shakes out well for the improved St. Mary program as its opens the season against Pellston and Central Lake, two teams projected to finish at the bottom of the conference. A winning streak seems very likely for St. Mary.
4. Will Steven Fitzek break out as a second-year starting quarterback?
Fitzek, Gaylord's second-year quarterback, gained varsity experience as a sophomore by starting in a couple of games. Last year, he took his lumps as the full-time starter but gained confidence in his wide receivers.
This year he'll have athletes such as Collin Watters and Jack Korte to throw jump balls to, while Nathan Boswood and Jacob Freeman appear to be targets on underneath routes.
After the team couples Fitzek with an experienced offensive line, the senior should have a break out year through the air.
5. Is this the year J-L finally opens up its passing game?
Every year during fall camp, J-L's coaching staff tells the Herald Times they want to pass more in the upcoming season. When the season finally rolls around, however, the Cardinals stick to their guns and cram the wing-T down opponents' throats. This has become a running joke around the HT office.
J-L coach Joe Smokevitch again told the HT this month that he wants the Cardinals to pass more this season.
Maybe it's finally time to believe him.
They return second-year starting quarterback Brandon Huff, who put in a noble effort to perfect his passes during the offseason. Not to mention Smokevitch is champing at the bit to see his new spread offense in action.
6. Which St. Mary player will step up and replace Nick Harrington as a playmaker?
It's not every day a small Class D schools like St. Mary graduates a Division III college football player. However, the Snowbirds did when Nick Harrington left Gaylord for Trine (Ind.) University early this month.
Filling his shoes may be a fool's errand, but the team does have plenty of athletic players who could at least try to replace him.
The early favorite to do so is wide receiver Brandin Milbocker, who has a combination of size, speed and great hands. The Alba High co-op player is someone who impressed O'Connell during 7-on-7 scrimmages this summer. Fans should hear his name aplenty this fall.
7. Can Gaylord take down all three of its rivals (Cheboygan, Grayling and Petoskey)?
It's not every year Gaylord starts the season with its immediate rivals to the north and south in consecutive weeks. The Blue Devils open the season at Cheboygan on Thursday, Aug. 28 and then hosts the Vikings the following Friday.
The coaching staff has made it clear they're fired up to face both of those non conference rivals. However, when you ask the players, they're excited to avenge a streak of six straight losses against Petoskey.
Gaylord needs five wins to earn a playoff bid this year. How sweet would it be for them if three of those wins came against their rivals?
8. Which J-L running back will steal the spotlight?
Smokevitch smiled like a kid in the candy store earlier this month when asked about his running backs. He wants to use six different ball carriers, rotating each in on situational downs.
A back who will see a lot of action is Ethan May. He is a proven speedster who can bust a long run when he sees daylight. On the other hand, Logan Huff and Nick May are two backs who can bully their way through the heart of the defense and then turn on their speed at the second level.
Smokevitch doesn't expect to have a 1,000-yard rusher this season but if Ethan May can secure the ball, he could be the tailback that gets the closest to that milestone because of his big-play ability.
9. Will St. Mary's season be hindered by its lack of depth?
St. Mary entered fall camp with 30 players and hopes to field both a varsity and junior varsity this season. That lack of depth isn't ideal for the Snowbirds, and injuries could hamper them later in the year. That's also not factoring in how important roster depth is for preserving each player's stamina late in games.
As the smallest school in its league, St. Mary must be careful how it utilizes its personnel.
10. Which Otsego County team will make the longest run through the playoffs?
The easy answer is J-L.
The Cardinals faced Beal City in the Division 8 regional in 2012 before falling to St. Ignace in the district final last season. Dating back to 2005, they have a history of playing in multiple playoff games each year.
After it faces teams such as Mancelona, St. Ignace and Inland Lakes this season, J-L should be battle-tested to make another run throughout the playoffs in November.
Otsego County football teams usher in 2014 season with fall camp
• The Cardinals focused on their personnel when fall camp kicked off Monday, specifically in replacing senior leaders like safety Coalton Huff, middle linebacker Kalin Leonard and defensive lineman Brad Kussrow at the heart of its defense.
They entered fall camp with fewer players than they expected to have. Some players didn't report to camp because they wanted to pursue other interests outside of football, while players such as senior defensive end Dan Nieman battled an undisclosed injury and couldn't participate in team drills.
That didn't impact the installation of its offense, but it did force the team to move some players around to fill their openings.
The biggest move worth noting is that standout senior guard Trevor Pickelmann was switched to tackle.
"We had to make some moves on our o-line," said J-L coach Joe Smokevitch, who led the Cards to an 8-3 record last year. "But that's OK because we have great kids who put the team ahead of themselves. Like with Trevor, we asked him to move from a position he dominated at last year to tackle where he hasn't played. When we made the move, he didn't complain and just, 'OK, coach. No problem.' That's that kind of players we have on this team. They're unselfish."
They've also experimented with junior Billy Priest at nose tackle, junior Alden Nickert at middle linebacker and sophomore Dominic Cassisi at safety.
"The middle of our defense is the least experienced group on our team," Smokevitch said. "We have guys trying to replace senior leaders like Coalton Huff and Brad Kussrow, and that's a hard thing to ask of them. They've looked good so far, especially Cassisi who has plenty of speed back there at safety for us."
Despite the minor personnel issues, Smokevitch said the team had no problem installing its offense. He said he was also impressed with the overall conditioning of his players when they stepped onto the field Monday.
"We've had a good week and the offense is fully installed already," Smokevitch said. "It's easy for us to install our offense when our kids have been running it since they've been in the fifth grade. The wing-T is second nature to them, and that makes it easier for us when camp rolls around.
"As a team, their conditioning is outstanding. They are better conditioned and stronger than in recent years, and it shows how hard they've worked in the weight room over the summer."
Smokevitch said the Cardinals will work on special teams, passing and hitting before they start the season.
"There's always things to improve on," he said. "We need to do some hitting, and we haven't done any real passing yet. We've been installing our offense and working on other things, so we'd like to work on our spread more. We haven't done any special teams at all, but we have kids who have been kicking and punting during their breaks."
Scrimmage: Aug. 21 at McBain (6 p.m.)
Season opener: Aug. 28 vs. Mancelona (7 p.m.)
J-L football team's high-powered offense returns wealth of talent
JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team returns a wealth of offensive experience that should help them realize their main goal for this season: win a Ski Valley Conference championship.
A top returner for the Cardinals is second-year quarterback Brandon Huff. As a sophomore last year, he orchestrated an offense that scored 30 or more points in seven different games, including a 50-point game against league rival St. Mary.
The Cardinals hang their hat on their dominant wing-T rushing attack, but this season they have bigger expectations for the junior thrower in the passing game.
“I look for Brandon to be one of the best quarterbacks in the Ski Valley,” said J-L coach Joe Smokevitch, who led the Red and Black to an 8-3 finish last season. “We’re looking to throw the ball more, and he’s the key to doing that. His progression has been great this offseason. When we start out camp, he’s going to be a team captain, so I expect him to be a leader on and off the field.”
That leadership will show when he’s under center. The Cardinals have given Huff more play-calling responsibilities this year, and that should help the offense operate more efficiently.
For example, he’ll be asked to check out of bad plays and into plays that will yield better results.
“Brandon’s going to make calls and adjustments at the line, and he’s going to lead our kids,” Smokevitch said. “We let our quarterbacks call plays at the line. He’ll have an option of two plays, and he does a good job calling the right play at the line.”
Should Huff miss any time, J-L has tabbed juniors Orin Kierczynski and Logan Huff as its reserve quarterbacks. Kierczynski has experience playing the position at the junior varsity level, while Logan Huff is an all-around athlete who could play nearly anywhere on the field.
Also at the skills position, J-L proves to be deepest in the backfield and will use as many as six rushers in each game.
Junior Ethan May returns as the team’s top speed back. He led the Cardinals in the spring as Gary Hoffman’s top sprinter, and Smokevitch can’t wait to see the tailback in open space again this fall. He’s always a threat to break a long run.
Juniors Logan Huff and Dale Wells will add power to J-L’s attack but can also use their speed to net first downs. Nick May will use his strength at fullback to run between the tackles, while Jac Bandt and Dominic Cassisi are underrated prospects who could make a splash.
According to Smokevitch, utilizing a committee of backs will help J-L maintain its offensive philosophy and keep opposing defenses honest.
“We have some bruiser-type backs and four speed backs,” the coach said. “We have a nice mix of running backs, so I just want to continue to do what we do. I want to control the ball on offense. We’re looking to distribute the ball as evenly as we can. That way teams have to key in on everyone who is in there.”
Up front, the Cardinals bring back just three offensive linemen this season, as they lost center Brad Kussrow and tackle Kalin Leonard to graduation.
Kussrow was a two-year starting center and will be the toughest player for them to replace. Game in and game out, he controlled the point of attack and ensured pulling guards had plenty of room to get downfield. McGwire Mathewson is the frontrunner to replace Kussrow this fall, but Smokevitch will not finalize that decision until fall camp.
Finding Leonard’s replacement will also be difficult. Although Leonard made his name known as a linebacker on defense, the offense will miss his leadership as a team captain on the line.
Dominic Vogt will anchor one of the tackle positions this year. The team is still unsure who will play opposite of him.
However, they do bring back junior Nathan Fox and senior Trevor Pickelmann as starting guards, arguably the most important positions on the line in the wing-T offense.
“Brad and Kalin are big holes to fill, but we’ll find someone to fill their spots,” Smokevitch said. “Pickelmann and Fox are both returning starters who have both played guard. They will be our leaders on the line this year.
“Because we pull so much in our offense, as long as our guards our doing well, we’re going to be doing well as a team. If our center can be stout at the point of attack, it allows those guards to do things we want to do.
"In our offense, we look to pound the ball. We’ll be able to pound the ball with the line we have and the experience we return.”
Senior Dan Nieman and junior Joel Kussrow will play tight end this season. They'll be asked to both block and help Huff in the passing game.
The Cardinals begin fall camp Monday, Aug. 11 before visiting McBain for a scrimmage Thursday, Aug. 21. They kick off the 2014 regular season against Mancelona at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28.
J-L finds success passing against Hillman in 7-on-7 scrimmage
JOHANNESBURG – The Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team’s offseason training is paying dividends.
Defensive coordinator Cody Proctor has supervised the Cardinals’ efforts in the weight room all summer, while some of the players have worked on route running and catching when they’re not lifting weights and conditioning.
Not only has that hard work improved the physical performance of each player, it’s helped them play better on the football field, as the Cardinals learned against Hillman in a 7-on-7 scrimmage Wednesday in Johannesburg.
“The biggest takeaway for me so far is how hard our kids have worked in the weight room this summer,” J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. “It’s really shown in guys like Nick May, our fullback, who has bulked up to 200 pounds. Dale Wells is a halfback who is almost up to 200 pounds, and Logan Huff is up to 175 or 185 pounds now. They’ve all been working hard all off season, and that’s big for us.”
The player who showed the biggest improvement during the scrimmage was junior quarterback Brandon Huff. He made some tough throws against the Tigers and hit several of his teammates with touchdown passes in the end zone.
Smokevitch attributed Huff’s performance to his off season training, both with and without his teammates.
“You can tell Brandon has been working hard at throwing,” Smokevitch said. “He comes in on weight lifting days and takes charge. He’s throwing twice a week with the running backs and receivers. He’s been throwing quite well.”
Huff worked with quarterbacks coach and mentor Richard Popp earlier this summer to perfect his passing game.
Popp is the head coach of the Birmingham Brother Rice junior varsity football team and has experience coaching at Maple City Glen Lake and Southfield Lathrup. He was a three-year starting quarterback for Wayne State University when he played college football in the 1980s. His star pupils include former quarterbacks Dave Yarema (Michigan State), Jimmy Miller (Chicago Bears) and Matt Baker (Dallas Cowboys).
It’s clear whatever Popp taught Huff this offseason is translating onto the field.
Some of the throws Huff completed against Hillman made Smokevitch reconsider how much more the Cardinals – a team that utilizes a run-heavy, wing-T offense – should pass this fall.
“He threw a few fade routes against Hillman where he dropped it right in the bucket,” Smokevitch said. “He hit some really deep balls. In the past, I don’t know if we could complete passes like that. That comes from his hard work this offseason.”
A few beneficiaries of Huff’s passes included senior Dan Nieman and juniors Ethan May and Logan Huff.
“Dan Nieman caught a really nice pass on a fade route, Logan Huff made some nice plays and all of our kids caught the ball really well,” Smokevitch said. “Ethan May caught the ball well and looks explosive when he catches it out of the backfield. We threw the ball really well and came out with some different stuff we didn’t do the previous time we scrimmaged Hillman.”
Wednesday marked the first time the defense saw a top-notch arm this offseason, as Hillman senior quarterback Ty Jones led the Tigers on offense. When the teams scrimmaged each other earlier in the summer, Jones did not make the trip to Johannesburg.
In 10 games as a junior last season, Jones was 97-of-175 passing for 1,594 yards, 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He also rushed for a pair of scores on 21 rush attempts.
Jones found holes in the J-L defense at times and was able to test the defensive backfield. However, Smokevitch believes because the Cardinals played without a pass rush, it allowed the quarterback to cause more damage than he probably would have against J-L in an actual game.
J-L’s defense was also missing players who were getting their sports physicals in Lewiston for the upcoming school year.
“Defensively, we watched them complete some balls, but a lot of that has do with us not having a pass rush,” Smokevitch said. “That Jones kid is a good quarterback and a great pitcher in baseball. But we had defensive ends like Dan Nieman and Dale Wells watching from the sidelines, because there’s not much they can do in a 7-on-7 scrimmage. They completed some passes on us, and he (Jones) looks like one of the best quarterbacks in the North Star League this year.”
J-L is finished with team activities until it begins fall camp Aug. 11. It concludes camp with a scrimmage against host McBain on Thursday, Aug. 21 before it faces visiting Mancelona at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28.
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