11 Snowbirds, Cardinals bring home NMFL Legacy All-Conference honors
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor
Eleven players from both the St. Mary and Johannesburg-Lewiston football teams brought home All-Conference honors last month.
The NMFL Legacy named St. Mary's Ben Handley to both the first team offensive and defensive lines, while Cal Gilling was first-team running back and linebacker.
Alex Cherry, who helped the Snowbirds to a 6-4 record and a berth in the Division 8 playoffs, was first-team wide receiver and honorable mention as a defensive back.
Also earning honorable mention nods for St. Mary were Liam Beningo as a defensive lineman and Andrew Greif as a quarterback.
J-L's Devin Koscielniak was on the first team offensive and defensive lines, while Dominic Cassisi and Kyle May were first-team defensive backs.
Cassisi and Cody Haase were honorable-mention running backs, while the Cardinals, who were 4-5, received honorable mentions nods for Jacob Marsh at linebacker and Joe Hofer on special teams.
St. Ignace's Mitchell Peterson earned the NMFL Legacy's most valuable player award, while David LaVake was named outstanding offensive player and Carter Tallaire took home outstanding defensive player.
Rams tough: Cardinals to miss D8 playoffs for 1st time since 2010
Johannesburg-Lewiston proved it could keep pace with Harbor Springs and go score for score with the Rams during the first quarter Friday.
But four turnovers eventually derailed the Cardinals (4-5) and their chances of both winning the NMFL Legacy game and keeping their outside chances of making the Division 8 playoffs alive.
The Rams (5-4) broke open a 20-12 game by scoring four straight touchdowns before the Cardinals could respond, but by then it was too late. Harbor Springs went on to win, 48-20.
J-L will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
“It sucks. It really sucks,” Johannesburg-Lewiston coach Joe Smokevitch said. “It’s just odd to have the success we’ve had and then go and lose.
“I think we’ll bounce back next year. The JV was 8-1, and we return a bunch of good kids. I can’t see us not making the playoffs next year or making a run for the (NMFL Legacy) title.”
Alex Williams returned the opening kickoff 80 yards for a score for the Rams, but the Cardinals responded on the next possession.
They relied on Tyson Claeys to thread a 7-yard TD pass to Jacob Marsh, who finished with 24 carries for 161 yards and three receptions for 47 yards.
On the second play of the Ram’s ensuing possession, Kern Reeves sprinted 61 yards for a score that gave Harbor Springs the lead, 14-6.
Marsh responded by racing 65 yards for a score on the next drive to trim J-L’s deficit to 14-12.
However, without a delay in the action, Williams went 55 yards for a TD on the first play of the next drive, giving Harbor Springs a 20-12 advantage to end the first quarter.
Then J-L fell apart.
It went on to allow Jason Wixson to score TDs of 40 and 2 yards while Reeves added two more on runs of 5 and 6 yards.
Cody Haase, who finished with 20 yards rushing and 20 yards receiving, notched a 6-yard TD for the Cardinals with 6:08 left, but by then a comeback attempt was too out of reach.
Kyle May and Timmy LaPointe each had fumble recoveries for the Cardinals while Claeys added a sack, and Devin Koscielniak blocked a kick and had six tackles. May led with seven tackles (five solo).
Dominic Cassisi, J-L’s starting running back who had 15 carries for 57 yards, is one of the nine seniors the Cardinals will lose to graduation.
“It definitely sucks,” Cassisi said. “I wasn’t hoping our last game would be a regular season loss that guarantees we’re not in the playoffs, but that’s what happened, and I got to accept it.
“It was looking to be a shootout, but we got down and got too far to come back.”
Cassisi's career will leave both him and Smokevitch wondering, “What if?”
The tailback had a promising sophomore season on varsity, even taking his first career carry for a touchdown in 2014. However, an ACL injury sidelined him his junior year while he missed a portion of this season with injuries, too.
He entered the year as one of the best players in the conference.
“I definitely feel like it was a career that could have been,” Cassisi said.
Added Smokevitch: “Dom had a lot of potential. Injuries derailed him here and there. He started off his career at Pellston as a sophomore with two carries for 140-something yards. But injuries derailed him, and he’s a great kid and will be tough to replace.
"Same with (center McGwire Mathewson), a three-year starter that will be tough for us to replace.”
The realization set in for Johannesburg-Lewiston senior Dominic Cassisi after assistant Gary Hoffman called a special huddle in practice Monday.
The Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach gathered the Cardinals (4-4, 3-2 NMFL Legacy) to let them know that this might have been the final week he'd get with them, as the team is on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
"Hoffman had a talk with us about how there is so much more to football," Cassisi said. "He literally started crying, talking about how football can help you later in life.
"He knew we could do hard things in life because of football. He's known some of us for so long, and he said he's going to miss us. The main thing we've stressed this week is to get whatever you can get out of football. It's more than a sport. You learn so much from it."
The Cardinals are in a must-win situation when they visit Harbor Springs for a conference game at 7 p.m. Friday.
A win gives them an at-large berth into the Division 8 playoffs, but it is still highly unlikely they'll get in with their playoff points. The Rams (4-4, 4-1 NFML) sit in the exact same position.
Cassisi, who rushed for a team-high 83 yards and a touchdown in last week's 30-28 win at East Jordan, said that'll inspire some of the seniors to play just a little bit harder this week, especially when each snap could potentially be their last ever.
"Anytime it's your possible last time to play, you're going to find that little bit of extra you've never had before," he said.
"I'm definitely excited for Friday."
Practices have been tough this week, though.
"It's definitely sad," Cassisi said. "Every practice has been a little different. The ending of practices feel different.
"Walking back to the locker room, you take it all in. I hang around the practice field a little more, taking in the scenery and realizing it could be the end of my football career."
The Rams are coming off a 38-24 second-half stomping of then-No. 10 St. Mary, where running back Alex Williams scored five TDs
Comeback! Cardinals edge Red Devils with inspired 2nd half
Johannesburg-Lewiston assistant Cody Proctor abandoned his regular halftime routine where he talks about adjustments to his defense.
He instead read the quote written on the wall in the locker room at Bosworth Stadium at East Jordan which said, "You must expect great things of yourself before you do them."
The inspiration worked for the Cardinals, who overcame a 14-point halftime deficit to down the host Red Devils 30-28 in comeback fashion during an NMFL Legacy football game Friday.
"We had a spirited halftime chat," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "Cody found a quote on the wall and read it. He didn't do any X's or Os and told them to leave the locker room and do something on the field worth remembering because we didn't play with heart in the first half."
The Cardinals (4-4, 3-2 NMFL Legacy) did just that.
They opened the third quarter with quarterback Tyson Claeys finding Timmy LaPointe open for a 23-yard passing touchdown, trimming their deficit to 22-14.
Just 46 seconds into the fourth, Jacob Marsh, who finished with 71 yards rushing, punched in a 7-yard TD and the ensuing two-point conversion, helping the Cardinals knot the score, 22-22.
However, East Jordan responded after Keegan McDuffie, who had two first-half touchdowns, hit Jake Skrocki for a 13-yard TD with 7:54 left.
The Cardinals rallied one more time, churning out a seven-minute drive that ended with Marsh scoring a 3-yard TD. Dominic Cassisi, who rushed for a team-high 83 yards and a TD in the first half, tacked on the two-point conversion to give his team the lead, 30-28.
McDuffie tried to put a winning drive together, but Marsh came up with a series-ending interception which allowed J-L to run out the clock.
"It was really nice to get that comeback," Smokevitch said. "That has not just been our M.O. this year. Usually, when we get down by a touchdown, our chins are on our chest, and the game is over. That's just how it is.
"It was very frustrating in the first half, and we started out the third quarter that way, too, but it was nice to see the kids bounce back and get a big win that way."
• The Cardinals wrap up the regular season by visiting Harbor Springs for an NMFL Legacy game at 7 p.m. Friday.
Tough night: Cardinals' defense allows 34 unanswered points in loss to Snowbirds
JOHANNESBURG — Dominic Cassisi raced into the end zone for a game-tying two-point conversion, dashing off-tackle and right into the waiting hands of End Zone Joe, who slapped five with the senior.
Johannesburg-Lewiston had knotted the score 8-8 with rival St. Mary during its inaugural Veterans Appreciation football game Friday.
Almost 10 minutes later, Cardinals quarterback Tyson Claeys floated a bootleg pass to Timmy LaPointe, who reeled in a 9-yard touchdown over a St. Mary defender and gave J-L a 14-8 advantage.
Once again, End Zone Joe clapped. And then the wheels fell off.
The Cardinals (3-4, 2-2 NMFL Legacy) proceeded to give up 34 unanswered points, and the 10th-ranked Snowbirds went on to spoil senior night, beating host J-L, 42-14, for the first time since 2008.
The win improved St. Mary to 6-1 and qualified the Snowbirds for the Division 8 playoffs for the first time since 2009.
"I got to give a whole lot of credit to them," said Cassisi, who rushed for a 20-yard TD in the first quarter. "They kicked our butts the whole second half. They had some big plays, and we just didn't execute.
"We give them a lot of credit and have a lot of respect for them."
Only two plays after Cassisi and End Zone Joe, J-L's Super Fan, had exchanged pleasantries, St. Mary quarterback Andrew Greif rifled a 59-yard TD pass to Alex Cherry, who raced untouched to paydirt.
The score gave the Snowbirds a 16-14 lead entering halftime, and they never looked back as they scored four TDs in the second half.
"They're a good football team," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "I think they were hungrier than we were. I don't want to say we were complacent by any means, but I just think they wanted it more.
"It showed in the second half in their execution of things. They wanted it more, and they obviously wanted to be in the playoffs."
St. Mary's Cal Gilling took a misdirection play 76 yards for a score in the third quarter, Greif punched in a 2-yard keeper to open the fourth and then Cherry, who also had a 2-yard TD in the opening quarter, outran J-L's defense for a 69-yard score midway through the final period.
Cherry added the exclamation point with a 12-yard score with 2:46 left.
"We were just susceptible to big plays," J-L defensive coordinator Cody Proctor said. "They hit five or six big plays that went for touchdowns.
"Gilling had those two big runs. Cherry had the big one. They're big plays, and that's just what it is."
The Snowbirds limited J-L to only 183 yards of total offense.
But now the Cardinals face missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010. They'll need to win their final two games to earn an at-large playoff berth at 5-4, but that won't guarantee a spot in the district tournament.
That leaves J-L's seniors, like Cassisi, with mixed emotions as the regular season has only two weeks remaining.
"It's our last home game, and it's tough," he said. "We're not home for the playoffs. We have a slim-to-none chance for the playoffs.
"It's very tough to finish our last home game like that."
• It hasn't been a season McGwire Mathewson will want to remember.
The senior entered the season as a guard, moving from center where he was a two-year starter. However, he suffered a knee injury that cost him a handful of games and plenty of memories on the field with the Cardinals.
Mathewson returned from his injury Friday and reclaimed his center position, blocking well for Cassisi and Claeys in the first half. His impact will be huge as J-L rounds out the season.
• Nick Mays was J-L's stud running back for the JV last year.
The junior has had somewhat of a quiet season on varsity this fall, but he heard his name called over the loudspeaker after coming up with an incredible interception late in the fourth quarter.
St. Mary's Ryan Meisner went up for what looked to a be a TD catch in the end zone, but Mays pried the ball away from his hands for an interception during a play that required plenty of athleticism.
Jersey unveiling kicks off Cardinals' inaugural Veterans Appreciation game week
JOHANNESBURG — Frank Claeys, the father of Johannesburg-Lewiston quarterback Tyson Claeys, calls himself a college football junkie.
Whenever Claeys is on a road trip and drives near a city that has a college football stadium, he takes his family to go and check it out.
He has traveled everywhere from Notre Dame to Northwestern to even some stadiums in the Southwest where Big 12 teams play.
That's why the Cardinals' inaugural Veterans Appreciation game slated for 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7 will look familiar to college football fans.
The game will honor the service of United States veterans and men and women in the military, similar to the annual Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl hosted by TCU each year in Fort Worth, Texas.
Near the sidelines will be displayed service vehicles from every branch of the military as well as historical vehicles and motorcycles.
Otsego County Fire Department is bringing one of its 102-foot long fire trucks to display a large American flag while over 650 flags that were flown over veterans' graves in Otsego and Montmorency counties this past year will be displayed throughout the stadium.
On the field, the Cardinals will wear custom jerseys they fund raised for before the season started which cost each player $150. The uniforms look almost identical to the Wounded Warrior Project jerseys that Northwestern wore during its 2013 game against Michigan — a game Claeys attended in person — and features gray colors, a branch of the service on the front and the name of a veteran each player is playing for on the back.
The football team unveiled those uniforms to its players during a special ceremony Wednesday after practice — it was quite similar to the jersey unveiling most college football teams do regularly each season (video of J-L's jersey unveiling is available on the "Gaylord Herald Times Sports" Facebook page).
"We stole a few ideas here and there from college football," Claeys said.
Proceeds raised from the jersey sponsorship, as well as some of the money made at the gate, will benefit the Gaylord VFW Post for the construction of a new building.
VFW personnel, active military members and recruiters from all branches will be on hand to watch the Cardinals face rival and 10th-ranked St. Mary.
"Our small town is very patriotic," Claeys said. "The kids are very patriotic, and they're very appreciative of the sacrifices that have gone on. We wanted to go that extra mile to show our appreciation."
St. Mary will play with special Snowbirds' helmet decals that feature their logo in red, white and blue like an American flag.
"Anybody who we have talked to about this event has been amazingly supportive," Claeys said. "To be honest, we had no trouble finding support at all.
"It's been an idea that's been discussed for probably six or seven years. Somebody just hadn't seen it through. We had talked about it every year, but it kind of just came a little short of going on every year."
And now the game is a reality. Festivities will begin at 6 p.m. with a brief intermission for parents' night at 6:30 p.m.
Playoff bid: Cassisi gets 3 TDs as Cardinals win with 'so much on the line'
Johannesburg-Lewiston assistant Doug Kussrow radioed down to the sideline and asked football coach Joe Smokevitch if the Cardinals were going to take a knee just before halftime.
The Cardinals had just gone ahead 12-0, stopped Inland Lakes on the ensuing drive and received a punt with just a handful of time left. It wouldn't have been a bad thing to kneel out the final few seconds and head into the locker room with an admiral lead.
Smokevitch, whose offense was deep in its territory, instead dialed up a reverse for senior Dominic Cassisi, who rushed 71 yards for a touchdown with eight seconds left in the half. The play inspired the Cardinals, who started somewhat sluggish, to go on and rout the visiting Bulldogs 43-0 in an NMFL Legacy game Friday at home.
"We couldn't get things going at the beginning of the game, and it was the little things that hurt us," Smokevitch said. "We couldn't sustain anything. Doug had asked me if I was going to take a knee going into the half, and we ran a reverse for Dom that went over 70 yards.
"That was a big motivating factor for us. For us to come back right after half and score again and then score again, that was pretty much it. It was nice (to score 23 points after halftime, too)."
Cassisi scored on runs of 71, 65 and 26 yards to finish with nine carries for 176 yards and three touchdowns.
"It was pretty nice," said Cassisi, who scored twice in the second half. "I was just taking what the line gets me.
"The first half, we struggled a bit, but in the second half, the line did a great job and opened up some great holes. There were a couple plays where I didn't even get touched. The line blocked well, and the halfbacks blocked well down the field."
The Cardinals got on the board early after quarterback Tyson Claeys punched in a 1-yard score in the first quarter. Midway through the second, he tossed a 65-yard TD pass to Cody Haase.
Cassisi notched a pair of scores after halftime, and then Caesen Campbell sprinted in for a 37-yards TD early in the third quarter.
Jacob Marsh helped by rushing 12 times for 68 yards.
"It's obviously great getting those guys running hard again," Smokevitch said. "Cody is dealing with something (cramps) with his left calf, but it's great to have those guys back running again."
J-L's offense was key to helping its defense earn the shutout.
"Our defense played well, but our offense slowed down drives by getting 5, 6 yards at a time and getting to fourth down and converting," Cassisi said. "Our drives dragged on (to eat clock)."
Marsh led with 12 tackles and a fumble recovery while Devin Koscielniak, Joe Hofer and Campbell each had seven stops. Kyle May also had a fumble recovery.
The Cardinals (3-3, 2-1 NMFL Legacy) must win their final three games to qualify for the Division 8 postseason for a sixth straight season.
They host rival St. Mary (5-1) for a conference game at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7 and will return starting center McGwire Mathewson (knee).
The Cardinals, who had lost three of their previous four games entering Week 6, had felt like their team lost grit while playing.
They finally have that back as they gear up for the Snowbirds.
"Our team feels so differently now," Cassisi said. "We have a different intensity now that so much is on the line."
Quick recap: Cassisi scores 3 TDs in Cardinals' homecoming win
t was a homecoming worth remembering for Johannesburg-Lewiston senior Dominic Cassisi, who scored three touchdowns and rushed for 176 yards in the Cardinals 43-0 win over Inland Lakes in an NMFL Legacy football game Friday.
Also scoring for the Cardinals were Tyson Claeys, Cody Haase and Caesen Campbell while Jacob Marsh rushed 12 times for 68 yards.
J-L (3-3) returns to action when it hosts rival St. Mary (5-1) for a conference game Friday, Oct. 7.
Lockdown corner: Cardinals' May finds success filling in for older brother
JOHANNESBURG — Johannesburg-Lewiston knew it would be tough to replace the 11 seniors it graduated from last year's football team.
With the likes of Brandon Huff, Logan Huff, Nathan Fox and Joel Kussrow, it left the Cardinals with plenty of holes to fill on its roster.
One hole they haven't worried about filling is the one left behind by former cornerback Ethan May, whose brother, Kyle, has stepped in and has been off to a stellar start as a junior.
At 5-foot-7, Kyle May isn't the most physically imposing player in the NMFL Legacy, but that's OK because he has used technique and fundamentals to make him one of the best pass defenders.
"Kyle is always in the right spot," said J-L defensive coordinator Cody Proctor, who has helped the Cardinals to a 2-3 start. "He plays really good pass coverage. There are not many offenses where you'll see someone beat Kyle when we're in man coverage.
"He understands coverages and knows where to be. Even in (last week's loss at Frankfort), they had receivers who were bigger and stronger, but he was still in the right spot. He was always in a good position when they came after him. Because of his size, they'll come after him, just like they did to his brother, but he's always there."
May has two interceptions and a handful of batted down passes so far this season. While this isn't his first time on varsity, as he played as a reserve running back during the Cardinals' playoff run last year, it is his first time starting for the defense.
He has plenty of confidence when he's matched up one-on-one outside.
"It's all about the technique," May said. "If he (receiver) is more toward the sideline, you play inside him to take away the slant. He can only run routes toward the inside. That's how you get interceptions. Even though I'm not the tallest, I can still swat balls away that way."
May said he likes the challenge of playing cornerback.
"It's pretty hard sometimes," he said. "He (receiver) has more of an advantage because he knows what route he's running. You just got to read his hips because his hips will tell you where he's going.
"Once his hands go up, your hands have to go up to defend the pass."
While Kyle and Ethan are similar in size, the comparisons stop there because Ethan, who broke two school records as a sprinter for J-L's track and field team last year, relied on his speed for success.
Kyle, on the other hand, is more of a distance runner, so that's why proper film study and technique have helped him defend passes.
"In a lot of ways, they're the same player," Proctor said. "I thought Ethan was a good cover corner. They both lack height, but they both understand they have a job to do and know they have to make sure they do their job. They're both disciplined corners.
"Ethan was faster, and I don't know if either one is more aggressive than the other, but they each understood every concept I threw at them."
Added Kyle: "Ethan has got a lot of speed on me, but I can keep up with him. He's a sprinter, and I'm a distance guy. He's one to two to three steps in front of me, but I always have confidence. Ethan had confidence, too, but I just have confidence and know I can do anything if I put my mind to it. If I'm guarding a bigger receiver, I just know I got to defend them."
Kyle's services will be needed when the Cardinals host Inland Lakes (0-5, 0-4 NMFL Legacy) for a conference game at 7 p.m. today (Friday).
The Bulldogs started the season as a spread team, and still like to pass a lot, but they've since switched back to a more traditional run style.
Proctor's secondary should be ready for Inland Lakes and junior Ben Schramm, its 5-foot-10, 160-pound quarterback.
"If they do come out in spread, you'll see a lot of what we did against Central Lake (in a Week 4 win)," Proctor said. "We'll be man across the board. They have a couple spread sets and run quad. They go tight, like with a full house, and we'll go to a base defense with base coverage."
The Cardinals hope to rebound from last week's 58-12 loss at fifth-ranked Frankfort and win out to clinch a Division 8 playoff berth.
But even against the Panthers in a blowout, J-L's secondary played well.
"I've been pretty happy with the way we play pass coverage, even against Frankfort," Proctor said. "It's not the stuff that hurts us, where at the beginning of the year, it did against Mancelona.
"They've tightened up their coverage. That's the stuff we key off, especially when it's tough to emulate in practice with our own offense."
Playoff hopeful Cardinals suffer crushing blow to No. 5 Panthers
Johannesburg-Lewiston coach Joe Smokevitch said his football team's Division 8 playoffs start four weeks earlier than everyone else.
Jacob Marsh recorded 12 tackles (eight solo), but the Cardinals (2-3, 1-1 NMFL Legacy) couldn't avoid a letdown against fifth-ranked Frankfort, losing 58-12 after a slow start Friday on the road.
They now must win each of their final four games, or they'll miss qualifying for the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. That journey starts Friday when they host Inland Lakes (0-5, 0-4) for a conference matchup.
"Our playoffs start next week," Smokevitch said. "The good thing is the toughest part of our schedule is done. We have to win out because we can't go 5-4 and get into the playoffs (with an at-large bid).
"Our playoff points won't be enough with all the smaller teams."
J-L must start better than it did against Frankfort, though. It trailed 16-0 only four minutes into action because of mental mistakes.
The Panthers (5-0) scored on the fourth play from scrimmage and then recovered a fumble on the ensuing possession. They quickly notched another touchdown on their second drive to go up by two scores.
"They're physically stronger than us and faster," Smokevitch said. "The first touchdown was defensive stuff. We talk about keys, and our kids didn't do any of what they were supposed to do. It was one of them games when our kids lacked the mental aspect and leadership."
Frankfort led 44-6 at halftime and scored twice in the second half.
Dominic Cassisi punched in the Cardinals' first TD on a 3-yard run with 1:24 left in the second quarter, and Cody Haase scored the second on a tough 17-yard jaunt to the end zone midway through the fourth.
"We just couldn't get things going on offense," Smokevitch said. "Our guards would pull, and their linebackers would shoot the gap and blow up the play. We couldn't get anything going in the first half."
The Cardinals did find success passing the ball, as Tyson Claeys finished with 99 yards in the air, finding Haase for one reception for 40 yards, followed by Caesen Campbell with 39 yards and Marsh with 1.
Timmy LaPointe ended with three catches and 19 yards.
"We had success throwing the ball against them, and that's what led to our first score," Smokevitch said. "We got it down to the 1- or 2-yard line, got back into our full house and punched Dom in."
Smokevitch said, despite it being a blowout loss, Claeys passed well, considering the sophomore made only his fifth varsity start.
"He has improved this season," the coach said. "He had mechanical issues and issues with throwing the deep ball, but he and his dad (Frank Claeys) have been working on it. He struggled with his footwork issues in the full house, but he's worked on those kind of things.
"We keep talking as coaches, and we realize he's barely a sophomore as a quarterback. He didn't start as a freshman on JV until after the first few weeks, and then he got hurt. He's got just over nine games as a starter as a QB. He's getting there. I think next year, he's going to be a huge leader. I wish this year he would be, but he's just not there yet."
Claeys also led J-L in rushing. He finished with 28 yards while Haase added 26 and Cassisi finished with 17.
Defensively, P.J. Bucy and Haase each chipped in seven tackles, and Jacob Smith recorded the Cardinals' only sack.
Johannesburg-Lewiston couldn't keep up with Frankfort.
The Cardinals lost to the fifth-ranked Panthers 58-12 in a non conference football game Friday.
The Panthers (5-0) carried a 44-6 lead into halftime after J-L (2-3) could only score once in the opening half. That was a short touchdown run by Dominic Cassisi in the second quarter.
Cody Haase notched J-L's other score on a long run in the fourth.
The Cardinals host Inland Lakes for an NMFL Legacy game at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30.
Back and better: Cardinals' morale, defense improved following win over Trojans
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor
The two biggest takeaways from the Johannesburg-Lewiston football team's 47-14 win over Central Lake last week were quite clear.
The Cardinals (2-2, 1-1 NMFL Legacy) improved team morale after looking absolutely beat in their Week 3 loss to St. Ignace.
In that matchup, J-L played without two starters, Dominic Cassisi and Cody Haase, who each were out because of injury, and the team lost two more starters in Kyle May and McGwire Mathewson over the course of the game. Missing four of their top players, the Cardinals, according to both their coaching staff and players, acted like they didn't belong in the game, nor deserved to be on the field. The Saints, who are now ranked No. 2 in Division 8, went on to beat J-L, 47-0.
The Cardinals put that behind him them last week at home, beating Central Lake, 47-14.
"Putting football aside, we had to get the kids' morale back up and pick them back up," J-L defensive coordinator Cody Proctor said. "Whatever it took to do that, we did. (During practice), there were some discussions, and our goal was to improve morale.
"If morale is low, it's tough to win football games."
Coach Joe Smokevitch and the rest of the staff ratcheted up the Cardinals' practice intensity and even stripped seniors of starting positions and made them earn them back over the course of the week.
When Central Lake made it to town, J-L was an entirely different team.
"The players were down a lot in St. Ignace week, knowing it's a tough game and how we had a lot of injuries," Cassisi said. "Getting Cody (Haase) and I back healthy helped and boosted practices.
"Proctor moved guys around and got guys mad and made them work for their spots. We had a lot more intense practices, had a lot of fun and were hyped for Friday. We had a chip on our shoulder the whole time."
The changed in mindset helped immediately.
Cassisi rushed for five touchdowns and almost 200 yards, thanks to a more aggressive effort from the offensive line.
The defense, the second takeaway from that game, also was improved.
It didn't allow Central Lake's offense to enter scoring territory nor score any points until the fourth quarter. But by then, the game was already out of hand. The Cardinals limited the Trojans' spread offense to only two TD passes from quarterback Gavin Mortensen.
Proctor credited his team's preparation, even when the Trojans initially came out and ran the ball more than they passed early on.
"We were a little surprised with the offensive they came out with to start," he said. "We worked on four-wide and five-wide stuff. We made it as simple as we could, playing man-on-man and lock down defense.
"We knew they liked to run slant routes and wanted to make them throw over our heads. They didn't throw many of those passes."
Some of that had to do with how well J-L's defensive backs defended downfield while its interior offensive line, led by Jacob Smith and Devin Koscielniak, made it a nightmare for the Trojan's o-line.
"We knew that if we stayed man, that we were going to use our front line to make it tough for them," Proctor said. "When you're man across the board and have our linemen and backs, it's hard to block them.
"I thought (Smith) played well. He was one kid who was really fired up after what happened (at St. Ignace). (Caesen Campbell), I thought played really well and pretty good in pass coverage. Having Dom and Cody (in the secondary) helps a lot. With Dom, Cody, Kyle and Caesen, it solidifies my defensive backfield."
Proctor will need to rely on that defensive backfield to have another strong outing when the Cardinals visit fifth-ranked Frankfort at 7 p.m. Friday. The Panthers (4-0) are a pass-first team that have scored at least 38 points in each of their games.
"We're all excited for this game," Cassisi said. "We know they're a good team and definitely beatable. We think we can beat them the way we've done our man coverage. We're all pumped up.
"It'd be a big win for us."
The Panthers are 6-0 over J-L all-time with their last win against the Cardinals occurring in the 2009 Division 8 regional championship, a 43-12 win for Frankfort that advanced it to the state semifinal.
Frankfort is 29-4 all-time against former Ski Valley and current NMFL Legacy opponents, and its last loss to one of those teams was when it fell to Central Lake in the D8 district opener in 2014.
"It'll be a big win for the program," Cassisi said. "If we don't win it, we'll have to win out to make the playoffs. We can't afford another loss if we lose this week. We're just treating it like it's a must-win."
Football Pancake breakfast: Cassisi returns from injury, cooks up 5 TDs in win vs. Trojans
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor
JOHANNESBURG — Dominic Cassisi joked beforehand he wanted to rush for 500 yards to make up for the carries he missed out on while sitting out last week's loss to St. Ignace with a separated shoulder.
The Johannesburg-Lewiston senior even went as far as challenging the offensive line to block for him. If Cassisi rushed for 200 yards, he'd make them pancakes the next morning. He was back healthy and meant business. He called it "pancake blocks for pancakes."
Cassisi rushed 16 times for 183 yards and a staggering five touchdowns, helping the Cardinals down visiting Central Lake 47-14 in an NFML Legacy football game Friday.
While the offensive line fell just short of their goal, Cassisi said he'd still cook for them the next morning.
"I know I told them if I get 200 I'll make them pancakes," Cassisi said. "But I think they blocked well enough to get them. I'll cook them pancakes right at my house. It's pancakes for pancakes."
A sense of humor is what Cassisi needed going into Week 4.
Cassisi opened the second half by scoring on rushes of 5 and 42. That fifth TD required a lot of effort, as he zigged and zagged across the field before turning on his speed at the end to reach the end zone.
Kyle May added the two-point conversions on both carries.
"I was itching to get in (the end zone)," Cassisi said. "It was pretty painful to watch last week. To see our whole team morale go down, it feels good to be back in control."
"I needed a little redemption this week."
Cassisi needed the redemption after standing on the sidelines for his team's loss to St. Ignace, a 47-0 running-clock loss. The team also was without starting fullback and safety Cody Haase (concussion) and lost lineman McGwire Mathewson (knee) and May (concussion-like symptoms) during that game.
The Cardinals (2-2, 1-1 NMFL Legacy) had Cassisi, Haase and May back in action against the Trojans, and the team's morale returned, too.
"Tonight was huge for our offense," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "You get Dom and Cody back, and you get Kyle back, and it adds so much explosion to our backfield.
"They're our biggest backs, not that Dom is our biggest back, but size-wise and strength-wise, he and Cody are our biggest backs. Dom has three years of experience, and Cody has two. That's the big part."
As a junior, an ACL injury ended his campaign last season and when he played against Manton two weeks ago, a separated shoulder sidelined him from playing against St. Ignace in Week 3.
He knew during practice this week he'd be ready to go again.
"Wednesday, I tested it out to see how it felt," said Cassisi, who gave J-L a 24-0 halftime lead by scoring on runs of 4, 11 and 15 early on. "It felt pretty good. It was banged up, but in the game, I felt completely fine. I put a hit on some kids, and I still felt fine."
May scored J-L's final TD on a 21-yard rush down the sideline.
Cassisi, Timmy LaPointe and Tyson Claeys also had two-point conversions while Tyler Madej, who blocked well as a recent call-up from the JV and also had a fumble recovery, kicked an extra point.
"The explosion on offense was there tonight," Smokevitch said. "It wasn't there last week. It wasn't there in the second half against Manton. I"m so used to seeing us run well, so tonight was huge."
Central Lake didn't crack the scoreboard until the fourth quarter. Gavin Mortensen opened the period by rifling a 5-yard TD pass and scampering in for two points afterward. With 1:30 left, he tossed a 30-yard TD, this one going to Skyler Spangler.
May finished with 65 yards rushing, followed by Jacob Marsh with 58 and Cody Haase with 57.
Mortensen was 6 for 21 passing for 70 yards.
The Cardinals return to the field when they visit Frankfort for a non conference game at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23.
After missing Week 3 with a separated shoulder, Dominic Cassisi returned in impressive fashion Friday.
The senior rushed for five touchdowns, and the Johannesburg-Lewiston football team topped visiting Central Lake 47-14 during an NMFL Legacy game.
Cassisi helped the Cardinals (2-2, 1-1 Legacy) by scoring on rushes of 4, 11, 15, 5 and 42.
Kyle May scored a 21-yard TD in the fourth quarter.
Two-point conversions came from Cassisi, Timmy LaPointe and Tyson Claeys while May notched a pair of them.
Tyler Madej had a fumble recovery and kicked an extra point.
Central Lake cracked the scoreboard in the fourth quarter when Gavin Mortensen tossed a short TD pass and then rushed into the end zone for the two-point conversion. Mortensen tossed another TD, a 30-yard pass to Skyler Spangler, with 1:30 left.
The Cardinals return to the field when it visits Frankfort for a matchup Friday, Sept. 23.
Tough night: No. 8 Saints hand Cardinals 1st running-clock loss since 2011
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor
ST. IGNACE — Johannesburg-Lewiston knew missing Dominic Cassisi (shoulder) and Cody Haase (concussion) for Friday's football game would be tough to combat, especially on defense as both are starters.
The Cardinals (1-2, 0-1 NMFL Legacy) just didn't realize how tough.
David LaVake accounted for 201 yards and four touchdowns, and eighth-ranked St. Ignace shut out the visiting Cardinals 47-0 in a conference matchup, handing J-L its first running-clock loss since 2011.
"It was huge not having them because they're probably your top-two running backs and top offensive weapons," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "It was just as bad on defense not having them because they're the guys who control everything in the defensive backfield.
"It was tough because our kids were flat coming out. They're (St. Ignace) a really good team with big, strong and physical kids. We didn't match that. I don't know how you stop that or match that (mentality). They were just the team to beat tonight."
The Saints (2-1), whose lone loss was to the defending Division 8 state champions, Muskegon Catholic Central, last week, scored 22 points in the first quarter and had led the Cardinals 34-0 at halftime.
J-L defensive coordinator Cody Proctor made adjustments at the break, and the Cardinals limited the Saints to just 13 points in the second half.
"We changed up things defensively and changed alignments," he said. "But everything I threw out there, they (J-L's defense) came to me and said it wasn't working at all.
"They were killing us on jet sweeps. Their quarterback (Steve Seccia) was pretty good, and he made a couple of big passes on us.
"Their receivers, like No. 84 (Carter Tallaire), was a tough, physical and strong kid along with that LaVake kid."
Seccia finished 11 of 15 passing for 163 yards and three TDs, including two TD passes to LaVake, who reeled in four catches for 97 yards.
Jacob Marsh (36 yards) and Nick Mays (33) led J-L's rushing attack.
J-L quarterback Tyson Claeys was 3 of 7 passing for 13 yards.
The Saints limited J-L to only 83 yards of total offense.
"Our first three plays of the night were a fumble, a fumble and a sack," Smokevitch said. "That's just kind of how the night started on offense for us. It just snowballed from there.
"We'd do something good and then get two things bad happen. We'd do something good, and then get another two things bad happen."
Marsh finished with nine tackles, Mason Kortman added seven and Caesen Campbell and Joe Hofer each chipped in six. Devin Koscielniak recorded a sack and a blocked kick, and P.J. Bucy recovered a fumble.
The Cardinals lost two more players to injuries.
According to Proctor, Kyle May left the game with concussion-like symptoms while McGwire Mathewson went out with a knee injury.
It's unknown if the two, as well as Cassisi and Haase, will return for J-L's home matchup against Central Lake at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16.
Proctor said the team will focus on regrouping as a team and wants to regain its confidence while it practices in Week 4.
"We just have to find a way to pick these kids up and get them ready to play again like I know they can play," he said. "Setting football aside, we got to get these kids back to the way they're used to playing."
Quick recap: Cardinals shut out by No. 9 Saints
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor
ST. IGNACE — St. Ignace has never lost to Johannesburg-Lewiston since the two teams have been in the same conference.
The Saints were 4-0 against the Cardinals when the Ski Valley still existed and after Friday, they improved that mark to 5-0 by beating J-L 47-0 in an NMFL Legacy matchup.
The Saints had led 34-0 at halftime.
Jacob Marsh led the Cardinals with nine tackles, followed by Mason Kortman with eight and Caesen Campbell with six (five solo). P.J. Bucy had a fumble recovery, and Devin Koscielniak blocked a kick and finished with one sack.
The Cardinals (1-2) return to the field when they host Central Lake for another NMFL Legacy matchup at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16.
Tough break: Cardinals want to win out following road loss to Rangers
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor
MANTON — A late letdown has the Johannesburg-Lewiston football team looking toward the future.
Manton's Jayden Perry scored a 65-yard touchdown with four minutes left to push the Rangers past the visiting Cardinals 28-24 in a non conference game Friday.
J-L sophomore Tyson Claeys rushed for three touchdowns, and he even had a shot to win the game on the Cardinals' final possession.
Facing fourth and 13, he dropped back but was strip sacked, forcing a turnover on downs that allowed Manton to secure the win.
Now the Cardinals (1-1) have their eyes on finishing the season undefeated to ensure they get a home playoff game.
"We've got to make a big run, and it starts (this) week," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "If they really want to make a huge run in the playoffs, I think it starts (this) week. We're just looking to bounce back, get healthy and go from there."
The Cardinals lost two starters in seniors Dominic Cassisi (separated shoulder), who rushed for 65 yards, and Cody Haase (concussion-like symptoms) against the Rangers. Both will miss Week 3's battle at St. Ignace (1-1), which takes place today (Friday).
Both start at safety and in the offensive backfield. Their losses will make it tough for the Cardinals to finish 7-0.
"I think we have a huge chance of making a run all the way to Week 9," Smokevitch continued. "We have team speed that'll help us, and we're going to fix some things here and there, do some tinkering, and I think we'll be just fine."
The Cardinals will be just fine with Claeys at quarterback. He made key plays all throughout the game against Manton to keep J-L in it.
The Cardinals had trailed 6-0 in the first half until they stormed back and took an advantage into halftime.
Facing fourth and 19, Cassisi pulled down a long pass that put J-L on the 4, and a few players later, Claeys dove in for a 1-yard touchdown to tie the score, 6-6. Timmy LaPointe reeled in the 2-point conversation on a bootleg pass from Claeys.
Shortly afterward, Manton took advantage of two encroachment penalties to move the ball toward midfield. However, Haase picked off quarterback Wyatt Baker and returned the interception to the 6.
Two plays later, Claeys dove into the end zone for another 1-yard TD, and then he rolled out and found Jacob Marsh for the two-point conversation, ensuring the Cardinals carried a 16-6 lead into halftime.
Manton took the lead in the third quarter. Baker scored on runs of 30 and 41, and the Rangers added a pair of two-point conversations to gain a 22-16 edge.
Later in the half, the Cardinals responded with a few crafty runs by Marsh that got them into scoring territory, and then Claeys used a push from his offensive line to score on a 6-yard jaunt toward the far corner of the end zone.
However, Manton countered with Perry's game-winning TD.
J-L couldn't recover from it.
"I saw a lot of heart out of us today that I didn't know we had," Cassisi said. "We had glimpses of being a really good team. We just have to put it all together at the end and finish the game out."
The game with St. Ignace will make the Northern Michigan Football League Legacy Division opener.
The Saints are recovering from their Week 2 loss to Muskegon Catholic Central, the defending Division 8 state champion and also the team that defeated them in the D8 semifinal a year ago.
The Crusaders won last week's matchup, 21-6.
David LaVake led the Saints with 45 yards rushing. He added 43 yards and a touchdown receiving on five catches.
Catholic Central limited St. Ignace to 141 yards of total offense.
St. Ignace has beaten J-L four times in the past three seasons, including a 16-8 win in the district championship a year ago.
Smokevitch's son, Joey, reminded him of that last week.
"I haven't beaten them before, and my son reminded me of that," Smokevitch said. "Joey said, "St. Ignace? Is that the team we can't beat?'
"I know they (St. Ignace) had a tough one (against Catholic Central). We're going to have to show up and play, and that'll be the biggest thing. We'll have to solve the puzzle that is St. Ignace."
Quick recap: Late 65-yard TD dooms Cardinals at Manton
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor
MANTON — The Johannesburg-Lewiston football team couldn't complete the comeback.
During its final possession, Tyson Claeys dropped back, facing fourth and 13, but was strip sacked, forcing a turnover on downs that allowed Manton to take a 28-24 win over the Cardinals in a non conference matchup Friday.
Claeys scored three touchdowns.
The Cardinals had trailed 6-0 in the first half until two key plays helped them storm back and take an advantage into halftime.
Facing fourth and 19, Dominic Cassisi pulled down a long pass that put J-L on the 4, and a few players later, Tyson Claeys dove in for a 1-yard touchdown to tie the score, 6-6. Timmy LaPointe reeled in the 2-point conversation on a bootleg pass from Claeys.
Another key play came on the next series.
Manton took advantage of two encroachment penalties to move the ball toward midfield. However, Cody Haase, who left the game with concussion-like symptoms picked off quarterback Wyatt Baker and returned the interception to the 6.
Two plays later, Claeys dove into the end zone for another 1-yard TD, and then he rolled out and found Jacob Marsh for the two-point conversation, ensuring the Cardinals carried a 16-6 lead into halftime.
Manton took the lead in the third quarter. Baker scored on runs of 30 41, and the Rangers added a pair of two-point conversations to gain a 22-16 edge.
The Cardinals responded with a few crafty runs by Marsh that got them into scoring territory, and then Claeys used a push from his offensive line to score on a 6-yard jaunt toward the far corner of the end zone.
But on the next possession, Manton's Jayden Perry took a carry around the outside and raced 65 yards for a score shortly afterward, giving the Rangers a 28-24 lead.
The Cardinals (1-1) visit St. Ignace (1-1) to open its NMFL Legacy season Friday, Sept. 9.
JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston football team graduated 11 seniors from last year's Division 8 district final squad.
Four of those players — or, five if you count former tight end Brendan Prentice — were on the offensive line, an integral part of the team that helped the Cardinals' wing-T offense move the chains down the field.
That lone returner is senior McGwire Mathewson, who moves from center to guard to replace the nastiness the Cardinals graduated in former players Nathan Fox and Joel Kussrow.
Being the oldest player on the line has been weird for Mathewson.
"It's kind of a shock because I'm so used to looking up to older guys," Mathewson said. "This year, they're asking me for help. I'm trying to do my best to help show them what we've done the past couple of years."
And what they've done has been mean.
No linebacker or defensive back wanted a piece of Fox and Kussrow when they pulled around the center. Now that's Mathewson's job.
So far he's tried to teach his younger counterparts how to replicate that toughness.
"They're getting there," Mathewson said. "It's going to be a bit different this year with a lot of new kids.
"It'll be hard (to replace Fox and Kussrow). Joel was 160 pounds, but he didn't give up. He kept going and going. Fox, he was just an animal out there, and he did everything he could to (push back defenders)."
Mathewson's line, which used different combinations of Noah Vermilya, Carl Moore, Joe Hofer, Jacob Smith, Leland Stephens, Nate Facsko, Austin Hooper, Devin Koscielniak, Max Roberts and Brad Cole, did well during the season opener Friday.
The Cardinals beat Mancelona 46-12, using the line to block for Dominic Cassisi, Cody Haase, Jacob Marsh and Caesen Campbell, who combined to rush for 322 yards and three touchdowns. They also blocked well for sophomore quarterback Tyson Claeys, who tossed three TD passes.
Mathewson said it still feels weird not snapping the football to the QB.
"It's weird, especially when I line up on the line," he said. "I'm used to going down and grabbing the ball, but this year I have to go down and line up to the center like the rest of the linemen."
The offensive line wants to be prepared to open holes once again when it visits Manton for a non conference game at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2.
The Rangers lost a shootout to Frankfort in the season opener, falling 44-34 after the Panthers gashed their defense for 270 yards rushing.
Manton returns senior Wyatt Baker, who is a 6-4, 215-pound quarterback and really tough to bring down with just one tackler.
Baker rushed 21 times for 135 yards and was 18-for-31 passing for 198 yards during Manton's 35-32 loss to host J-L a year ago. He didn't finish the game after suffering an injury.
The Rangers also return an experienced offensive line which includes Hunter Ruell and Anthony Cergnul while Ethan Ancick and Mikey Gingras are two of their better ball carriers.
Best buds: Cassisi, Haase spark Cardinals' ground attack in win over Ironmen
JOHANNESBURG — When Johannesburg-Lewiston lost its most versatile playmaker in Dominic Cassisi to an ACL injury a year ago, one of his best friends, Cody Haase, stepped in and started in his safety spot.
Cassisi, resting on his crutches, cheered Haase on from the sidelines as he went on to earn All-Area honors from the Herald Times. He was even there watching Haase get carries in the backfield when Logan Huff, Ethan May or Nick May needed a breather.
Cassisi has since returned from his injury, and those aforementioned tailbacks have graduated. With the Cardinals switching to a 5-2 defense, which requires two safeties, Cassisi and Haase are now the team's two center fielders playing the pass and crashing the run. They're now the Cardinals' primary running backs as well.
What a dangerous friendship.
Cassisi rushed 11 times for 136 yards while Haase added 62 yards to help the Cardinals' football team down visiting Mancelona 46-12 in the season opener Friday.
"We've been best friends forever, and it just feels good (to be a one-two combo for the Cardinals)," Cassisi said. "We're just working together, and we got a lot of chemistry."
The duo also garnered a lot of respect.
Mancelona grabbed a 6-0 lead after Chase Pruss hauled in a bootleg pass and raced 80 yards down the near sideline for a TD in the first quarter.
Cassisi said enough was enough.
During the ensuing series, Cassisi tore through the heart of Mancelona's defense and down the middle of the field for a 65-yard TD, inspiring the Cardinals to score 36 unanswered points.
During the next two quarters, the Cardinals rode Cassisi and Haase for big gains to get the offense into scoring territory.
The first to benefit from it was Jacob Marsh, who rushed 41 yards for a TD down the near sideline.
"It feels awesome (leading the offense down the field)," Haase said. "We feel like the dynamic duo back there on offense and defense.
"He's got the speed and quickness, and I've got the power. It's just awesome."
Added Cassisi: "The big thing about him is he really carries out his fakes and hides the ball. He just makes it better for the backs around him."
The Ironmen responded by loading the box to stop the duo.
Doing so was a big mistake.
Sophomore quarterback Tyson Claeys, making his first career start, tossed a 21-yard TD pass to Mason Kortman down the seam, taking advantage of Mancelona's defenders keying in on Cassisi and Haase.
Two minutes later, the Cardinals rode their two favorite horses into the red zone again. The series ended with Claeys finding Timmy LaPointe for a 4-yard tip-toe catch near the back pylon for a TD.
Late in the third quarter, Claeys rolled out and found Kortman for another pass down the seam, this one going for a 25-yard score.
"It feels good that they have to honor us so much that Tyson was able to make big plays, and Mason Kortman is out there making big plays," Haase said. "It feels good."
It also impressed their fourth-year coach Joe Smokevitch, who has been reluctant to throw in the past because of how powerful the Cardinals' rushing attack has been since he took the job.
"I thought it was huge," Smokevitch said. "We were able to run the ball, and they'd (Mancelona) keep their corners up tight. We were able to throw the ball.
"I was saying on the sidelines that I was looking for (former J-L QB) Brandon Huff's phone number. I wanted to give him a phone call and let him know we threw for three touchdown passes to get him going. Alex Payne (another former QB) was over there on the sidelines, too."
The Cardinals returned to their rushing attack in the fourth quarter, relying on Caesen Campbell's 55-yard run for a TD to round out their scoring for the night.
Mancelona's Jack Kloc punched in a 1-yard QB keeper with under a minute remaining in the game.
While Cassisi and Haase led the stat sheet in rushing, Marsh, the Cardinals' third starter, added 48 yards on 13 carries.
"I'm really pleased," Smokevitch said. "They ran hard tonight. They're not big kids, but they ran the ball really hard.
"Marsh, the same way. He was back there running hard."
Claeys was 5-for-7 passing for 105 yards.
The Cardinals return to action when they visit Manton for a non conference game Friday, Sept. 2.
It's a sure bet they'll rely on their savvy backfield to not only earn first downs on the ground but once again set up the passing game.
"We're just going to keep helping each other out by hiding the ball, carrying out fakes and blocking for each other to do what's best for the team," Cassisi said.
BACK TO TOP
After graduating its top-three rushers from a year ago, the Johannesburg-Lewiston football team used another three-headed monster to bruise up Mancelona in its season opener Friday.
The Cardinals beat the Ironmen, 46-12.
Dominic Cassisi rushed for 136 yards on 11 carries while Cody Haase added 62 yards on six. Both had one touchdown apiece while Caesen Campbell scooted in for a 54-yard touchdown on his only carry.
Tyson Claeys was 5-for-7 passing for 105 yards and two touchdowns in his debut. Both TD passes were to Mason Kortman, who finished with 71 yards.
The Cardinals (1-0) rushed for 301 yards as a team.
J-L is back in action when it visits Manton for a non conference game at 7 p.m. Friday.
Different styles: Claeys takes over for Huff as Cardinals' QB
JOHANNESBURG — Johannesburg-Lewiston coach Joe Smokevitch said he's not nervous about replacing former quarterback Brandon Huff with an unproven underclassman.
The fourth-year football coach has tabbed sophomore Tyson Claeys as Huff's replacement for this season.
Huff rushed for 600 yards and 18 touchdowns and threw for 520 yards and three more scores to become the Herald Times Co-Player of the Year last season.
He was a three-year starter.
Claeys enters as a taller, lankier QB with a different playing style. He's more likely to rifle a pass down the field than run over an opponent's linebacker en route for a TD.
J-L's season may hang on his success.
"I don't know if I'm nervous, but it's obviously a transition," Smokevitch said. "They're two different styles of quarterbacks.
"Brandon had that swagger about him. He was a power running back for us with the ability to throw. Tyson is a little green and doesn't have that Brandon swagger yet. He's probably not the runner Brandon was, but he'll be a good thrower for us."
Claeys will also have to take over a team that went 9-2 and appeared in the Division 8 district championship one season ago.
He'll do so with only a handful of JV games under his belt as well as two 7-on-7s and few summer practices with his teammates.
But what he lacks in experience, he makes up for it with leadership and work ethic.
"He knows the offense, can run the offense and puts kids in the right spot," Smokevitch said. "The biggest thing is he's such a hard worker. He's one of the first kids here (to practice). All spring long, he's lifting or out on the football field, throwing football after football and working on his footwork."
Behind Claeys is a backfield almost as unproven. The Cardinals graduated nearly 90 percent of their rushing production in Logan Huff, Brandon Huff, Nick May and Ethan May.
They do return senior Dominic Cassisi, who missed most of last season with an injury. Cody Haase will look to carry the ball more this season, although Cassisi could be the team's key back as he has the speed and moves to gain extra yards down the field.
"The big plan is to get him the ball," Smokevitch said. "There are no restrictions for him. He had a huge track season, obviously, so we're going to get him the ball and probably treat him a lot like we treated Logan last year. We'll play the hot hand.
"As a sophomore, he ran really well for us. He's bigger this year and probably faster. I'd imagine he'll be one of the top rushers in the league and county."
Helping Cassisi, however, will be Nick Mays, who was the JV's top running back a year ago, Kyle May, incoming transfer Tyre Curtis and Jacob Marsh, who will play fullback.
"Tyre and Marsh, they're both coming along," Claeys said. "Tyre, (who transferred from Webberville), this is a different offense for him, but it looks like he is clicking."
On the offensive line, J-L returns only one starter from last season's team, McGwire Mathewson. However, he'll move from center to guard to better fit J-L's needs.
Joe Hofer, Carl Moore, Brad Cole, Leland Stephens, Noah Vermilya, Jacob Smith and Devin Koscielniak look to be in the mix to fill out the rest of the spots on the line.
"McGwire, we got him reps at guard knowing that this was coming up, and we had to get him ready," Smokevitch.
Claeys said he's developed a trust with his offensive line already.
"Those guys are my protectors," he said. "I got to be good to them. They're arguably the most important players on the field.
"Quarterback is overrated, but offensive line is where it's at."
Timmy LaPointe will take over for former tight end Brendan Prentice.
The Cardinals will look just as different on the defense
On the defensive line, Koscielniak (330 pounds) and Smith (280) will play on the interior while Claeys will lock down one of the end positions.
"It's a change from last year," defensive coordinator Cody Proctor said. "We were small and fast. Now we're going to be meat eaters and hole fillers.
"Smitty is in a lot better shape than he was last year, and Devin is a lot stronger than he was last year."
Joe Hofer and Mason Kortman look to be J-L's top linebackers as first-year starters while Curtis and Marsh should be in the rotation.
"Our defensive backs are the most experienced and probably our deepest group as well," Proctor said. "(Cassisi and Haase), with their experience, will help a lot.
"With Kyle May, Kyle's got a pretty good nose for the ball and has played corner his whole life, and Timmy can just jump out the gym."
The Cardinals will start the Claeys era when they host Mancelona for a non conference game at 7 p.m. Friday. The Ironmen were 2-7 last season and have since switched conference. They'll play in the Northern Michigan Football League, but they'll be the only former Ski Valley team to play in a separate division. They'll play in the Leaders while J-L is in the Legacy.
Cassisi, Johannesburg-Lewiston's top returner and also regarded as one of the best backs in the Ski Valley by the conference's football coaches, sprinted out of the backfield, rounded backward and then jetted forward to catch what appeared to be a routine swing pass.
Except the pass never came. Well, it came, it just wasn't quite near where Cassisi had broke open his route.
Incoming sophomore Tyson Claeys, in his first pass attempt as a varsity quarterback, had lofted the ball about 6 yards behind Cassisi.
"He's a sophomore and learning still," said J-L coach Joe Smokevitch, who called plays while his Cardinals faced Hillman in 7-on-7 drills June 29 at the high school. "There's a little bit of inexperience back there, but he'll be fine once he realizes he's not going to overthrow his receivers and those kinds of things. He's a work in progress."
Claeys will replace longtime starting quarterback Brandon Huff, who capped off a stellar senior season last fall as the Herald Times Player of the Year, sharing the honor with his cousin, Logan Huff, and accounting for 600 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing as well as 520 yards and three TDs passing.
Claeys' inexperience playing quarterback is evident.
But what he doesn't lack are his leadership abilities and work ethic.
He picked up plenty of leadership qualities through osmosis, watching Logan Huff, Brandon Huff and Nathan Fox lead J-L's boys basketball team while he was a freshman starter last winter.
He also picked it up by watching his father, Frank, coach the Oilers youth football program.
"It doesn't feel like (I'm playing with) a sophomore quarterback," Cassisi said. "I actually worked with him a little bit last year anticipating this. He's a hard worker. He's probably a better leader than most people on this team."
Cassisi saw firsthand how well equipped Claeys is to be a leader.
Claeys didn't play baseball this past spring. He focused on training after school instead. He lifted five days a week in the weight room, gaining 15 pounds of muscle, and worked individually with his father on throwing routes and QB footwork on the football field.
"I think the quarterback position is a good spot to have him," Cassisi said. "He's a good leader. He works his butt off, has good technique and good fundamentals.
"He cares about everyone and their positions, and he wants to help them all out."
However, right now, Claeys sometimes lacks the confidence he needs to make certain throws — as determined by his scrimmage-opening swing pass to Cassisi.
"You look at the last two quarterbacks I've had, I had Alex Payne and Brandon Huff," Smokevitch said. "They were pretty confident and cocky kids where Tyson is kind of the opposite.
"He's not confident in what he's going to do, and he over thinks things in certain situations."
Claeys' confidence should come, and Smokevitch wouldn't tab a sophomore to take over at QB without having a sound reason to do so.
"I like his size (6-foot-4) and the fact that he's not afraid to make mistakes," Smokevitch said. "If he makes those mistakes, he just bounces back.
"He's an intelligent kid and knows what's going on, so those are the biggest things."
Added Claeys: "It's not that I'm not confident. It's a little nerve-racking being the sophomore quarterback on varsity, but I think I can handle that.
"That swing pass to Dom? I just overthrew it. I just blew it. I just had to forget about. It was just a bad throw. That's all that was, honestly, was just a bad throw."
Maybe it was.
Claeys regrouped almost instantly and began throwing darts past Hillman's secondary, some going for touchdowns and others being reeled in for first downs. In some cases, his teammates dropped wide-open passes that could have turned into scores.
But just like Claeys' first throw, he'll forget those, too. He'll forget all of his bad throws this upcoming season as well.
"I'm just going to forget about it as best as I can and just play," he said.
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