J-L football star Sheldon Huff signs with Northwood University
JOHANNESBURG — Cardinals’ three-sport star Sheldon Huff ended the suspense Wednesday, signing with Northwood University for football.
Huff, who earned Associated Press First-Team All-State, and was named HT Player of the Year, will start his Northwood career as a preferred walk-on with the chance to work his way towards a scholarship.
“I’ll be playing defense there, linebacker,” Huff said of his impending Northwood career. “I’ll be walking on my first year there. I have to work my way up to get to first string, and I know I’ll be really well coached to be the best linebacker I can be.”
After leading the Cardinals to just their second trip to the state semifinals in school history, dominating opposing teams as a running back and linebacker, Huff drew offers from numerous schools. But ultimately, there was just something special about Northwood, which competes in Division II athletics.
“I’ve always loved living in the woods; my whole life I have,” Huff said. “When I visited Northwood, right away I noticed the woods. It’s called Northwood, obviously, but I really liked the school and I liked the connections I had with the coaches. It was very family like, and I was looking for those instant relationships. I knew I would love it there the next four years.”
Although Huff had a growing list of offers come pouring in over the summer and throughout his senior football season at Johannesburg-Lewiston, recruiting wasn’t always easy; especially during the pandemic.
“It was difficult (sometimes having to recruit myself), but I just started posting my highlight films,” Huff said.
“I probably have over 1,000 direct messages sent to coaches all throughout the country.
“You never know which school will be your place, so I was just trying to reach out to as many coaches as I could. I knew one of the places would be home, and I’m happy it was Northwood. I’m excited for my future.”
Not only did Huff have the tough task of picking a school to attend in college, he also had to pick a sport. Huff has been a standout student-athlete in football, baseball and basketball during his Cardinals career.
“Right in the beginning of quarantine I made my decision, started lifting heavily and recruiting on Twitter. That’s when I decided to go with football (over baseball and basketball),” Huff said. “Throughout the years, I just knew football was my sport. I was best at it, and I’m an intense dude. I like to hit people. They call me a bull. Football was just my sport, and I’m happy I’m going to be able to play it the next four years.”
Huff also displayed tremendous leadership this season, helping his coaches direct a squad with some question marks one game away from the Division 8 state finals.
“Even starting from the beginning, I was really excited for my senior year,” Huff said. “I was going to leave it all out there in every single game. It was special to spend the season with these guys, and it was such a long run; long season. It was really special making the run with this group.
“It’s really huge (being a vocal leader). You need to have that leader who holds other players accountable and pumps teammates up. Every team needs a couple of them, and I think we had a couple of those leaders on our team this year. That was one of the big differences this season. We always have talented guys, and this year we might not have had the most talented team J-L has had, but we had guys pushing players to give everything they had every single play.”
Despite having so many great games to choose from this season, Huff wasted no time identifying which game stood out the most.
“(In the) Beal City game we came out with so much intensity to beat them for the first time ever in school history,” Huff said.
“I carried the ball like 12 times in a row during that game, and I could have carried it 60 times.
“I had so much adrenaline. There was no stopping me that game. We all played great as a team. It was probably the best game I played at J-L.”
J-L has a neat catchphrase, for lack of a better term. Spend some time around members of the school and the phrase “It’s a great day to be a Cardinal” will likely come up at some point.
“It’s a great day to be a Cardinal because no matter what, you have to think of that (phrase),” Huff said. “You always have a great community to fall back on. You have teachers, friends, coaches, principal, superintendent. They are always there for you no matter what. That’s what I love about this school. We’re always close and we just remember, even if it’s a bad day, that it’s always a great day to be a Cardinal."
Three takeaways from the Cardinals' historic football season
JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals' football team capped a sensational slate of fall sports Saturday with a state semifinal loss against Ubly.
As a whole, J-L athletics enjoyed profound success this fall. The football team reached the semifinals for the second time in school history. The volleyball team won a conference and district title, while the boys and girls cross-country teams both qualified for the state meet.
As the school's saying goes: "It's a great day to be a Cardinal". J-L fans had plenty of great days this fall cheering on their respective teams.
Despite Saturday's 43-0 loss, the Cardinals football team conquered a tumultuous season. COVID-19 reared its ugly head, casting the season in doubt on multiple occasions. But, ultimately, J-L players and coaches remained poised and ready for whatever was thrown at them.
After a historic season, here are three takeaways from the 2020-21 Cardinals football team:
1. The program is in excellent hands — Head coach Joe Smokevitch has now led the Cardinals to three straight division titles, and has steadily started finding more playoff success.
J-L plays quickly, usually makes few mental mistakes, and almost always plays consistently. Having talented, passionate players is a big part of that, but so too is the coaching. Smokevitch and his staff are trying to build a powerhouse, and appear well on their way.
This season, the Cardinals were faced with challenges along the offensive and defensive lines. After graduating a strong senior class and the challenges COVID-19 presented, Smokevitch had to improvise up front. He still ran the wing-t offense, but also implemented some more plays from the spread attack. As a result, the Cardinals beat teams on the ground and through the air this season, showcasing their versatility.
With key offensive and defensive stars such as Logan May, Preston Marlatt and Henry Baker returning next season, J-L football should be fun to watch again next season.
2. The Cardinals featured tons of talent — It must have been hard for opposing teams to zero in on just one Cardinals player this season. Marlatt, a junior, made a big leap at quarterback, proving to be a threat with his legs and arm. Senior Sheldon Huff was a bruiser, as expected, earning Associated Press First-Team All-State honors. May also stepped up as a solid outside runner and blocker.
Tommy Runyan anchored the offensive line, joining Huff on the AP all-state team. J-L also received stellar play from Baker, Shawn Ziobron and Jason Richter. This versatile group started the same 11 players on offense and defense, yet never wore down.
Throughout the season, the Cardinals made a number of big plays. Long passing touchdowns, powerful runs, and gadget pays that fooled opposing defenses. The whole team was ready any time their number was called, which seemingly created some healthy competition to earn more looks.
This Cardinals squad might not have had a ton of depth in numbers, but it had an abundance of depth in talent.
3. The Cardinals consistently seized opportunities — It was a crazy football season, especially for the Cardinals. Like all schools, J-L watched hopelessly as the season was cancelled in late summer due to COVID-19.
However, that decision was overturned, providing the Cardinals with an opportunity to compete. J-L wasted no time getting acclimated to the shortened season, running through and by division foes with ease.
The Cardinals were supposed to play on the road against Harbor Springs, but an electrical issue caused the game to move to Gaylord. Dealing with adversity became a constant for the Cardinals, and they just continued to roll with it.
When J-L defeated Beal City to win the district title, it looked like everything was starting to settle in. However, the state was in the midst of a tragic second wave of COVID-19, forcing another state-wide shutdown. The Cardinals again had to wait and wonder if they would get a chance to compete.
Finally, after the holiday break, the Cardinals were able to re-take the field. The game against Iron Mountain was starting to sound like a myth, something everyone talked about but might never happen. Ultimately, the game was played at the Superior Dome, and J-L won a rare defensive contest.
It appeared nothing could stop this Cardinals team.
Although the season did, finally come to an end against Ubly, the Cardinals proved they could remain positive and focused through a lot of distractions this season. In an odd year, the J-L football team rose up and consistently played excellent football.
J-L football sees dream season end against Ubly
TRAVERSE CITY — Johannesburg-Lewiston's fantastic football season came to an abrupt halt Saturday at Thirlby Field in Traverse City with a 43-0 loss against Ubly.
The Cardinals were playing in just their second state semifinal clash in school history, hoping to reach the finals for the first time.
But things didn't look right for J-L from the start. Ubly began the game with the ball. On second down, a Bearcats runner burst through the defense for a huge gain into Cardinals territory. Ubly eventually punched in the touchdown to take a 6-0 lead.
J-L then received the ball for the first time, methodically moving the ball upfield. But the drive stalled around midfield, forcing the Cardinals to punt on fourth and seven.
After displaying excellent all-around defense last week against Iron Mountain, J-L settled in during Ubly's second drive, halting the Bearcats to a three and out.
The Cardinals partially blocked Ubly's punt, setting up ideal field position at Ubly's 15-yard line. Unfortunately, for the passionate, supportive Cardinals fans in attendance, J-L couldn't muster any offense, turning the ball over on downs.
Although snow could be seen all around the stadium, and some light snow drizzled throughout the game, the field remained green and uncovered. This was the Cardinals' third game on a turf field this season, including last week's game at the Superior Dome.
Despite having experience on turf, J-L never really seemed comfortable; never was able to get its footing against Ubly.
The last few minutes of the first quarter and the first few minutes of the second quarter resulted in little activity (except another J-L turnover on downs), but Ubly made its second huge play of the game late in the second quarter, setting up a short touchdown run.
“They made splash plays and we did not," J-L head coach Joe Smokevitch said. "They picked up big chunk yardage when they needed to and we did not. That was the main difference. Their line was more physical than ours. That finally caught up with us this season.”
Ubly led 12-0 at halftime, with the Cardinals struggling to move the ball.
Back on the field to start the second half, J-L received the ball on their own 35-yard line. In desperate need of a big play, the Cardinals tried to kick the ball outside. But Ubly stood up to every challenge, forcing a three and out.
It appeared as though the Cardinals were going to immediately get the ball back, stopping Ubly on third down. But the Bearcats lined up to go for it on fourth and three.
Not only did Ubly convert the first down, it scored a long touchdown to take a 20-0 lead with just under eight minutes left in the third quarter.
Now the Cardinals needed to score, and quickly, as Ubly had completed three big plays on J-L's defense.
However, the Cardinals turned the ball over on downs their next possession, a fate they had seen repeated too frequently the last two weeks. J-L just could not create enough gaps for talented runners Sheldon Huff, Logan May and Preston Marlatt to sneak through, limiting big-play potential.
Ubly immediately scored again, grabbing a 28-0 lead with one quarter to play. With momentum not on their side, J-L began the fourth quarter needing several scores with little time coming off the clock.
The Cardinals kicked off the quarter with a promising drive, consistently picking up chunk gains as they attempted to cut into Ubly's lead. But, once again, the drive stalled leading to a turnover on downs. It was a devastating blow to the Cardinals' come-back attempt.
With the game almost in hand, Ubly scored on another long pass play to take a 36-0 lead. The two-point conversion pretty much summed up J-L's day. A Cardinals defender batted an errant pass down toward the ground, but it landed in the hands of a diving Ubly receiver. The Cardinals just couldn't catch a break.
For good measure, Ubly punched in another touchdown late in the game to cap off its 43-0 victory. Despite the lop-sided loss, J-L players never hung their heads and always competed.
“Our players played with a lot of heart and passion," Smokevitch said. "No matter the score they give it 100 percent. That was the main positive of the game.”
The Cardinals battled through a lot this season. Football was postponed and ultimately reinstated late in the summer. J-L then won a third straight division title and a district title only to have the season shutdown again midway through November. But the Cardinals got another opportunity to play, defeating Iron Mountain for a regional title and ending the season with dignity Saturday for some closure.
Although Saturday's outcome was disappointing for Cardinals players, coaches and fans, the 2020-21 season will still go down as one of the best in Cardinals football history.
“It was very emotional after the game. There are a lot of seniors. I’m truly going to miss them."
Despite the loss, Smokevitch was happy his team got to play out the season.
“It was huge to get some closure," he said. "All high school teams want to play and get some closure. Last year basketball teams didn’t get that, so it was great that teams got to finish the season even if it took a long time.
“We (started out as) a band of misfits, not even knowing who would fill the offensive line, and we did really well with that group. They matured throughout the year. That was a huge progression for us."
With the football season now (finally) over, J-L will turn its attention over to boys and girls basketball. The Cardinals will try to duplicate the school-wide sports success they enjoyed this fall.
**Due to Monday's holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, this story will not feature in Tuesday's Herald Times. Instead, it can be found in Friday's edition.
J-L football defeats Iron Mountain to claim regional title
MARQUETTE — The Johannesburg-Lewiston football team defeated Iron Mountain 7-6 Saturday at Northern Michigan University's Superior Dome in Marquette.
After turning the ball over on downs with just over two minutes left on the clock, J-L had to regroup and make a stop. Iron Mountain enjoyed a couple of big plays after regaining possession, trying to earn a come-back victory. But a late penalty cost the Mountaineers precious yardage and momentum.
Iron Mountain had a chance to win the game, lining up a 37-yard field goal with seven seconds left on the clock. However, the kick sailed fractionally wide left, and the Cardinals claimed a regional title while advancing to the semifinals for the second time in school history.
“We wore them down," J-L head coach Joe Smokevitch said. "They just weren’t in shape like we were and I’m not sure (Iron Mountain was) used to the physical contact for a full game.”
J-L got off to an auspicious start, botching the opening kick to begin the game from its own two-yard line. The Cardinals were able to milk some clock on that opening drive, utilizing their physicality to punish Iron Mountain's stacked box. The drive ultimately led to a punt, but the Cardinals proved they could out-muscle the Mountaineers.
“We muffed that first kick but we showed great physicality and moved the ball well. We never quit. (We) played with a great mentality. Kids came into the game after injuries and did a great job.”
Iron Mountain then cruised down the field, setting up a potential scoring opportunity. The Cardinals remained opportunistic, though, hauling in an interception in their own end zone.
After the interception, the Cardinals turned the ball over on downs deep in their own territory. The Cardinals were quietly plagued by multiple key turnovers on downs throughout the game.
The two teams were dead-locked 0-0 after the first quarter, but Iron Mountain struck quickly in the second, taking a 6-0 lead after a missed two-point conversion.
Despite falling behind, the Cardinals remained physical on their next drive. J-L had a couple of nice runs, but ultimately had to punt.
J-L's defense then completely locked down the Mountaineers' offense. Iron Mountain barely moved the ball throughout the rest of the game, while J-L began opening up the play book offensively.
Cardinals running back Sheldon Huff, who earned Associated Press First-Team All-State and was named Herald Times Player of the Year, capped off a strong drive with a short rushing touchdown up the middle. J-L entered halftime with a 7-6 lead and momentum back on its side.
Neither team could find an offensive rhythm in the second half. The Cardinals had a huge play down the right sideline in the third quarter, but the play ended with a lost fumble.
Iron Mountain could not take advantage of the forced turnover, again settling for a punt.
J-L suffered another turnover on downs just before the fourth quarter, but its defense again would not give Iron Mountain an inch.
The two teams traded possession a couple more times before the Cardinals regained possession, still up 7-6, with 3:40 remaining on the clock.
Able to potentially run out the clock and reach the semifinals for the first time since 1998, J-L picked up a first down, forcing Iron Mountain to burn timeouts. But the Cardinals' drive stalled near midfield, creating a tough decision on fourth and one.
Cardinals head coach Joe Smokevitch decided to risk it by trying to pick up the first down to ice the game. Cardinals quarterback Preston Marlatt attempted a sneak up the middle, but he was immediately met by a wall of Iron Mountain defenders.
The ball was marked well short of the spot, providing the Mountaineers with a chance to win the game.
But once again, the Cardinals went to work on defense, forcing Iron Mountain into a field goal attempt at an uncomfortable range. The ball sailed just left of the upright and J-L celebrated its hard-fought victory.
“Preston stepped backwards and fell and went straight down, but we stepped up and made some great defensive plays," Smokevitch said. "The kick went just wide. It was a whirlwind of emotions. I was hoping to pick up that first down and end the game.”
The Cardinals (10-0) will now face off against Ubly (8-2), who beat Carson City-Crystal 36-6 Saturday in its regional final matchup.
“We’re pretty jacked about (the win) and the community is too," Smokevitch said. "I’ve gotten a ton of text messages; a lot of emotion from former players.
"I have a lot of film on Ubly, so we will break down film (this week). We made some stupid mistakes that we don’t normally make. We went two months without a game, and we made some mistakes that we hadn’t this season. We will work on concentration a bit this week.”
The Cardinals have fought through multiple obstacles this season, but have now cemented themselves as one of the most iconic football teams in school history.
Cardinals' Huff, Runyan earn MHSFCA all-state honors
JOHANNESBURG — Johannesburg-Lewiston high school football stars Sheldon Huff and Tommy Runyan earned Division 8 First Team All-State honors Tuesday by the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association.
Both Cardinals student-athletes earned the honor on the offensive side of the ball, although they also played stellar defense this season.
Huff, who rushed for 1,212 yards and 15 touchdowns this season in just eight games, was named one of the three all-state running backs in Division 8.
“The biggest thing is he’s a heck of a player, and he’s a great student,” Cardinals head coach Joe Smokevitch said of Huff. “He’s a high energy, high motor type of player and teammates feed off of that sort of thing. He received a roster spot offer from Hope College, and he was pretty excited about that, and he has (garnered quite a few offers over the last few months). He brings a great work ethic and knowledge of the game.”
Runyan, who was one of the lead blockers on the Cardinals’ offensive line, paving the way for Huff and the team’s other rushers, was one of six first-team offensive linemen. Runyan also accumulated 61 tackles with two sacks and two fumble recoveries on defense this season.
“Tommy was huge on both sides of the ball,” Smokevitch said. “He decided to transform his body heading into the season, dropping 40 pounds and making himself more agile. He’s dedicated to being physically stronger and more agile. He anchored the offensive line as the lone returning starting lineman from last year.”
The Cardinals’ 2020-21 season had not yet ended when the winter postseasons were put on “pause” due to a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases.
J-L has a regional game scheduled against Iron Mountain awaiting safety clearance from the state. The Cardinals won a third straight division title this fall, as well as a district title.
“I’m hoping we get a chance to play, whenever that is,” Smokevitch said. “We could play now. It would be cold, but we could do it. We would have been warming up right now (Tuesday afternoon) had it not been for the second pause.
“If they come out and say we are going to play the 20th, we will be ready to come out and play. But I think the season will get pushed into the spring. If we get to play, I think we have a great chance to make a run at the state championship.”
Cardinals quarterback Preston Marlatt and running back Logan May also enjoyed incredible success this season. Marlatt must have just missed out on MHSFCA all-state honors with Reading’s Porter Mauk and Saginaw Nouvel’s Jack Kujawa earning the recognition.
“The biggest thing for Preston is we will have to throw the ball more (next season),” Smokevitch said. “That would have to be a point of emphasis for us, but we aren’t sure what next year will look like for us. We will lose Sheldon and our offensive line. Preston and Logan May will be our two key returners, and we will look to make them focal points in the offense. The potential is there for Preston.”
Only players from schools in which their head coach is a member of the association are eligible for all-state honors.
“There are a good number (of schools) eligible,” Smokevitch said. “My entire coaching staff are members. It cost some money, and normally that would get us into the coaches clinic down in January, and a lot of awards get handed out. This year it will be virtual, so membership gets you the virtual stuff, which includes some big-name coaches, who will record things and we can go back and watch."
Cardinals' Logan May excels as dual-sport star this fall
JOHANNESBURG — Johannesburg-Lewiston’s Logan May did more running this fall than some people do in a lifetime.
The Johannesburg-Lewiston star was already an accomplished football player entering his junior season, but he decided to add to his athletic achievements this fall, with a second challenge.
When the high school football season was briefly postponed, May decided to join the cross-country team to remain active.
“I just wanted to compete in both,” May said. “Football was my main sport. I thought about running cross-country last year, but thought it would be too much for me. But this year, when they canceled football, I joined the cross-country team, and then they brought football back and I did both and loved every second of it.”
May enjoyed the differences the two sports presented. He also noticed playing the two sports helped him reach greater success.
“Football was for the team,” May said. “I’m going out there to smack some guys and get the win. In cross country, it’s all about your time. It’s about how you can do better, yourself, to help the team.
”In my sophomore and freshman year I would get done with football and be sore. But this year, after a game, I would be fine. I could go another two quarters. The conditioning from cross-country really helped me. I would play a football game Friday and run Saturday and not feel tired at all.”
If May ever got tired of running this fall, it certainly didn’t show. The Cardinals’ running back rushed for 775 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He also had 69 tackles and three fumble recoveries on defense. He earned all-conference recognition as an RB and defensive back.
Not only did May take on the challenge of participating in two sports this fall, he made major contributions to help both the football and boys cross-country teams enjoy profound success.
The Cardinals’ boys cross-country team won the conference, and continued their run all the way to the state meet in Brooklyn, Mich. The football team claimed a third straight division title and a district title. May played a big role in both teams’ success.
Although May had proven to be a fierce competitor on the football field, his skills were relatively unknown in cross-country. He quickly found a rhythm, but was still slightly in awe when he reached Michigan International Speedway for the state meet.
“It was very nerve-racking running the state meet,” May said. “I had butterflies in my stomach. It was massive. It was crazy to run in (that event). I enjoyed every minute of it, though. You could hear the roaring of the crowd near the finish line, and once the race started I was in the zone. It was great energy.”
As expected, it took a little while for May to feel comfortable taking on two sports in the same season. But once he started to find his legs in cross-country, the stamina he built up also helped him in football.
“The first two-three weeks was difficult,” May said. “I was never a long-distance runner; in that sort of shape. I would start to struggle at the third mile (in cross-country races). It was hard to run so many miles and then turn around and play football.
“Right around the middle of October, I realized I was in such great shape, and what I was doing in cross-country was really helping what I was doing in football.”
Although May, like many student-athletes across the state, has started to move his attention on winter sports (in his case, basketball), the Cardinals’ football season hasn’t officially ended. J-L was scheduled to play Iron Mountain in a regional battle, but the three-week shutdown complicated things. The Michigan High School Athletic Association announced its plan to finish all fall sports, but that remains largely predicated on the amount of COVID-19 cases documented in the state over the next couple weeks.
“I’m just looking to play; play to win,” May said. “Our end goal is to make it to Ford Field. We knew once the season was reinstated that we had a chance to go all the way. We had a good group of guys.
“From the start, we were just happy to play. We didn’t care what position we played. We had guys playing new positions, but everyone was just happy to play football.”
May’s favorite part of playing football is quite simple: he enjoys scoring touchdowns.
“Running into the end zone is my favorite thing about football,” May said. “When you beat everyone and you are in the end zone, hearing the crowd roar, you are just so happy, overjoyed.”
May has the strength to battle in the trenches to gain extra yards on inside hand-offs, but he also has the speed to beat opposing defenses on the outside. May’s versatility made him a valued asset along Sheldon Huff in the backfield.
“I like running inside and outside, but I (prefer) running outside; the sweeps, running with one blocker,” May said. “Running inside is more lower-your-shoulder. I like them both, but I like to have room to work.”
When the football season was briefly postponed, football players across the state jumped on the opportunity to play soccer or run cross-country. But May truly embraced his role as a teammate and key member in both sports he participated in this fall.
Cardinals' Sheldon Huff named 2020-21 Gaylord-area Football Player of the Year
JOHANNESBURG — Over the last four years, Sheldon Huff has imprinted his legacy at Johannesburg-Lewiston with nearly unrivaled success.
After yet another incredible football season, Huff was named as this year’s Gaylord Herald Times Football Player of the Year.
The Cardinals’ season remains in limbo. They are currently scheduled to face Iron Mountain in regionals, but a recent spike in COVID-19 cases forced a three-week “pause” in action.
Despite playing just eight games this fall, Huff has dominated offensively from his running back position, and defensively as a linebacker. Huff, who was named Northern Michigan Football League: Legacy Division MVP this season, rushed for 1,212 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also led the team with 115 tackles.
While Huff’s play on the field stands out, it’s his humble nature that really helps his team prosper on the field.
“I knew that my role as a two-time captain and having a decent season last year would make (the coaches) want more out of me this year,” Huff said. “I trained really hard over the offseason, knowing I’d have a bigger load this year. I’m glad my coaches trusted me to carry the ball at the end of games.
“It feels like we are a big family. The coaches are great. They guys are always putting in hard work, they give everything into every game. We have no give up. That’s what makes me so proud and the coaches so proud of us. Heart is the biggest thing.”
Huff’s passion for football is immediately evident, as is his passion for J-L athletics in general. Huff can be seen carrying the flag out onto the field during the National Anthem, leading his pack of hungry Cardinals into battle.
“The bond with the brothers and the community really makes me hungry to compete,” Huff said. “It’s a blessing having the community come out to support us; to show they love the Cardinals and our sports. I’m very thankful for all the support.
“Football is a little different than basketball and baseball for me. The excitement before a football game is strong. I’m just pumped with adrenaline after a football game. I still have adrenaline during basketball and baseball games, but football hits differently in the heart.”
While football hits differently in the heart for Huff, Huff hits differently for opposing players. The Cardinals’ senior leader flies to the ball, making tackles all over the field from his middle linebacker position.
Huff also packs a punch as a runner. Although he does possess some speed (something he displayed on a couple of long runs against Harbor Springs), he’s a self-proclaimed “bruiser back”, who enjoys running through opposing defenders.
“I am more of a bruiser back,” Huff said of his playing style. “I look to go through you not run around you. But we work on agility before practice, working on explosiveness and speed. It was nice being able to show some explosiveness.
“I’m not the fastest player, but my quickness from the start helps me run through defenders. Our line creating holes was also huge for me to be able to get out in space.”
Huff’s statistical achievements were eye-popping in any circumstance this season. Take into account the fact he accomplished them in just eight games, and hardly ever fully healthy, it’s no wonder why he’s been collecting post-season accolades.
“I knew I had to play though, and I always gave everything I had,” Huff said in regards to battling through injuries this season. “Adrenaline always helped me get through games and then I would just be sore over the weekend. I felt great against Beal City after having two weeks off with Frankfort forfeiting. That time helped a lot for the Beal City game.”
In a tumultuous season, which was actually cancelled outright late in the summer, before ultimately being put back in place by the Michigan High School Athletic Association, Huff proved he could lead by example with his play and passion.
Huff, like many of his teammates, started on offense and defense. COVID-19 affected numbers for football programs across the state, but J-L had a solid nucleus to combat any issues they may have faced.
“Our coaching was a really big part of our success this season,” Huff said. “They put a lot of time and effort into practice. We had a lot of kids playing in new positions this season, and we had a lot of solid players back. We did a lot of conditioning, so I knew we would be fine playing both sides of the field. I knew we would be fine because of our coaching.”
Although Huff has always been focused on team success, he did start to get recognized individually this summer when he picked up several college scholarship offers. Huff’s growing list of offers includes Division 1 Valparaiso, but his main focus has always been the team.
“With the run we were (on), I have thought about getting some more offers, but my main focus was on winning games and cherishing my senior year,” Huff said. “I wanted to keep my focus on the team, and making the memories we create as a team. The offers were on my mind a little bit, but my main focus was on the team."
NMFL Legacy 2020 All-Conference football teams
JOHANNESBURG — Cardinals senior Sheldon Huff was named 2020-21 Northern Michigan Football League: Legacy Division MVP this week, as nine Johannesburg-Lewiston players made all-conference.
The J-L football team won its third straight division title this season, and then won a district title after a 28-21 victory over Beal City.
A second wave of COVID-19 has halted the fall sports postseasons and the start of winter sports. However, the Cardinals' football team could still face Iron Mountain in the regionals after Dec. 8 when the current three-week pause has concluded.
The fall football season was originally cancelled this fall due to COVID-19, but that decision was overturned by the Michigan High School Athletic Association. Teams played six regular season games, instead of the usual nine, and then almost everyone qualified for the playoffs.
Currently 9-0 this season, the Cardinals are 19-1 in their last 20 games. The program has enjoyed a great run, and this year's crop of stars has been a big part of that success.
Johannesburg-Lewiston head football coach and athletic director Joe Smokevitch was named the Detroit Lions High School Football Coach of the Week after a 37-6 victory over Frankfort. The Cardinals coaching staff adapted to an ever-changing season and even opened up the offense to give quarterback Preston Marlatt more opportunities to shine as a passer.
Overall, the Cardinals displayed depth and versatility this season while piling up key victories.
Here is a list of the 2020-21 NMFL Legacy All-Conference Teams:
MVP — Sheldon Huff, J-L
Outstanding Offensive Player — Grant Richardson, Harbor Springs
Outstanding Defensive Player — Logan May, J-L
Grant Richardson, Harbor Springs
Dawson Olstrom, East Jordan
Jack Stefanski, Frankfort
Preston Marlatt, J-L
Sheldon Huff, J-L
Logan May, J-L
Chris Bigger, St. Ignace
Adam Mills, Frankfort
Jared Coxe, Frankfort
Derek Hebner, Harbor Springs
Jason Richter, J-L
Daniel Newbold, Frankfort
Trey McGregor, Harbor Springs
Aiden Webb, East Jordan
Granger Kitson, East Jordan
Carter Sherman, East Jordan
Ethan Evans, Frankfort
Tucker Hubbard, Frankfort
Quintin Alonzi, Harbor Springs
Levi Keely, Harbor Springs
Tommy Runyan, J-L
Tanner Roy, J-L
Caleb Boyer, East Jordan
Keenan O’Neill, East Jordan
Quintin Alonzi, Harbor Springs
Tommy Runyan, Johannesburg-Lewiston
Hayden Claeys, Johannesburg-Lewiston
Donovan Sylvain, Harbor Springs
Tristen Misner, St. Ignace
Zander Johnecheck, East Jordan
Adam Mills, Frankfort
Jack Cicala, Harbor Springs
Sheldon Huff, Johannesburg-Lewiston
Shawn Ziobron, Johannesburg-Lewiston
Wyatt Thompson, East Jordan
Ethan Evans, Frankfort
Griffin Anderson, Frankfort
Derek Hebner, Harbor Springs
Tyler Bellmer, Harbor Springs
Anden Minnick, St. Ignace
Jack Stefanksi, Frankfort
Henry Baker, Johannesburg-Lewiston
Garrett Ledingham, Harbor Springs
Logan May, Johannesburg-Lewiston
Preston Marlatt, Johannesburg-Lewiston
Hayden Peck, East Jordan
Ethan Schumaker, Harbor Springs
Jason Richter, Johannesburg-Lewiston
Special Mention Players
Colby Ferguson, East Jordan
Ethan Antaya, East Jordan
J-L's Smokevitch helps 'Cards to district championship in a unique way
JOHANNESBURG — When the Cardinals took the field Friday night against Beal City, an important member of the Johannesburg-Lewiston football program was absent from his prominent place on the sideline.
Athletic Director and head Cardinals football coach Joe Smokevitch was supporting his team while quarantined at home, to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“We kept it pretty close, we didn’t want that news (of his absence) to overshadow or distract from the game,” Smokevitch said of his decision to remain home. “I hooked up to Zoom to watched the game, and I watched some things on Facebook Live, so I relayed some messages to the guys into the booth that way.”
J-L entered the night having lost three playoff games to Beal City since 2012, including a close game at home last season in over a foot of snow. The Cardinals broke that trend with a 28-21 victory, putting a smile on Smokevitch’s face.
“I have to equate this win to how Mancelona, St. Ignace and Frankfort were for us,” Smokevitch said. “We got those monkeys off our back, so this feels phenomenal to get this monkey off our back. It was one of our biggest wins in my coaching tenure. It was huge for the continuity of our program and the continuity of our coaching staff. All the credit goes to those guys.”
In the absence of their head coach, the Cardinals punished Beal City with a power-run game. J-L had implemented a spread attack into its mix of plays this season, utilizing junior quarterback Preston Marlatt’s powerful arm. But it was Marlatt’s legs that helped the Cardinals set the tone Friday night.
Marlatt rushed for three touchdowns, and senior leader Sheldon Huff rushed for 171 yards and a score as J-L went back to its Wing-T offense. Marlatt and Logan May earned most of the carries in the first half, but the Cardinals consistently gave Huff the ball in the second half, and the bruising running back punished Beal City with chunk gains.
“It was an in-game thing to use Sheldon in the second half,” Smokevitch said. “Cody (Proctor) came up with an idea to come at them unbalanced and that was key. Sheldon was fresh in the second half and just pounded on them. I kept telling them to not get cute, to keep running it. I could see the push our offensive line was getting and they did a great job.”
The Cardinals’ offensive line answered the call against Beal City, despite a size disadvantage. After graduating most of last season’s impressive line, and with COVID-19 presenting further depth issues, the Cardinals had many questions regarding their offensive and defensive lines this season. But those questions were answered in an emphatic way Friday night.
“The push that the line was getting, and our team speed wore them down,” Smokevitch said. “It showed that this group of misfits came together and did a tremendous job. The offensive line proved everything we hoped they would.”
J-L clinched its third-straight division title this season, and Friday added a district title to produce one of the most successful teams in program history.
“We’ve had one team make it to the semifinals, and that’s the mark for everyone in our program,” Smokevitch said. “The historical aspect of this team is huge and they have left a mark already with all their accomplishments. It sets the mark for our future teams, so that becomes another benchmark for our program.”
Unfortunately, the Cardinals’ celebration was cut short over the weekend when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a three-week plan to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Under the plan, Michigan high school sports will be on pause until at least Dec. 8, as COVID-19 cases continue to rapidly spike across the state.
A number of schools had already forfeited from the various remaining fall postseason tournaments, but the Cardinals were scheduled to travel up to Iron Mountain on Friday for a chance to earn a semifinals berth. The Cardinals will now have to await clearance form the Michigan High School Athletic Association and hope playing conditions are suitable after three weeks.
But, while the end of the Cardinals’ football season remains in balance, the volleyball, girls’ cross country and boys’ cross country teams had already concluded their fantastic seasons.
The volleyball team won its first-ever Ski Valley Conference title and added a district crown before losing in the regional semifinals. Both the boys’ and girls’ cross country teams won conference and ultimately qualified for the state meet.
“As an athletic director it’s just amazing to me to even get fall sports in as far as we did,” Smokevitch said after the fall season was very much in jeopardy due to COVID-19. “All those championships were just amazing. Volleyball, cross country, football, it’s all amazing to me in light of all this.”
J-L changes the script with Beal City, capture district crown
JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals football team rallied without their head coach Friday at home to defeat Beal City 28-21 in the district final.
Johannesburg-Lewiston head football coach and athletic director Joe Smokevitch remained at home Friday for COVID-19 precautionary reasons, and the Cardinals played inspired football in his absence. Cody Proctor, the teams’ defensive coordinator stepped up to lead the Cardinals in an all-important revenge game, of sorts.
Since 2012, J-L had been 0-3 against Beal City in the playoffs, including a 33-20 home loss last year in the snow. But the Cardinals imposed their will on the game in the first quarter this time around.
Beal City started with the ball and marched down the field on a long drive, methodically working their way near the goal line. J-L buckled down inside the 10-yard line, and forced Beal City to turn the ball over on downs on the five-yard line.
After making the key defensive stop, J-L quickly marched down the field. The Cardinals capped their 95-yard drive with a Preston Marlatt rushing touchdown, his first of three in the game.
Stopping Beal City near the goal line and then marching down the field to take a 6-0 lead gave J-L the early moment in a quick first quarter.
Although the field wasn’t covered in a thick layer of snow like last year, cold air punched the packed field to give the game an added dimension.
The Cardinals dominated on defense early in the second quarter, maintaining their physical advantage over Beal City, who looked a little shell-shocked they were getting bullied on both sides of the ball.
Marlatt punched in his second rushing touchdown midway through the second quarter, and Henry Baker made the extra point to give J-L a convincing early 13-0 lead.
Finding itself down double digits in the first half seemingly woke Beal City up. After a lackluster quarter and a half offensively, Beal City responded to J-L’s second touchdown with a short rushing touchdown to cut the Cardinals’ lead down to 13-7.
The Cardinals took that 13-7 lead into halftime, but momentum had switched just a bit.
Beal City struck first in the second half, busting through the Cardinals defense for a long touchdown run. After the extra point, Beal City grabbed its first lead (14-13) of the game.
But the Cardinals had a strategy, and it worked to perfection throughout the second half. After leaning on the running ability of Marlatt and Logan May throughout most of the first half, Proctor, calling his first-ever offensive game in Smokevitch’s absence, leaned on star senior running back Sheldon Huff in the second half.
“We knew what Beal was going to come out in if we went into full (Wing)-T, so we wanted to take them out of that and open up things up so that we could come out in the second half and run Huff up the middle,” Proctor said. “It worked out great for us. We threw a wrinkle at them and it seemed to be fantastic for us.
“We wanted to get Preston involved with his feet. He’s a high-profile athlete, so having that option is great for us.”
Huff, a bruising, physical north-to-south runner bullied his way through the Beal City defense, consistently picking up extra yards after contact to move the chains.
After a quiet first half, Huff powered the Cardinals down the field to regain momentum. Marlatt punched in his third touchdown run of the game with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter to give the Cardinals a 21-14 lead.
The excitement of the touchdown might have distracted J-L on the ensuing kickoff, as the Cardinals left a gaping hole that the Beal City returner found and advanced the ball all the way inside the Cardinals’ 10-yard line. Beal City quickly punched in a touchdown to tie the game, 21-21 after three quarters of play.
Huff continued to dominate the Beal City defensive line throughout the fourth quarter, using his strength and determination to pick up chunk gains. Huff was awarded with a short touchdown run in the fourth quarter to give the Cardinals a late 28-21 lead.
Anticipation buzzed through the Cardinals’ stadium as the idea of beating Beal City started to become reality. The Cardinals iced the game with anther impressive drive late in the fourth quarter, and celebrated as Marlatt took a knee to run the remaining seconds off the clock.
Although Smokevitch was not present to hand out the district trophy and medals, each Cardinals player was individually recognized for all the hard work they had put into the season to earn a third straight division title and now a district title.
“It feels awesome. I couldn’t be any prouder of those guys,” Cardinals coach Cody Proctor said. “I asked them yesterday to make me look good. I had never called an offensive game ever in my life, and they (certainly did that). I just stood on the sideline and called the plays. I couldn’t be any happier about what happened today. It was just fantastic.
“It comes down to our program. Our kids are ready to play. It doesn’t matter who’s coaching them. When they found out Coach Smokevitch wouldn’t be on the sidelines their mentality was to come out and win it so he could come back.”
Huff led the Cardinals on the ground with 171 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Marlatt added 91 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries, while May finished with 76 yards on 11 carries.
The Cardinals will now look to maintain momentum and extend their season with a regional matchup against a tough Iron Mountain squad.
“(These players) don’t shy away from anybody,” Proctor said of the Cardinals. “You could tell us we’re playing anyone and they’d be ready to go. They are ready for the bus ride and we’ll go get after them. That’s the mentality we have."
Cardinals football advances due to Frankfort forfeit
OHANNESBURG — There will be no football in Johannesburg this week.
The Cardinals football team advanced straight to the district finals after Frankfort was forced to forfeit Friday’s scheduled game due COVID-19 concerns.
J-L defeated Alcona 49-16 in the district opener, while Frankfort had advanced when Saginaw Nouvel forfeited due to COVID-19 concerns.
The Cardinals defeated Frankfort during the regular season, helping to spur them on to a third straight division title.
COVID-19 has swept through Northern Michigan this fall after the area was relatively untouched in the initial wave this spring. Gaylord was also forced to forfeit its football game last week against Mount Pleasant due to COVID-19, and Harbor Springs advanced after Lake City forfeited for the same reason.
The Cardinals will now get a DE facto bye week to rest and heal (some of their key players were nursing injuries) before they face the winner of the Beal City-Breckenridge game next week for the district title.
Should J-L continue to advance, they could face a tough Iron Mountain squad in the regionals, a potential matchup many are excited about.
Football Playoffs: Cardinals cruise past Alcona in district opener; Frankfort forfeits next game
JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals defeated Alcona 49-16 at home Friday night in their district opener.
J-L fans might have had to wait a little longer than expected to celebrate the team's first touchdown of the night. Jason Richter scored midway through the opening quarter on a 55-yard punt return for touchdown.
Richter then added a second touchdown as time expired in the first quarter, this time catching a Preston Marlatt pass for a 10-yard score.
The Cardinals (7-0) outscored Alcona 21-0 in the second quarter to take a 35-0 lead into halftime. Despite battling through some injuries, all of the Cardinals' play-makers suited up Friday night.
Logan May scored two touchdowns in the second quarter, finishing the night with 80 yards rushing and two scores. Richter then added his third touchdown of the game to end the first half, hauling in a 28-yard reception from Marlatt.
J-L senior Noah Makowski dominated the second half, rushing for 111 yards and both of the Cardinals' second-half touchdowns. His two touchdown runs were for over 50 yards apiece.
Friday night's win marked the Cardinals' third straight fall with a playoff victory. J-L lost to Alcona in the first round of the playoffs in 2017, so this was a bit of a revenge game for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals will now jump straight to the district championship game to face the winner of Beal City vs. Breckinridge after Frankfort was forced to forfeit this week's playoff game due to COVID-19 concerns.
J-L has battled some nagging injuries over the last couple weeks, so a week off to rest and recover should help the Cardinals down the road.
Cardinals football defeats Harbor Springs for third straight division title
GAYLORD — Through intermittent flurries of snow, and a shock venue switch, the Johannesburg-Lewiston Cardinals football team earned their third straight Northern Michigan Football League — Legacy division title Friday night.
The Cardinals defeated Harbor Springs 60-29 at Gaylord. Although the winner of the game would hoist the trophy as division champions, this was not scheduled as a neutral-site contest.
J-L had already arrived at Harbor Springs when an electrical malfunction forced everyone out of the stadium and scrambling for a new venue. Calls were made to various Northern Michigan schools, but Gaylord proved to be the only fit.
Once the game finally started, about an hour later than originally scheduled, football was the only thing on anyone's mind. At that point, it was just about two teams competing against each other with a division title on the line.
Harbor Springs started the game on offense with good field position. Quarterback Grant Richardson, as he often does, rolled out of the pocket looking for an opening. He found a crease and cruised into the end zone for a 57-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.
That seemed to wake up the Cardinals. Running back Sheldon Huff responded almost immediately with a long run up the right-hand side inside the Rams' 25-yard line. Quarterback Preston Marlatt then found Shawn Ziobron in the end zone to put J-L down 7-6 after a missed extra point.
The Rams were unable to regain momentum on offense, losing a fumble in their own territory. The Cardinals seized the opportunity, as Marlatt threw his second touchdown pass of the night, this time to Jason Richter. J-L again missed the extra point, grabbing a 12-7 lead to end the first quarter.
Completely deflated after the opening touchdown, the Rams again lost a fumble on their next drive. J-L defenders swarmed the Rams ball carrier, forcing a second consecutive fumble.
This time Marlatt kept the ball for himself, scampering home a two-yard touchdown. He also added the two-point conversion to give the Cardinals a 20-7 lead.
“They scored on us on the first play, but we turned around and scored right back and then forced some turnovers and scored a couple more times," J-L head coach Joe Smokevitch said. "Getting that momentum back was huge, but also not letting them take their momentum and drive it down our throats. (Harbor) was pretty excited and fired up. We are going to get everyone’s best game. We always do, but swinging that momentum back was huge.”
While momentum may have shifted, Harbor Springs showed a penchant for making timely big plays in the first half. Now down two touchdowns, the Rams needed to score quickly to get back into the game. They did just that when Richardson connected with Derek Hebner for a 65-yard touchdown pass. The Rams now trailed 20-14.
With sheets of snow casting an eerie glow in the stadium lights, the Cardinals quickly regained momentum. Logan May rushed for a 67-yard touchdown to reclaim a two-score (28-14) lead.
The Rams then suffered a turnover on downs near midfield on their ensuing possession, putting pressure on their defense to make a stop. The Cardinals had the chance to take a three-touchdown lead, a complete reversal from the game's first drive.
But Harbor Springs buckled down on defense, forcing a fumble and recovering it to reclaim possession. Richardson took advantage of the opportunity, adding his second rushing touchdown of the game to pull back to within 28-21 with just four minutes remaining in the first half.
The old adage: they left too much time on the clock certainly applied here for the Rams, though, as the Cardinals just marched right back down the field. Sheldon Huff started the series with a long run up the middle. He then punched in a short touchdown run and two-point conversion to put the Cardinals up 36-21 at halftime.
“We were down two scores going into halftime and our turnover margin (was against us)," Harbor Springs coach Mike Vandermus said. "It showed on the scoreboard. We moved the ball well, but we shot ourselves in the foot a couple times with turnovers at inopportune times. We scored on the first play, but I told the guys that one play’s success has no impact on the rest of the game. It needed to be maintained.
“Big plays are exciting, but what is hurting us is not maintaining. We might need to get some smaller gains sometimes and march up the field. Joburg is a disciplined team. They aren’t going to give up big plays all game. They are well coached. We made some plays, but there were also a couple we didn’t make.”
Any chance of the Rams making a strong second-half push were quelled when J-L took the opening second-half kick back. May weaved through Rams defenders for an 82-yard touchdown, putting the Cardinals up 44-21 before most people had returned from warming up in their cars.
Snow continued to fall throughout the second half, as the already freezing temperature continued to plummet. The cold didn't bother the Cardinals, though, as Marlatt punched in another rushing touchdown to give his team a commanding 52-21 lead.
The game then got a little sloppy with the Rams throwing an interception, the Cardinals losing a fumble in scoring position, and then the Rams fumbling it right back to them.
Huff didn't mess around this time, punching in his second rushing touchdown of the game to put the Cardinals up 60-21 towards the end of the third quarter.
Although the fourth quarter kicked off with a running clock, it didn't accurately represent the exciting first half. The Rams, who did score a late touchdown off of a fumble recovery, just couldn't keep pace with the Cardinals' explosive offense and physical defense. But both teams fought hard and enjoyed tremendous seasons.
The Rams (3-3), especially, were excited to play in front of their home crowd with a division title on the line, but regrouped well after the venue switch.
“I thought our kids responded really well," Vandermus said. "No one complained about it. We all got on the bus and said this was the deal, headed down here. Huge thanks to Gaylord for allowing us to play here. But I thought our kids responded really well and came out fighting.”
The big win vaulted J-L to a perfect 6-0 record to cap off the COVID-19-shortened regular season. The Cardinals outscored their opponents 312-61, never really getting troubled for four quarters.
“Any squad is great to get that three-peat (division title)," Smokevitch said. "The last time it as done for us was 1996-1998, so its big for all of us community wise and for the players. This has been a crazy year, 2020, we’re sitting here playing at Gaylord when we should have been at Harbor Springs tonight, so kind of crazy. I’m just happy for the kids.
“We have a great group of seniors and we talk every year that you go as your seniors go. The seniors have definitely taken us places and I’m proud. That’s what it's all about.”
“This win is huge. I think it’s going to secure us No. 1 in our district, and it could give us No. 1 in our region. Everything comes through us. It's great getting the conference championship, but we will be back at it on Monday. We have some tough teams in our district.”
Marlatt, who has been one of the state's top breakout stars this season, led the Cardinals with four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing). He rushed for 75 yards, and helped keep the Rams' defense honest with some accurate passes in the red zone.
Huff displayed power and speed Friday night, picking up 186 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. He left the game early in the fourth quarter with an apparent knee injury, so that will be something to watch as the Cardinals prepare for the playoffs.
May added 152 yards on the ground, while Henry Baker rushed for 44 yards on just five carries.
The new-look playoffs begin next week, and the Cardinals proved once again they have the depth and talent to make a long run.
Football preview: Cardinals in search of third straight division title
JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals' football team has enjoyed a season filled with accolades while punishing opponents, but their work is still just getting started.
Cardinals running back Sheldon Huff, who has piled up 100-plus yard games with multiple touchdowns on the ground, received numerous scholarship offers over the summer. Head coach Joe Smokevitch was named Coach of the Week by the Detroit Lions after a 37-6 victory over Frankfort, and J-L has outscored its opponents 252-32 through five games, earning a No. 7 ranking in the latest Associated Press Division 8 polls.
But this week's game at Harbor Springs marks the Cardinals' first test with something on the line.
J-L (5-0, 3-0) faces Harbor Springs (3-2, 3-0) for a shot at the Northern Michigan Football League - Legacy crown. A win would cinch a third straight division title for the Cardinals, their first three-peat since 1996-98.
The Cardinals have played just one road game in this shortened season: an 81-12 victory over St. Ignace. J-L then won 52-0 last week against East Jordan.
Despite the recent success, Smokevitch was not satisfied with what he saw against the Red Devils, and has not heard much chatter about a division title.
“There has been no buzz," Smokevitch said. "I tore them down on Monday because we actually did not play that well against East Jordan. There were too many mistakes. We’ve been taking a business-like approach to things.
“They know what’s at stake this week. They will rise to the challenge, that’s just how this group is."
The trio of Huff, Logan May and Henry Baker have helped the Cardinals control the tempo in games, utilizing their strength and speed in the running game to wear down opposing defenses. But the Cardinals have an additional element to their offense this season: a passing game, led by junior quarterback Preston Marlatt and a host of play makers surrounding him. J-L also has a stingy defense, which has helped its electric offense get back on the field.
“I’m most happy with how well the defense has been playing," Smokevitch said. "Shutting teams out is no easy task. That’s been great. Also our ability to pass the ball. We threw for 175 yards the other night, which has been unheard of for us.
"I’m excited about the passing attack, running the pistol. Teams have to worry about many different things. They can’t just stop the run because Preston will throw on them, which helps us not be one dimensional."
Harbor Springs is looking to rebound from a 55-0 loss against Boyne City last week. Rams quarterback Grant Richardson and fullback Derek Hebner have enjoyed successful seasons, which helped them earn blowout victories over East Jordan, Frankfort and St. Ignace. The Cardinals were scheduled to face Boyne City to start the season, but the first three games were cancelled due to COVID-19.
“Harbor will be a competition this week," Smokevitch said. "That’s a big thing to be tested. They have been successful this year. Their quarterback runs really well, so we have to make tackles. That’s a bigger challenge this week than we’ve seen this year.”
Although the NMFL is broken up into three divisions, there is no cross-over conference championship game. The winner of Friday's game will be the Legacy division champ, and Smokevitch hopes a game with high stakes will help his team as the playoffs approach.
“I think it does help potentially putting some stress on them this week heading into the playoffs to test their mental toughness," Smokevitch said. "We haven’t been tested, really yet this season. If the Harbor game is a tough game that will certainly test our mental toughness."
East Jordan at Johannesburg-Lewiston
JOHANNEBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston football team continued its dominant season Friday night by cruising to a 52-0 win over East Jordan.
Through five games, the Cardinals have won by at least 31 points every time they've taken the field this season. East Jordan (3-2) entered the game on the heels of two straight wins but were no match for J-L's athletic and hungry squad.
Senior running back Sheldon Huff led the Cardinals on the ground, rushing for 135 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a pass for an 24 additional yards. Logan May added 52 yards rushing and a score.
Preston Marlatt continued his breakout junior season by rushing for 82 yards and two touchdowns, while also tossing two touchdown passes.
Shawn Ziobron hauled in a 61-yard touchdown reception, while Jason Richter found the end zone again, this time catching two passes for 75 yards and a score.
Huff led J-L defensively, racking up 17 tackles. Henry Baker, who had 33 yards rushing, also hauled in an interception on defense.
The Cardinals (5-0) will next head up to Harbor Springs on Friday to conclude their regular season. A win will earn them a third straight conference title.
East Jordan at Johannesburg-Lewiston Preview
It seems ages ago Joe Smokevitch and the Cardinals entered the season with an undersized offensive line and limited depth behind the starters.
Fast forward a month and a half, and J-L is 4-0, fresh off an 81-12 drubbing over St. Ignace. The Cardinals have won all four of their games this season by at least 30 points.
“I do think the target is on our back,” Smokevitch said. “We’re gunning for a third straight conference title and haven’t lost a regular season game in a couple years (Manton in August 2018), so we expect to get everyone’s best game.”
J-L will host an East Jordan team off to a stellar 3-1 start. Although the Red Devils lost ultra-athletic Jackson Raymond, they have still put up some impressive performances this season.
“I don’t want to say it’s a trap game, but I don’t want our kids looking past East Jordan to Harbor (Springs) for a chance to win the division,” Smokevitch said.
“If you watch East Jordan they are playing a lot of underclassmen. Their junior varsity team was decent last year, so they are a good ball club. You have to be good to go 3-1. They had a solid game against Harbor. It was a tight game late. They are solid team and coached well.”
The Cardinals have tons of offensive weapons. Senior running back Sheldon Huff already has 650 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing this season. Logan May has 415 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Quarterback Preston Marlatt has rushed for 206 yards and thrown for another 371 yards with nine combined touchdowns. Wide receiver Jason Richter has 275 yards and six touchdowns receiving.
Marlatt has been something of a secret weapon for the Cardinals, who are normally known strictly as a running team. Marlatt’s ability to open up a defense with his arm has given J-L an added dimension.
“I’m not going to make it any type of secret,” Smokevitch said of Marlatt’s passing ability. “He throws very well. We ran the pistol the other night and ran out of it, threw out of it, so he gives us one more dimension to what we do. (His passing) won’t be a secret after this week. We are messing around with a lot of things in the pistol to use Preston as more of a running and throwing weapon. The secret is out.”
With so many mouths to feed, it can sometimes get tough to satisfy every player who wants as many touches as possible, but Smokevitch said his team hasn’t had any problems buying into a team-first mentality.
“They probably want the ball more,” he said. “But since we did this from Week 1, they have bought into the whole picture. That’s what they are about. They don’t care about the personal accolades. They know that comes with the team accolades. They are focused on winning a third straight division title.”
The Cardinals, No. 6 in the latest Associated Press Division 8 rankings, will look to keep rolling at home Friday against East Jordan.
J-L's Joe Smokevitch named
Johannesburg-Lewiston head football coach and athletic director Joe Smokevitch was named the Detroit Lions High School Football Coach of the Week after Friday's 37-6 victory over Frankfort.
The Lions, who issued the official statement on Tuesday, will recognize one coach each week throughout the high school season that "best demonstrates success on and off the field, develops players’ character, discipline, and football skill in addition to emphasizing player health and safety in their program", per the release.
The winner is selected by a panel of high school football media members — Mick McCabe (Detroit Free Press), Hugh Bernreuter (Saginaw News), Bret Bakita (WOOD Radio-106.9 FM, ESPN 96.1 FM-Fox 17/Grand Rapids), James Cook (Traverse City Record-Eagle) and Scott DeCamp (MLive-Muskegon Chronicle).
“It was totally unexpected," Smokevitch said. "I was excited. It’s not what I’m in this business for. I’m in it because I love coaching and teaching the kids. It gives me recognition, and it’s nice recognition for our school."
The 2020 high school football season was originally moved to the spring in Michigan, due to COVID-19 concerns. Smokevitch always had his team prepared for whatever new wrinkle was thrown their way, and he also had to set up other sports as AD.
“It does kind of make it all worth while, after the craziness that we have been through" Smokevitch said after earning the award. "It’s a boost for our program — excitement for our program — to get recognized in this way.”
Per the press release, the season's program will award $12,000 to aid in the development and promotion of high school football in the state of Michigan, thanks to contributions from the Detroit Lions and the NFL Foundation.
Each winning coach during the regular season will receive a $1,500 donation to his school’s football program. At the conclusion of the 2020 Michigan High School Football season, the Lions will also select the High School Football Coach of the Year. This season’s Coach of the Year will receive a $3,000 donation to his school’s football program.
J-L has electrified fans with a 3-0 start this season, winning by a combined score of 119-20.
This is Smokevitch's eighth season as Cardinals head football coach. He has led his team to six playoff appearances in the last seven seasons, bolstering an already strong football program.
Smokevitch and the Cardinals will look continue their success Friday night at St. Ignace for their first road test of the season.
Three takeaways from Cardinals' punishing win over Frankfort
JOHANNESBURG — Three up, three down for the Cardinals’ football team after another blowout victory Friday night against Frankfort.
J-L (3-0, 1-0) defeated the Panthers 37-6 at home, earning a second straight win against their division foes.
One could have mistaken the early-fall game for an ushering in of winter, as temperatures hovered just above freezing throughout the game.
The Cardinals’ physicality ultimately wore down the Panthers, with multiple players making key plays on both sides of the ball.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. The Cardinals have a potent aerial attack — It’s no secret that J-L wants to run the ball, and even though teams usually know that, they still can’t slow down the Cardinals’ vaunted rushing attack. But this year’s Cardinals squad has an added element teams can’t cope with: a passing threat.
The running game is still potent (as the second takeaway will explain). But J-L has the ability to strike quickly this year with deep passes, screens and intermediate routes, something it hasn’t always featured in the past.
For the second straight game, Cardinals quarterback Preston Marlatt connected with wide receiver Jason Richter for two long touchdown passes, showcasing accuracy and poise in the pocket to deliver the strikes. Richter, for his part, exhibited elite speed and route running to get open.
Frankfort quarterback Jack Stafanski, who is one of the more ballyhooed athletes in Northern Michigan, had a receiver streaking wide open down the sideline in the first half, but overthrew him. Marlatt, when his number has been called to throw, during the last two games, has been able to drop passes to lead Richter toward the end zone perfectly in stride.
“Jason is fast, he gets out there and runs, and Preston gets it out to him,” J-L head coach Joe Smokevitch said. “The funny part is Preston’s favorite receiver is probably Shawn Ziobron. They work on stuff together in practice all the time, we just didn’t call it that way tonight.
“Richter runs like a deer. He wasn’t even supposed to be here tonight. He had a wedding in Ohio to go to, but talked his dad into letting him stay here and play.
“(We’re getting) big plays out of those guys right there, and if we can get Henry (Baker) and Logan May out in space we have the capability to score really fast. My thing is to keep scoring and scoring.”
2. Sheldon Huff dominated on both sides of the field — Not only did Huff rush for 126 yards and three touchdowns (the first three Cardinals scores of the game), he also added a two-point conversion and had 26 tackles, including a crunching tackle behind the line of scrimmage and a sack.
Huff was a battering ram, punching his way through the Frankfort defense and disrupting the Panthers’ offense progress. The Cardinals are a bit undersized on the offensive and defensive lines, but Huff’s physicality and brute strength can be difficult for opposing teams to deal with.
“Sheldon is the heart and soul of the team,” Smokevitch said. “The other players feed off of him. If he makes a big play the others feed off that. If he makes a big stick on defense the players feed off that, too. I think that’s the mentality, they all feed off of each other, and Sheldon is the (leader).”
However, Huff does not carry the load on his own. As mentioned above, the Cardinals’ quick-strike aerial attack has been successful this season, and they have a couple other potent running backs in the backfield.
May rushed for 111 yards on 12 carries. Although he did not reach the end zone Friday night, he has consistently been a force in the red zone this season.
J-L can also turn to Baker, who utilizes his speed to get the outside edge and pick up chunk gains. He rushed for 29 yards on five carries against Frankfort, and made some impressive stops on defense from his safety position.
This Cardinals offense has a lot of weapons. Opposing teams can’t just focus on stopping Huff, which makes him that much more dangerous.
3. The Cardinals proved they could make adjustments — Other than losing a couple of late fumbles, the Cardinals showcased near-flawless execution after allowing Frankfort to score a touchdown on their second drive of the game.
The Panthers tied the game 6-6 after Stafanski threw a touchdown pass on fourth and 11. It appeared the Cardinals may have finally found an opponent capable of giving them a game this season — J-L has now outscored its opponents 119-20 through three games — but Frankfort never got into a rhythm.
“In the first half Cody (Proctor) was doing some stuff, and during halftime I spoke to the offense to make a couple tweaks, and Cody was talking about making some adjustments on defense, and they made those,” Smokevitch said. “We wore them down.”
Stafanski, a 6-foot-5 dual-threat quarterback, made some nice plays early in the game, either on the ground, or by finding an open receiver. But the Cardinals ramped up the pressure and the physicality in the second half. Frankfort barely picked up a first down after halftime, which allowed J-L to sail home smoothly with a convincing victory.
“Being 3-0 is a great feeling, and it’s probably an even better feeling being 1-0 in our division,” Smokevitch said. “We have some tough games, and we finally hit the road coming up. I'm happy because I maybe wouldn’t have guessed we would be 3-0 at this point based on the opponents we’ve faced and we have our tight ends playing on the offensive line. It’s a nice feeling (being undefeated).”
The Cardinals next head to St. Ignace on Friday.
Three takeaways from J-L's shutout victory over Tawas
JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston football team continued their quick start Friday night with a 35-0 home shutout victory over Tawas.
J-L led 13-0 at the end of the first quarter, with running back Logan May opening up the scoring. Quarterback Preston Marlatt then found a wide-open Jason Richter for a long touchdown pass.
Tawas played J-L close last year, but it couldn’t muster any offense against the Cardinals’ ferocious defense this time around.
After building a big early lead, the Cardinals scored three more touchdowns in the second quarter. Sheldon Huff scored the team’s third touchdown, giving the Cardinals a 20-0 lead.
Marlatt and Richter then hooked up again for another lengthy touchdown pass. Richter sealed it with a two-point conversion catch to give the Cardinals a 28-0 lead.
Wasting little time, the Cardinals iced the game before halftime with a second May rushing touchdown to head into the break with a 35-0 lead.
J-L worked the clock in the second half, rotating players in to get some new looks.
Here are three takeaways from the Cardinals’ win:
1. Preston Marlatt gives the Cardinals an added dimension on offense — Lined up in their vaunted Wing-T offense, opponents usually know what they are going to get when facing the Cardinals. They usually can’t stop it, but there is some familiarity there. Marlatt might just change that this season.
J-L’s junior quarterback displayed arm strength, mobility and leadership as the team’s signal caller Friday night, directing his team on five scoring drives in the first half. Marlatt finished the game with 102 yards and two touchdowns through the air, while also rushing for an additional 17 yards. He also brought a punt return into the end zone, but it was ultimately called back do to a block-in-the-back penalty.
“Preston is little more comfortable this year,” J-L head coach Joe Smokevitch said. “He throws the ball well. His first touchdown was a 50-yard toss off his back foot. He’s really confident back there and has matured. He’s bigger this year and likes to run the ball more. He brings a whole new dimension to us this year because he can throw and run.
“Preston being able to throw to our receivers makes us a potent offense. We aren’t big, so we use our team speed.”
Marlatt’s improved ability to open up a defense with his arm, will also create more holes for his talented running backs. Despite the Cardinals’ lack of girth up front, this team proved Friday night they can punish teams with their versatility and athleticism.
2. The Cardinals’ defense flies to the ball — All 11 players who start on offense also start on defense, which could be perceived as a lack of depth. But this defense played as a unit, and arrived at the ball before Tawas could muster any sort of momentum.
Huff was a tank in the middle of the field. Playing linebacker, he was either in the backfield disrupting the quarterback, or playing sideline-to-sideline stopping Tawas before anything could develop.
The Cardinals tackled as a unit. If Tawas ran, 11 Cardinals flew to the ball. If it was a pass play, everyone wearing a red uniform yelled “pass” and every payer occupied their position like a well-managed orchestra. The harmony in J-L’s defense made Tawas uncomfortable all night, which led to the shutout.
“Any time you come out of the game and give up zero points, that speaks for itself,” J-L defensive coordinator Cody Proctor said. “We know every single game we (go into) we will not be bigger than the team we play, so we work every week on getting to the ball, being fast. And that showed tonight. We try to be disciplined and we try to be fast.
“Everybody has a job. We might not have a single player get 25-30 tackles in a game, but we are going to have a bunch of kids get 10 tackles. Everyone does their job, so when the ball comes their way, they take advantage of their opportunities.”
Proctor was especially pleased with his defensive line Friday, which contained Tawas’ athletic, dual-threat quarterback. The Cardinals have now outscored their opponents 82-14 through two games, and the defense has been a big reason for the lopsided point differential.
3. The Cardinals boast a dynamic three-headed running back attack — As mentioned above, the Cardinals have the versatility on offense to throw many different looks at opposing defenses this season.
J-L lines up with three running backs behind Marlatt. The Cardinals then use a series of fakes and misdirection to rotate which play-maker gets the ball.
Huff, who already has over 360 yards rushing through two games, led the Cardinals with 116 yards on the ground Friday night. He also hauled in a 22-yard reception. Huff supplies the power, breaking down a defense with his strength. He also has some quickness, which he uses to burst through the middle.
May, who rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns against Tawas, already has four touchdowns this season and has proven to be an excellent change of pace back. May also has some strength to run up the middle, but really hurt Tawas with his speed on the outside.
Henry Baker, who basically plays the Darren Sproles role for this offense, is exceptionally quick with a lightning burst of pace. He can burn a defense off the edge, and could be a factor in the screen game as the season progresses.
“It was great to see the versatility,” Smokevitch said of his offense. “I didn’t know what defense (Tawas) was going to throw at us, they have a new coach. They came out in that 53 defense, and we love playing against the 53 defense, so the kids did great.
“Logan May had a huge game tonight. All of our kids can run well, and we have a lot of kids who make plays.”
Huff left the game briefly in the first quarter with an apparent leg injury. Smokevitch said it’s something he’s been dealing with for a while.
“Sheldon has been banged up since our first day in pads,” Smokevitch said. “We weren’t sure if he was going to play last week and then he had a huge game. His physicality just wears on teams. The wear and tear of Sheldon in the middle and then quick hitting a team with a pass or a run to the outside is huge. He also brings a lot of emotional leadership getting everyone fired up.”
The Cardinals will look to continue their momentum Friday at home against Frankfort.
J-L led 13-0 at the end of the first quarter, with running back Logan May opening up the scoring. Quarterback Preston Marlatt then found a wide-open Jason Richter for a long touchdown pass.
Tawas played J-L close last year, but it couldn’t muster any offense against the Cardinals’ ferocious defense.
After building a big early lead, the Cardinals scored three more touchdowns in the second quarter. Sheldon Huff, who rushed for over 250 yards last week, appeared to injury his leg early in the game, but quickly returned. He scored the team’s third touchdown, giving the Cardinals a 20-0 lead.
Marlatt and Richter then hooked up again for another lengthy touchdown pass. Richter sealed it with a two-point conversion catch to give the Cardinals a 28-0 lead.
Wasting little time, the Cardinals iced the game before halftime with a second May rushing touchdown to head into the break with a 35-0 lead.
J-L worked the clock in the second half, rotating players in to get some new formations.
Huff led the Cardinals with 116 yards rushing and one touchdown. He also added 10 total tackles, despite playing at less than 100 percent.
May rushed for 106 yards and two scores, adding a nice change-of-pace to Huff’s bruising style. May also added six tackles on defense.
Henry Baker added 33 yards on seven carries, utilizing his speed to get outside and keep Tawas’ defense honest.
Marlatt threw for 102 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for an additional 17 yards.
Richter caught two passes for 80 yards and the two scores, while Huff hauled in his lone target for 22 yards.
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