Tough choice: Claeys de-commits from Huskies, elects to join Cornell instead
JOHANNESBURG — Those weren’t easy phone calls to make.
Johannesburg-Lewiston senior Tyson Claeys verbally committed to play football for Michigan Tech in December. This past weekend, he visited Cornell University as a last-ditch effort to ensure Houghton was his final destination. Cornell’s coaching staff wound up changing his mind.
“It was a rough decision,” said Claeys, who de-committed from the Huskies and announced his intentions to join Cornell in the fall. “Obviously, it’s a rough phone call to make after you think you’ve made the right choice for yourself and they (MTU) thought they made the right choice by investing in me, and then you take a different path of pursuit to what you feel is better overall.”
Claeys didn’t sign a letter of intent on national signing day Wednesday because Cornell is an Ivy League school with different signing rules.
But that doesn’t change anything: He’ll soon be an official member of the Big Red. Gaylord graduate Dominic LaJoie is currently on the wrestling team at Cornell.
“They basically presented him with this scenario: If you blow out your knee and could never play again, would you go to Michigan Tech?” J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. “He said, ‘No, I’d go to Michigan or Michigan State for school if I blew out my knee and couldn’t play again.’
“So then the question is, ‘Would you got to Cornell if you blew out your knee?’ and he said the answer was yes.”
Added Claeys: “The coaches up at Tech are great guys, and that’s what drew me to Tech initially. Those guys really blew me away. They’re a great bunch of guys, and the education is obviously really, really awesome.
“After going out on that visit this past weekend to Cornell, they gave me too much to say no to. Cornell is amazing as well, and the education is really great, too.”
“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I just hope I’ll feel like I made the right decision in the future.”
The decision was not easy. Smokevitch joked that Claeys needed to be on constant watch because he was so torn up about letting his new Tech buddies down.
“He’s worried about those other kids up there, which is what I love about him,” Smokevitch said. “It’s always about the other guys and his teammates. He texted and talked to the guys he even pushed to go to Tech. He let them know what was going on before he put the news on Twitter that he was going to Cornell. This decision will eat him up for a while. He loved Tech. But this was more than a football decision.”
Cornell plans to use the 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior as a tight end. Claeys’ goal is to bulk up to 235 pounds and fine-tune his blocking and route-running skills before he gets on campus. He caught 11 passes for 189 yards and nine touchdowns for the Cardinals in the fall.
MTU was looking at Claeys as more of a defensive end than tight end.
“I feel great about that, playing tight end,” Claeys said. “To be honest, I’d do anything it takes to get on the field. I’ll play center if it gets me on the field, or I’d play as an interior defensive tackle. I’m just fired up to play."
JOHANNESBURG — It wasn’t an easy decision.
Johannesburg-Lewiston senior Tyson Claeys had offers to play football in college from both Michigan Tech and Cornell University, both offering the tight end/defensive end a great opportunity to play the sport he loves and get a first-class education that’ll help him after he graduates.
Claeys pulled the trigger on Michigan Tech, verbally committing to the university with a tweet Sunday that read, “I’M IN!! After a great visit, I am happy to announce that I have committed to playing football at Michigan Technological University! Thank you to all who have helped and guided me on this path and thank you to MTU for believing!”
Claeys said he spoke with his parents a few times a week about which college to pick.
“It was a tough decision,” he said Wednesday night. “Cornell (offered me) before Tech did. All throughout the summer and until that point, I talked with my parents at least once or twice a week about it. It was a big decision.
“But it came down to Tech being a Michigan school, and I like the idea of being in Michigan. It’s a little bit closer to home, roughly six hours compared to nine as far as the drive goes. Plus the black and yellow (school colors) are sharp, even though I’m at a red and white school right now. I thought it’d just be a better fit for me there.”
Claeys said MTU’s coaching staff is unsure where he’ll play yet. The Huskies, 4-6 overall in 2018, originally recruited him as a tight end because of its need at the position. But when he camped at the school during the summer, he came in weighing 240 pounds and standing 6-foot-4, so they thought he’d be a great defensive end or interior linemen, too.
J-L defensive coordinator Cody Proctor was told by MTU’s coaching staff that Claeys was No. 1 on its recruiting board.
“I really liked what Tech had to offer,” Claeys added. “They were a high academic school. I like the way their coaches coach, and they seem to be a great group of guys. I thought the same with Cornell, but I just liked the atmosphere at the school after visiting.
“The campus was really nice, and I liked the way it was set up. It wasn’t huge, wasn’t small. I liked the guys already on the team — a great bunch of guys — and it was high-caliber football up there. It’s GLIAC football. That’s the SEC of Division II football.”
All-State Awards have arrived
The Associated Press released its all-state football team this week. There were no surprises at all with Claeys making the first team of the Division 7-8 team as a lineman and Gaylord senior Cade Foster appearing on the second team of the D 3-4 team as a running back.
Claeys, a team captain, caught 11 passes for 189 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Defensively, he collected 72 tackles (35 solo), seven sacks and two fumble recoveries.
He was named All-Northern Michigan Football League first team and the conference’s MVP after leading the Cardinals to a conference title. J-L finished 9-2 after losing to top-ranked Breckenridge in the second round of the D8 playoffs.
“Being all-state is like a dream come true, for sure,” Claeys said.
Foster, the Herald Times’ 2018 Offensive Player of the Year, broke the GHS single-season rushing record after carrying the ball 176 times for 1,470 yards and 14 TDs. He tacked on nine catches for 106 yards and one TD, while, defensively, he added 46 tackles (24 solo), one interception and one sack.
The senior helped the Blue Devils end a three-year playoff drought by pushing them to a 6-4 record and an appearance in the D3 postseason against Cedar Springs. He made the All-Big North first team as a running back.
Player of the Year: Gehringer puts the Cardinals on his back
Kevin Gehringer takes things personally. J-L football coach Joe Smokevitch recalls a time this past fall when Gehringer was rushing for
During the playoffs, Gehringer broke off a long touchdown run that was called back because of a holding penalty. He was so upset
Gehringer's mentality is just what J-L needed the past two seasons. Three years ago, the Cardinals finished 4-5, their worst season in years,
Because of Gehringer's tenacity as a leader, the fullback is the Herald Times 'Player of the Year.
"You can tell when Kevin's upset, though. He puts it on his back. Just like he did in the Merrill game when he scored a touchdown and it got
Gehringer, who is only 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds, finished with a team-best 1,144 yards and 15 TDs on 171 rushes for a 6.69 yard-per-carry
"I really enjoyed this year, and I love my teammates so much because they've been there for me at every moment," Gehringer said. "So I
"As I have said in the past, it's easy to give up on yourself. But when you look around and see everyone else trying just as hard as you are,
Probably what made Gehringer the greatest rusher in the NMFL-Legacy this season was his offensive line. A bulk of Gehringer's carries
Added tight end Tyson Claeys: "That just shows that our offensive line was stout all year. We took pride in blocking for all of the backs.
Smokevitch often says Gehringer's humble upbringing is what makes him a leader. "He won't talk about himself at all," the sixth-year
Claeys given NMFL-Legacy's MVP award; Other All-Conference awards released
NORTHERN MICHIGAN – Johannesburg-Lewiston and St. Mary secured a combined 18 spots on the All-Northern Michigan Football League-Legacy Team released Friday.
That included J-L senior Tyson Claeys, who was named the conference's Most Valuable Player to go along with being on the First Team as both a tight end and a defensive lineman. Claeys finished with team highs in catches (11) and receiving yards (189), adding nine TDs offensively. Defensively, he collected 72 tackles (35 solo), six tackles for loss, a team-high seven sacks, two fumble recoveries and one interception.
Other Cardinals making the First Team included offensive linemen Tyler Madej and Garrett May as well fullback Kevin Gehringer. Gehringer, a senior, rushed for 1,144 and 15 TDs on 171 carries, averaging 6.7 yards per carry, while Madej and May blocked for a backfield that accounted for 3,356 yards rushing. Defensively, linebacker Sheldon Huff (team-high 114 tackles, two sacks) and defensive back Tanner Shimel (six interceptions, 63 tackles) also made the First Team.
Honorable Mentions included Brett Crandell as both a running back and linebacker, Logan Finnerty as a defensive back and Huff as a long snapper.
The Cardinals (9-2) made the Division 8 playoffs for the fifth time under sixth-year coach Joe Smokevitch, which included them claiming an outright conference title for the first time since 1998. After beating Merrill in the opening round of the postseason, J-L, ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press' final D8 poll, lost to top-ranked Breckenridge in Round 2.
St. Mary's First Team honors went to defensive lineman Blake Stevens and defensive back Logan Murrell. Individual defensive stats were not available.
The Snowbirds' Honorable Mentions included offensive lineman Rory Curran, running back Brady Hunter, linebacker Steven Koscielniak and place kicker Alex Pudvan.
St. Mary (2-6) wrapped up its final season in the conference as well as an 11-player team. Next season it'll drop down to the 8-player ranks.
Check out who else made the All-NMFL-Legacy Team:
Individual NMFL-Legacy Awards
Most Valuable Player - Tyson Claeys, J-L
Outstanding Offensive Player - Garrett Rickley, St. Ignace
Outstanding Defensive Player - Kyle Hebner, Harbor Springs
OL - Jack Cross, East Jordan
OL - Tyler Madej, J-L
OL - Reid Marshall, St. Ignace
OL - Garrett May, J-L
OL - Logan McCormick, Newberry
OL - Blake Stevens, St. Mary
RB - Brandon Christianson, Newberry
RB - Kevin Gehringer, J-L
RB - Garrett Rickley, St. Ignace
RB - Connor Williams, Harbor Springs
WR - Caleb Brown, St. Ignace
WR - Tristan Overholt, Inland Lakes
WR - Jackson Raymond, East Jordan
QB - Tucker Shepard, St. Ignace
TE - Tyson Claeys, J-L
TE - David Harrell, Harbor Springs
DL - Tyson Claeys, J-L
DL - Kyle Hebner, Harbor Springs
DL - Reid Marshall, St. Ignace
DL - Richard Nalette, Newberry
DL - Jason Proctor, Harbor Springs
DL - Jarrett Soblaskey, St. Ignace
DL - Blake Stevens, St. Mary
LB - Sheldon Huff, J-L
LB - Logan McCormick, Newberry
LB - Greg Paquin, St. Ignace
LB - Brett Vandermus, Harbor Springs
DB - Jaylen James, Newberry
DB - Andy Metz, St. Ignace
DB - Logan Murrell, St. Mary
DB - Tanner Shimel, J-L
ST - Sean Gooden, East Jordan
P - Tucker Shepard, St. Ignace
K - Nathaniel Wandrie, Inland Lakes
OL - Rory Curran, St. Mary
OL - Andrew Schwartz, Inland Lakes
RB - Brett Crandell, J-L
RB - Brady Hunter, St. Mary
RB - Jaylen James, Newberry
RB - Jackson Wells, Harbor Springs
WR - Luke Mayer, Inland Lakes
QB - Grant Richardson, Harbor Springs
LB - David Burkhart, Inland Lakes
LB - Brett Crandell, J-L
LB - Steven Koscielniak, St. Mary
LB - Cooper Stevenson, East Jordan
DB - Caleb Blumke, Inland Lakes
DB - Logan Finnerty, J-L
DB - David Harrell, Harbor Springs
DB - Judd Wise, East Jordan
ST - Sheldon Huff, J-L
ST - Alex Pudvan, St. Mary
ST - Nathaniel Wandrie, Inland Lakes
P - Jaylen James, Newberry
Chandler Bartig, East Jordan
Trent Graham, East Jordan
Shawn Livingston, St. Ignace
No. 4 Cardinals' hot start simmers quickly at No. 1 Breckenridge
BRECKENRIDGE — The problem with having a strong, winning football program is sometimes the leaves pile up in your front yard.
A hot start turned into a disastrous finish for fourth-ranked Johannesburg-Lewiston during the Division 8 district championship Friday. No. 1 Breckenridge topped the Cardinals 37-12, advancing to the regional round where it'll take on Ispheming this weekend.
The Cardinals, who finished 9-2 with a conference title and Round 1 playoff win, couldn't have asked for a better beginning to the game. Breckenridge quarterback Carter Staley fumbled the ball in the end zone on the opening drive, and J-L safety Tanner Shimel fell on it for the touchback. J-L proceeded to march 80 yards down the field for a touchdown, ending with a 5-yard TD pass from Shimel to Tyson Claeys in the near corner.
J-L had the early momentum and looked to upset the Huskies. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the wheels fell off shortly after that TD pass. Penalty after penalty halted drives and forced punts, Logan Finnerty fumbled on a surefire TD drive at the 6-yard line and the Huskies did what they have done well at all season long: They scored at will almost every series.
"I don't think we played our best football," said coach Joe Smokevitch, whose Cardinals have missed the postseason only once in his six years on the sidelines. "I thought we shot ourselves in the foot, offensively. We could have had the lead if we didn't turn the ball over and, obviously, the penalties didn't help us at all. It was pretty frustrating.
"The officials didn't beat us, but they sure didn't help our cause. We've got to hold onto the football. Logan one-handed one a little bit and put the ball on the ground so that obviously hurt us, too."
In the first half, Hunter Collins scored on runs from 10 and 2 yards, and then Staley sprinted in a QB keeper from 23 yards at 6:07 in the second.
The Cardinals' chances at a comeback would have been completely shut down had Kevin Gehringer not intercepted Staley and returned it 30 yards for the score with 1:03 left in the first half. The TD, which made it 23-12 at halftime, would be the final time J-L ever had a real shot to score again.
Breckenridge added two TDs in the second half to put away the game. Lukas Ebright (2 yards) and Cameren Valliere (23) each rushed one in. The Huskies' spread-option was just too much for J-L's defenders to stop.
"I thought we did as great as we probably could have," said Gehringer, a senior. "We just didn't come through with (stopping) their dive like we did all week in practice. (Their offensive success) was mostly just their dive.
"Our linebackers were supposed to have that locked down all week. I guess they read the (running backs) the wrong way. They had big, open drives on third and long, and they'd get the first down. We'd have to start back on first down, and that wore us down by the time we got back on offense."
The Huskies accounted for 429 yards of offensive (374 rushing).
"I thought they were pretty darn good," Smokevitch added. "The QB was a stud. He was a tough guy to bring down. You can tell those were some kids who have been playing on varsity since they were freshmen because they were quite experienced."
For as successful as the Cardinals' season was, it'll be tough for them to say goodbye to this group of seniors. They graduate seven, including Patrick Kennedy, Lance Upplegger, Gabe Law, Tyler Madej, Gehringer, Shimel and Claeys.
"I never use the word 'goodbye' with the seniors," Smokevitch said. "It's tough when you have a group of seniors who play hard for you for all those years. There's nothing you can do about it when you lose.
"(Defensive coordinator Cody Proctor) said something pretty funny on the bus ride home. He said, 'Coaching would be really easy if all you had to do was worry about X's and Os and not worry about saying goodbye. It would make a hell of a lot easier.' We had an amazing season, and nobody can take that away from us. Such a good group of kids who've come a long way."
No, being a football coach is tough. Especially when you're a good one. Without any team to game plan for over the weekend, Smokevitch woke up Sunday morning and started attacking the mountain of leaves that have fallen in his yard. Sometimes neglecting your yard work happens when you make playoff runs.
"I haven't touched a single leaf all fall," he said. "And that sucks because our house seems to be in the land of the maple trees."
Meet your playoff opponent: No. 1 Breckenridge
JOHANNESBURG – In 2015, the Breckenridge football team went 0-9, scoring only 11 touchdowns the entire season.
Coach Kris Robinson called it the greatest coaching job of his career, though.
“We just got crushed by everybody,” the sixth-year coach said Tuesday morning. “We just focused on selling our program and getting the players to buy in. That group of kids was the first group that were just my kids. And it was hands down my best year of coaching.
“That whole year, we grew so much as a staff, too. To go through a 0-9 season, everyone has to come together. Us coaches almost worked harder than the kids because we wanted them to win so badly, so we were giving them everything we’ve got just like they were.”
Since that season, the Huskies have gone 29-3 the past three falls, going undefeated in the regular season twice and making the playoffs three times. This year, they won their third-straight Mid-State championship and garnered the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press’ Division 8 poll.
They welcome No. 4 Johannesburg-Lewiston for the D8 district championship at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2. They want to beat the Cardinals (9-1) to win their second district title under Robinson and make a second regional appearance. And, yes, Robinson said he envisioned this day, even when his Huskies were going 0-9 and trying to rebuild their program.
“You don’t start coaching if you don’t at least believe or think that you can do it,” he said. “Traditionally, Breckenridge football, it’s not something (people would say) could happen here, (going undefeated). The school has used it as a platform to (inspire its students). I always thought there were good, capable kids here, even when I wasn’t a coach and just a teacher.”
Robinson taught at Breckenridge for seven years before he became the head football coach. He earmarked a handful of boys he knew he could use to help turn around the program. Two of them were quarterback Carter Staley and running back Hunter Collins, the backbone of the Huskies.
He moved the duo up to the varsity as only freshmen and tabbed them as the ones to help recruit other players in the school’s hallways. He also needed to move them up because, well, that year Robinson’s senior class didn’t have many boys. It was almost all girls.
“That’s small school life,” Robinson said. “That’s how it works.
“Starting their sophomore year, we just had some good senior leaders with them. That started the program off with great attitude and effort in the weight room. They had just a relentless drive to get better, and they had a recognition that it all starts for us in the weight room.”
The following season, that sophomore class went 9-0 and even won its opening-round playoff game before losing to Saginaw Nouvel in the district championship. The next year, the Huskies lost their Week 1 game against Beaverton but then railed off eight-straight wins, ultimately finishing with a 20-18 loss to Lake City in the D7 regional championship.
And this fall has been no different. The Huskies have outscored their opponents 363-31 with their defense posting eight shutouts (one of those shutouts was a forfeit win over Vestaburg).
“It really has been fun to just go through it all,” said Robinson, a 1999 Roscommon graduate. “But it also brings a lot of pressure. As you get better, you don’t want something you do to negatively impact the team. They’re all busting their butts. It’s exciting to watch these kids. They love football as much as I did when I played football.”
Breckenridge runs a veer offense, mostly out of the spread. Robinson guessed the Huskies pass about 20 percent of the time.
“We feel like if we’re firing on all cylinders right now,” he said.
They’ll look to test the Cardinals, who held Merrill to just eight points in the pre-district last week.
But Robinson knows J-L’s offense is what he needs to worry about the most.
“They’re extremely, extremely fast,” he said. They run the (wing-T) well and do things that’ll put us in a bad spot. They’re explosive and a very, very good football team.”
Robinson said for Breckenridge to get past J-L, it’ll have to play physical on both sides of the ball, not have too many turnovers and limit its mistakes.
He admitted doing all that will be tough because the Cardinals aren’t an easy out.
“They’re the hottest team in the state of Michigan right now,” he said. “They’ve won nine games in a row after a tough Week 1 loss (to Manton).”
Breckenridge at a glance
2017 Record: 10-2 (7-0 Mid-State).
2017 Finish: Lost to Lake City in D7 regional, 20-18.
2018 Record: 10-0 (5-0 Mid-State).
Last Week: Beat Frankfort in D8 opener, 58-0.
Key Players: S Lukas Ebright, QB Carter Staley, OG Hunter Smith
Worth Noting: J-L and Breckenridge have never met in football. Since the Huskies went 0-9 in 2015, they’ve gone 29-3 the last three seasons.
Gehringer's late TD, defense carry No. 4 Cardinals past Merrill in playoff opener
JOHANNESBURG – Kevin Gehringer wasn't going to be denied this time.
Early in the second half, the Johannesburg-Lewiston senior had a touchdown called back because of a questionable penalty. It was a score that would have likely put the game away for the Cardinals.
So when his offense got the ball back, they continued to call his number. Rush after rush, Gehringer got the Cardinals inside the 10. Then he punched in a 4-yard TD that ensured his team the win.
The No. 4 Cardinals edged visiting Merrill 15-8 in the first round of the Division 8 playoffs. They'll visit top-ranked Breckenridge in the district championship game at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2.
"It was a very important drive," said Gehringer, who finished with 78 yards rushing. "I was just driving and kept going. I wanted to put the game away."
Coincidently, that drive looked awfully familiar to the one the Cardinals used to knock off then-undefeated Harbor Springs for the conference title.
J-L's offense, which struggled against Merrill for most of the night, couldn't get its dive play to work how it wanted to. So quarterback Tanner Shimel and coach Joe Smokevitch made the same adjustment they had made against the Rams. Tight end Tyson Claeys was to do a kick-out block, while halfback Brett Crandell was to lead Gehringer through the outside hole.
Just like Week 7, the audible worked to perfection.
"I called a play, and Tanner said, 'Do you want to run that play or THIS instead,'" Smokevitch recalled. "I said, 'Oh yeah, I forgot about that,' because we had talked about using that play at halftime.
"That's what we did against Harbor, and we made the same adjustment, and it worked out great for us. Kevin looked like a man possessed. I think he was upset when they called him back on that earlier touchdown, so I was just going to keep feeding him. And that was huge for Kevin.
"He just played possessed."
J-L attempted the extra point to make it a 14-point game, but the snap was botched. However, kicker Tyler Madej picked up the loose ball and lofted a nearly-intercepted pass to Tyson Claeys, who walked in for the two-point conversion, giving J-L a 15-0 advantage with 6:32 left.
The Vandals marched the field and trimmed their deficit to only seven points after Montana Glazier hauled in a TD pass from Logan Heath. Heath also rushed in the ensuing two-point conversion.
The Cardinals looked to ice the game on their next possession, however, they fumbled the ball in scoring territory, giving Merrill one final drive to either knot the score or go for the win.
First, Claeys came up with a huge sack on Heath around the 30-yard line.
"We just knew we had to play the same defense we've been playing," said Claeys of the unfortunate fumble on the previous drive. "We didn't really have any more pressure on us than we did the whole rest of the game, honestly. We just had to play our D.
"We were fine."
The Cardinals were certainly fine. Logan Finnerty intercepted Heath on the ensuing play.
"I was actually looking at Tyson," said Finnerty, who had two interceptions on the night. "I thought he had the sack. But (Heath) threw it high, and I just had the recovery. So I got up there and grabbed the ball."
Heath's pass was high, which allowed Finnerty to stop, make an adjustment toward the ball and out-leap the intended receiver.
Then J-L's offense kneeled out the rest of the clock.
"It was huge," Finnerty continued. "It really sealed the deal for us. It was a good play.
"(We were thinking) just play bend, don't break. Whatever we get thrown our way, just keep going – no matter what."
Added defensive coordinator Cody Proctor: "That was humongous that they came back like that. That speaks a lot to what they are. Obviously, the same guys who play defense play on offense, too. So to see them pick themselves up, go back
Proctor gave his defense one brief message before they took the field to try and halt Merrill's potential winning drive.
"I told them THIS is what we do," the assistant said. "We step up when it's time to step up. We had no doubt when we went back on defense that we were going to make a play. We do it all the time. They pride themselves so much on defense that I had no doubt they'd pull it out."
Once again, Sheldon Huff led the defense, this time collecting 12 tackles and one sack. Crandell also intercepted a pass and added eight tackles.
Smokevitch said the defense's play helped bail out the offense, which isn't used to being slowed down like it was against the Vandals.
"I thought it was great defense. Period," the sixth-year coach said. "We read in the paper about what a great defensive coach (Merrill) had and everything like that. Yeah, well, Cody Proctor is one of the best there is around. Bar none. He does a great job coaching up our kids."
Offensively, Finnerty added 89 yards rushing while Crandell had 64.
Gehringer took the opening kickoff 78 yards for a score, the game's only points until the back-and-forth fourth quarter.
The senior said he noticed in film study that Merrill left running room up the middle with its kickoff coverage. So after bobbling the ball for a second or two, Gehringer took off up the middle – almost untouched.
"It was just studying film, I guess," Gehringer said. "All week I was studying their kickoff – and I didn't like how they defended it. I was watching the other teams, and they were always going outside.
"I knew if you looked in, there was a gap every time. So I looked in, there was a gap, they all bit and I cut back in."
JOHANNESBURG – Christian Wiley is a self-proclaimed “football junkie,” who keeps tabs on most Division 8 teams around the state.
And, yes, that means the fourth-year Merrill coach has jotted down plenty of notes about Johannesburg-Lewiston, ranked No. 4 in the season’s final Associated Press D8 poll. The Cardinals (8-1) host the Vandals (6-3) to open the postseason at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26.
Wiley is practically salivating at the thought of seeing his stout defense try and take on the Cardinals’ nearly-unstoppable wing-T offense.
“Our defense is definitely our strong suit,” Wiley said Tuesday night. “We were 6-3, but we could have easily been 8-1 had we strung some offense together in some of those losses. The really good teams we've played, like Carson City-Crystal (8-1) and Breckenridge (9-0, ranked No. 1 in D8), we held them to very few points for most of the game.
“We lost to Breckenridge 36-0, but it was a 14-0 game in the fourth quarter. They’re the top-ranked team in the state right now, and we played right with them. We lost after we had four players leave with injuries. So we have some kids who can hit, and it’ll for sure be an interesting matchup because Johannesburg-Lewiston has quite the offense.”
Wiley is referring to a conglomerate of Cardinals with that statement. Whether it’s FGC, Inc., the name given to their running backs – Kevin Gehringer, Logan Finnerty and Brett Crandell – or quarterback Tanner Shimel and tight end Tyson Claeys or the offensive linemen, like Tyler Madej, Matthew Davison and Garrett May, they’re a very tough offense to slow down.
But, according to Wiley, Merrill has one of the best defensive coordinators around in Tony Monk, who employs a four-man front the Vandals hope will slow down J-L’s rushing attack.
“Tony Monk is top-notch and scouts like crazy,” Wiley said. “I see him at times during games call just about every play the opposing offense is running before it happens. He studies film and is good at what he does. He has our kids prepared every week. It’s impressive watching him call out opponents’ plays before the snap every week.”
Wiley says the key to stopping J-L’s offense is to create turnovers. He harks back to the Cardinals’ Week 1 loss to Manton.
“When you look at that game, they had five turnovers in that game,” Wiley added. “If we can create some turnovers, and we don’t turn it over ourselves, I think that will be the big difference in the game.”
Offensively, Merrill isn’t lights-out, but the Cardinals will definitely have to come prepared to stop the Vandals. They run the spread offense and look to pass the ball about 40 percent of the time. They use several different three- and four-wide receiver sets, which has helped four different running backs rush for almost 200 or more yards.
Quarterback Logan Heath has thrown for 570 yards and seven touchdowns since replacing the original QB, Montana Glazier, who accounted for 358 yards passing. Glazier now plays running back. He has 480 yards and two TDs rushing since the switch.
But, again, anything that happens in this game shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to Wiley. He’s done plenty of research over the years on the local football scene here in northern Michigan.
“I’ve been in Merrill for 21 years – but only four years as the varsity head coach – and we’ve played tons of northern Michigan teams,” he said. “We’ve played Traverse City St. Francis, Fife Lake (Forest Area) and McBain, so we’ve played up that way a lot. We even played Whittemore-Prescott this year.
“My staff and I are big football people, and we watch around the state and always know what’s going on. We knew about them (J-L) and knew they were having a good season. It’s going to be a good matchup.”
Merrill at a glance
2017 Record: 3-6 (3-4 Mid-State).
2017 Finish: Missed D8 postseason.
2018 Record: 6-3 (2-3 Mid-State).
Last Week: Beat Fowler, 22-20.
Key Players: QB Logan Heath, RB Montana Glazier, RB Brady Siler.
Worth Noting: J-L and Merrill have never met before, but Merrill has faced several opponents the Cardinals have played in the regular season or postseason the past decade, including Lincoln Alcona, Whittemore-Prescott, Forest Area and Frankfort, among others.
No. 7 Cardinals win first outright conference title since 1998
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor
JOHANNESBURG — No. 7 Johannesburg-Lewiston looked like a football team hungry to cap off an amazing regular season Friday night.
Brett Crandell took the opening handoff 72 yards for a touchdown, and the Cardinals (8-1) never looked back in their 67-14 win over Inland Lakes.
They scored 10 touchdowns to remain undefeated in the Northern Michigan Football League-Legacy and win their first conference title since 2009. It was their first outright championship since 1998.
What’s more, the victory gave them enough playoff points to earn a home game in Round 1 of the Division 8 postseason. They’ll host Merrill (6-3) to open the district tournament at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26.
But that conference title, that’s something J-L wanted to make sure it celebrated over the weekend. That was a long time coming.
“I think it’s huge,” said coach Joe Smokevitch, whose Cardinals have qualified for the playoffs in five of his six seasons on the sidelines. “We’ve had some great teams that just haven’t been able to win the conference championship. So that says a lot about our kids and what they’ve gone through this year. How well they’ve played and the determination they’ve played with has just been great.”
Getting that final win of the regular season harked back to more aggressive blocking from the offensive line and tight ends.
The Cardinals scored four TDs alone in the first quarter to clinch the win. After Crandell (seven carries, 107 yards) scored on his first carry, the senior scored again from 21 yards out on the ensuing handoff.
Immediately afterward, they recovered the ensuing kickoff by merely outracing Inland Lakes’ players to the loose ball laying on the ground. Then Kevin Gehringer went on to break a 32-yard TD, his first of five scores on the night, to fully swing momentum in the Cardinals’ direction.
Gehringer finished with a staggering 212 yards on only nine carries. As the senior was carrying a trap handoff 51 yards for a TD, which made the score 47-14 at halftime, Smokevitch turned to his players on the sideline and yelled, “That was it. That’s 1,000 yards on the season for Kevin.”
Gehringer said he’s going to repay Smokevitch this week in practice.
“Just working extra hard in practice every day, like we have been,” he said. “If it’s extra sprints, we’ve got to keep doing it.”
Logan Finnerty added eight carries for 105 yards rushing, but the junior left the game early with an injury.
Austin Carroll and Matt Ross each scored 4-yard rushing TDs in the fourth.
“They’re just amazing, every single one of them,” said captain Tyler Madej, referencing his teammates along the O-line. “They all blocked their hearts out. We all put in the work. We all do everything to push hard.”
Added Smokevitch: “Our rushing attack was huge tonight. ... It’s a three-headed attack, and those kids (Gehringer, Crandell and Finnerty) are great. I couldn’t ask for a better offensive line either.
“Tyler and Garrett (May) are probably two of the best linemen in the league, opening up holes and getting out there and running (while pulling), allowing Kevin, Brett and Logan to get out there and run. It’s huge.”
Through the air, Tanner Shimel found tight end Tyson Claeys for a 5-yard TD in the first half. Claeys, too, was excited about the O-line’s play.
“We’re a tough line, collectively,” the captain said. “We all love to block, and we take pride in blocking — run blocking, pass blocking, anything you ask of us. We’re going to get it done for the coaches.”
Defensively, J-L held Inland Lakes to 209 yards of total offense. Shimel and May came up with interceptions, four different Cardinals fell on fumbles and Crandell and Claeys each recorded 10 tackles. Claeys finished with the team’s lone sack on the night.
“You see them work hard during the off-season and work hard during the games,” Smokevitch said. “I can’t be more proud of this group of kids. I thought we had a chance to run the table at the beginning of the year. We slipped up against Manton, but it’s a great group of kids.”
Madej said the Cardinals played extra spirited because “we knew it’d probably be one of our last home games.” But now that they’re guaranteed at least one more home game, they can carry that spirit into the playoffs.
“The seniors came out, and we knew we had to get pumped up,” Madej said. “We just wanted to come out and get pumped up.”
And the Cardinals likely will again on Friday when Merrill comes to town.
The football playoff matchups are set.
No. 7 Johannesburg-Lewiston (8-1) hosts Merrill to open the Division 8 district tournament, while Gaylord (6-3) visits Cedar Springs in D3. Both games will kickoff at 7 p.m. Friday from their respective sites.
Playoff games were announced during the annual MHSAA playoff show on Fox Sports Detroit on Sunday. Athletic directors from both J-L and Gaylord confirmed the start times and dates.
Scrambling to break down the tape
• J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said he's taking Monday off of work to break down game film of Merrill because, well, frankly, "We don't know a thing about them. We have no clue."
Smokevitch said he's received tape of Merrill (6-3) from Whittemore-Prescott coach Tom Atkinson and a few other sources (Merrill edged W-P 12-3 during Week 2).
"We'll break it down and see what they do defensively," the sixth-year coach said. "Whittemore-Prescott is a wing-T team like us, so I'll get a good look at what they did against it."
The Vandals won three games decided by six points or fewer as well as a forfeit victory over Burton Atherton in Week 8. Their schedule wasn't as daunting as the one the Cardinals just blitzed through.
The winner between J-L and Merrill will face the winner of the Frankfort (5-4) at Breckenridge (9-0) game on the other side of the district. Should Frankfort win its Round 1 matchup, the Cardinals would host the Round 2 matchup between the two teams, which would be for the district title.
There's a chance, should the bracket shake out in J-L's favor, it wouldn't play a road game until the third round.
"We were pretty excited we get to a host a game," Smokevitch said. "We want to host two games so it'd be really nice if Frankfort did beat Breckenridge. If not, we'll go about business as usual.
"Our kids are just excited to be in the playoffs and excited to take that next step. It's just one step at a time. And they're all like us coaches: They don't know about either Merrill or Breckenridge."
Instant reaction: No. 7 Cardinals claim conference title, Blue Devils earn playoff spot
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor
Week 9 brought the end of the regular season for Otsego County's three teams,
Official playoff pairings will be released Sunday night. Check back with us at petoskeynews.com/football to learn where your team is headed.
Here's a quick recap of what happened tonight.
J-L 67, Inland Lakes 14
The No. 7 Cardinals (8-1) finished the Northern Michigan Football League-Legacy 6-0 with the win, claiming their first outright conference championship since 1998 and first title since 2009.
Kevin Gehringer rushed nine times for 212 yards and five touchdowns. The senior eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the year.
Brett Crandell (107 yards rushing) scored the opening two TDs from 72 and 21 yards, respectively, while Tyson Claeys, Austin Carroll and Matt Ross each scored. Logan Finnerty gained 105 yards rushing.
Wait, Logan Finnerty did what?!Cardinals roll Newberry in NMFL-Legacy battle
Logan Finnerty might be the only football player in MHSAA history to score two touchdowns in a three-second span.
The junior raced 21 yards to give No. 6 Johannesburg-Lewiston a 14-12 advantage Friday at Newberry. On the ensuing kickoff, the ball rolled around until Brett Crandell decked an opposing ball carrier and forced a fumble that Finnerty managed to return for a 25-yard score. Only three ticks came off the scoreboard.
"It was pretty much all Crandell," said Finnerty, whose Cardinals won the Northern Michigan Football League-Legacy matchup 66-18 and clinched a share of the conference title. "He made a hit, the kid fumbled it and I had the perfect lane into the end zone. It was pretty crazy because I was coming off a score, and then I scored right after that."
Finnerty's timing couldn't have been any better. It was basically all Indians in the first quarter and the second was shaping up to be more of the same. Early fumbles plagued J-L's offense, while its defense looked sluggish.
"It was so weird because our guys weren't playing bad, but they were kind of flat," coach Joe Smokevitch said. "That was pretty big with him scoring and then turning around and getting the scoop and score right away. It was pretty big, and it gave us momentum and it kept Newberry down. Our kids just stayed with it."
The Cardinals (7-1) went on to score six of the next seven touchdowns, with each of its three starting running backs finishing with over 100 yards. Finnerty (13 carries, 196 yards) scored once more, Crandell (10 carries, 117 yards) scored three times and Kevin Gehringer (19 carries, 118 yards) sprinted 32 yards for a TD in the fourth.
Tyson Claeys opened the game with a 10-yard TD reception from Tanner Shimel, while Matt Ross pounded in a 4-yard rushing TD late in the fourth.
Defensively, Sheldon Huff finished with 14 tackles (seven solo), Crandell added 10 tackles and one interception and Gehringer ended with a sack.
"That was a game-changer," Finnerty said, reflecting on his crazy two scoring plays in the second. "It shifted all our mindsets and boosted us. It pushed us to do better in the upcoming quarters, for sure."
Added defensive coordinator Cody Proctor: "You could really see them change right there. I wouldn't say they were ever down, but they realized they had put themselves in a battle. You could see the switch flip right there and that they were ready to go now. You could see it on Newberry's sideline as well."
The Cardinals want to keep up this momentum entering the final week of the regular season. They host Inland Lakes (0-8) with a chance to win the outright NMFL-Legacy championship Friday, Oct. 19.
Their last two Ski Valley championships were shared with other conference teams – the most recent coming in 2009 – and none of J-L's coaches can remember the last time a title was won outright.
"We're riding on the bus ride home here, and none of us can figure out when the last time was we won it outright," Smokevitch said. "So the biggest thing is we've been taking it one step at a time, one step at a time and one step at a time all season long. So we want to take the next step and accomplish our next goal, which is winning the conference title outright and collecting a few more playoff points."
An Inland Lakes upset shouldn't be in the equation, but for whatever reason the Bulldogs make a game out of it, the Cardinals know they can score a few quick touchdowns if they need them. All it takes is three seconds.
No. 5 Cardinals knock off undefeated Harbor Springs
Kevin Gehringer was in serious pain.
The Johannesburg-Lewiston senior suffered three Charley horses during Friday's Northern Michigan Football League-Legacy matchup at Harbor Springs.
Fewer than three minutes remained. His team was trailing, 15-13. The Cardinals needed to score to remain in the hunt for a league title.
"I looked over and saw the scoreboard," Gehringer said. "Brett Crandell was to my right. I looked right at him, and he was like, 'Just hide it. Just work hard.'"
Shortly afterward, Gehringer (18 carries, 44 yards) powered in for a 3-yard touchdown with 1:34 left, helping J-L come back and take an 18-15 lead. On the ensuing series, Tanner Shimel pulled down an interception to ensure the win for the Cardinals, who happily knocked off the undefeated Rams.
The win clinched a playoff berth for the fifth-ranked Cardinals (6-1, 4-0 NMFL-Legacy), their second-straight appearance and fifth in six years under coach Joe Smokevitch, and made the Legacy race much more interesting coming down the stretch. If J-L beats both Newberry, which it visits Friday, Oct. 12, and Inland Lakes, it'll win the league title outright. If it splits those games, it'll share the championship with the Rams.
"The biggest thing is we came out tonight and clinched the playoffs," said Smokevitch, whose squad lost to Lincoln Alcona in the Division 8 playoff opener in 2017. "The other big thing is we're one step closer to a league championship, and we've got to be worried about Newberry now.
"With Newberry and Inland Lakes, we're not looking past anybody. Next week we want to clinch the league championship tie, and then we want to hopefully win it outright."
Turnovers in scoring territory marred play for both squads in the first half, which saw J-L and Harbor Springs enter halftime with a 0-0 tie.
With 4:25 remaining in the third, Harbor Springs finally cracked the scoreboard when David Harrell hauled in an 88-yard TD pass from Grant Richardson.
One minute into the ensuing drive, Shimel tossed a 15-yard TD pass to Tyson Claeys. Harbor Springs blocked the extra point attempt, keeping the score at 7-6, but the Cardinals fell on a fumble during Harbor Springs' next possession.
Then Brett Crandell (16 carries, 170 yards) broke off an 81-yard TD run that gave J-L its first lead, 12-7.
"Tyson pretended to go out for a pass, and that let Brett cut inside to make a big run," Smokevitch said. "That's when we started hammering it down the field. We were essentially able to play physical football after that."
The Rams wouldn't go away, though, as Richardson rushed in for a 10-yard TD, and then Harbor Springs added the two-point conversion to regain the lead 15-13 with 5:55 left.
Fortunately, Gehringer had enough left in the tank to push the Cardinals to victory after Richardson's TD run.
"It feels great," Gehringer said. "We know that we can't be stopped. This win is just another step toward the conference championship. We know we just got to keep going."
Offensively, J-L struggled with its rushing early in the night, but assistant Doug Kussrow radioed down from the press box to Smokevitch with a change that ultimately helped the Cardinals' rushers get back on track.
"Doug made the comment of 'Why don't you run a blast to the dive hole and have Brett lead?'" Smokevitch recalled. "I said, 'Hey, that's a good idea. We started doing that.'"
Crandell would rush through the hole and track down Harbor Springs' linebackers to free up space for his teammates carrying the ball. "That worked very well," Gehringer said. "That one linebacker we were running into all night. When we sent Brent through, Brent was just stalking him all over the place, and it was making it way easier for us to get places. Brett Crandell stepped up."
Sheldon Huff paced the Cardinals' defense with 12 tackles (six solos) and a fumble recovery, followed by Claeys with nine tackles and a sack, Tyler Madej with eight tackles and two fumble recoveries, Crandell with eight tackles, Shimel with two interceptions and Logan Finnerty with one interception. The defense accounted for six turnovers.
Juniors May, Davidson provide blocking boost for Cardinals' rushers
JOHANNESBURG – If you want to play on the offensive line for the Johannesburg-Lewiston football team, you've got to be an athlete.
In fact, sometimes the linemen are more athletic than the running backs (looking at you Nate Fox and Joel Kussrow).
The Cardinals, 5-1 and ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press' Division 8 poll Tuesday, are getting plenty of athleticism from a pair of junior linemen in Matthew Davidson and Garrett May.
While May got a taste of varsity football as a JV call-up last season, he and Davidson are getting a master's course of experience in what it's like to be the lead blockers for J-L's three-headed monster of a backfield, which includes Kevin Gehringer, Brett Crandell and Logan Finnerty.
"We just push them to the limits," coach Joe Smokevitch said. "They've had no problems when I tell them what they have to do. They go out and do it."
Each of those running backs has had multiple 100-yard rushing games thanks to the O-line. And they'll need help from those guys up front when they visit undefeated Harbor Springs with a chance to both earn an automatic berth into the playoffs and knock off the Rams in the hunt for the Northern Michigan Football League-Legacy title Friday, Oct. 5.
"It's just great knowing that making a good block can help them," Davidson said. "They're so fast that they can turn that into a touchdown or get 20 yards, 40 yards, whatever."
Added Gehringer, who has followed behind both May and Davidson into the end zone this fall: "They're absolutely amazing. They're always making dummy calls, doing this, doing that. For juniors, they're doing a hell of a job, I would say. They're fast, too. Every day at practice they're working to get better."
That's certainly so. At the beginning of the season, the blocking duo was unhappy with how they blocked on passing plays. Over the course of the season, they've improved their pass protection in practice.
That effort has paid dividends. Quarterback Tanner Shimel threw three touchdowns in Friday's 34-0 win over Charlevoix.
"We've definitely gotten better," Davidson said. "But in past games, we've let Tanner down as far as passing, so we need to keep getting better."
Added May: "Our pass protection still needs some work, and we need to stay with our blocks and continue getting better as a team together. We got to think with our heads. It's not all about brawn."
While May and Davidson are stepping in and proving to be some of the best blockers in the NMFL-Legacy as juniors, they both say it harks back to the chemistry they've created since playing together on the Oilers teams in elementary school.
"I've played with them since fifth grade, so we've known each other a long time, playing together on the line," Davidson said.
All eyes on Friday night
• There's no overlooking Friday's game at Harbor Springs. While it's homecoming for the Rams, so much more is on the line.
J-L is after its sixth win to ensure a playoff spot for the second-straight year and fifth time under Smokevitch, who is in his sixth year. A win will also determine the NMFL-Legacy champion. Harbor Springs is 5-0 in the conference, and this is its final league game. The Cardinals have Newberry and Inland Lakes to end the season, but both matchups are winnable games.
Getting past the Rams will be a challenge but doable. Harbor Springs has played a few of its opponents to close finishes, including needing a pair of fourth-quarter TDs to finally knock off St. Mary last week. J-L, which is ranked in both the AP and Detroit Free Press polls, should have the advantage, despite playing on the road.
Harbor Springs at a glance
2017 Record: 4-5 (3-2 NFML-Legacy).
2017 Finish: Missed D7/D8 postseason.
2018 Record: 6-0 (5-0 NMFL-Legacy).
Last Week: Beat St. Mary, 23-16.
Key Players: QB Grant Richardson, RB Jackson Wells, FB Jeep Damoose.
Worth Noting: J-L and Harbor Springs are 1-1 in the all-time series. Friday's matchup will likely decide the NMFL-Legacy, as it's the undefeated Rams' final conference game.
No. 7 Cardinals blank Rayders, now 1 win from playoffs
JOHANNESBURG – Tanner Shimel's first pass attempt was nearly intercepted.
Couple that play with the off-and-on rain, and it looked like the No. 7 Johannesburg-Lewiston football team wasn't going to pass much Friday. It's a good thing coach Joe Smokevitch didn't give up on airing it, though.
Shimel and Tyson Claeys connected for three touchdown passes, including two in the second half, and the Cardinals blanked Charlevoix 34-0 during a homecoming matchup.
"No, it didn't go very well on that first play," said Smokevitch, whose team improved to 5-1. "That was kind of the thought process early on, but we thought they (Charlevoix) were weak on pass plays. I thought we'd be able to get the ball into Tyson's hands. So that was huge."
J-L is one win away from clinching its second-straight playoff berth. It visits undefeated Harbor Springs for a Northern Michigan Football League-Legacy game Friday, Oct. 5. That game will likely determine the conference champion as long as the Cardinals take care of business the final two weeks against Newberry and Inland Lakes.
The Cardinals secured the win against Charlevoix with a pair of rushing TDs in the first quarter. First, Brett Crandell (11 carries, 108 yards) escaped a tackle and made it 53 yards up the middle for a touchdown. Then Kevin Gehringer (11 carries, 89 yards) had 24 yards to make it 15-0 entering the second.
Smokevitch revisited the throwing game just before halftime. Shimel lofted a 20-yard pass for Claeys that went for a score, giving J-L a 21-0 advantage entering the halftime locker room.
The Cardinals' offense iced the win when Shimel threw TD passes of 24 and 18 yards to Claeys in the third and fourth quarter.
"Just as a team, it feels good to bounce back," said Claeys of the early throwing miscues. "Not just Tanner and I but as a team. We were able to have confidence in ourselves and say, 'Hey, we need to be able to do this and execute right now.' We came back and executed, and it was a pretty big deal."
Smokevitch said he saw opportunities to beat Charlevoix's defense through the air while game planning earlier in the week. Claeys finished with three receptions for 65 yards, while Shimel was 3 of 5 passing.
"It's great, and it (passing) obviously doesn't happen a ton around here," Claeys continued. "I'm very thankful our team was able to pull those out. We played well. Our pass blockers did a solid job. It definitely feels good."
Logan Finnerty added 13 carries for 82 yards, while Brazilian exchange student Gui Lopes booted in his first-career PAT attempt.
Defensively, the Cardinals rose to the challenge when Charlevoix was knocking on the door to score touchdowns. Twice the Rayders made it inside the red zone. And twice the Cardinals shut down Charlevoix on fourth down from the 15-yard line.
The first fourth-down opportunity came in the opening quarter when linebacker Sheldon Huff came up with a sack on fourth and 7.
"It's definitely big," Huff said of the fourth-down stops. "We're well put together, and we all work together as a team. We all called out the guards and who was pulling, and that helped out the team. We all talked and cooperated."
The other big stop came midway through the fourth when Tanner Shimel and a host of defensive backs batted down Charlevoix's pass attempt.
"I got to say, it was a little different of a challenge," Huff added. "But it was sort of a blast doing it (defending the passes). It was a good time."
Crandell and Finnerty each came up with interceptions in the second half, Dan Runyan recorded a pair of sacks, including a strip sack, and Huff finished with a team-high 12 tackles (eight solo). Matthew Davidson also had a sack.
The Cardinals now set their sights on a must-win game against Harbor Springs, which narrowly beat St. Mary 26-13 this week. The Rams (6-0, 5-0 NMFL-Legacy) needed two late TDs to clinch the win.
"The biggest thing is to just go out there and get the win," Smokevitch said. "That's huge for us to go 6-1 and get into the playoffs. We'll think about the league championship down the road. We still have Newberry and Inland Lakes after that. We have a lot of video on them, and we'll spend a lot of time this week breaking them down."
Quick Recap: Rayders shutout against Johannesburg-Lewiston
JOHANNESBURG — It was another tough night for Charlevoix’s football team as the Rayders fell, 34-0, to Johannesburg-Lewiston Friday.
The Cardinals took control early with a 53-yard rushing touchdown on the third play of the game to take an 8-0 lead.
Charlevoix’s defense continued to struggle as the Cardinals scored on a 24-yard rushing touchdown to end the first quarter ahead, 15-0.
J-L continued to dominate on offense, this time through the air as the Cardinals scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass to take a three-score lead into halftime.
Charlevoix buckled down in the third quarter, but the Rayders couldn’t find any offense throughout the game.
The Cardinals struck fast in the fourth quarter with a 24-yard touchdown pass and added their final score a few minutes later to go up, 34-0, handing the Rayders their second shutout defeat of the season.
At 1-5, Charlevoix is eliminated from playoff contention for the second straight year and is off to its worst start since 2013.
Charlevoix will look to regroup next Friday against Mancelona.
FGC, Inc.: Cardinals' rushing attack all business against rival Snowbirds
Johannesburg-Lewiston football coach Joe Smokevitch apologized to Kevin Gehringer for not getting him many rushing yards during last week's win at East Jordan. The Red Devils' defense game planned for the senior fullback and basically took him out of the game.
Gehringer bounced back by rushing 25 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns, including a 46-yarder at 7:25 of the second quarter that sealed the game for the Cardinals. They topped rival St. Mary 43-7 to improve to 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the Northern Michigan Football League-Legacy.
J-L, ranked No. 9 in the Week 5 Associated Press' Division 8 poll, hosts Charlevoix for homecoming Friday, Sept. 28.
"It was huge for Kevin, and, again, it's just how the game went," Smokevitch said. "We had a pretty slow start (J-L and St. Mary were scoreless in the first quarter), but we finally started running Kevin, and it was open in the middle all night. We ran the same fullback trap multiple times, and it was great for Kevin. We just rode him all night."
Gehringer is just 1/3 of what Smokevitch calls "FGC, Inc.," a moniker the sixth-year coach has given his three-headed monster of a backfield. Each week, at least one of his running backs has popped off for major yards. When Gehringer was struggling to find daylight last week, Logan Finnerty, the "F" in "FGC, Inc." rushed for almost 200 yards. A couple weeks ago, Brett Crandell, the "C," had a similar game and carried the load against Mancelona.
The incorporation proved to be a boon again against the Snowbirds, as Finnerty left the game with concussion-like symptoms. Although Crandell finished with 61 yards on 16 carries, including a 3-yard rush to open the second quarter, Gehringer's workload was needed.
"It feels absolutely awesome to be part of this backfield," Gehringer said. "'FGC, Inc.' is what Smoke calls it, and it's been a joke we've had all season long. And we're not stingy about who gets the carries either. We're happy for whoever does well because that helps us get the wins.
"And it's not just about the guy who gets all the yards. Us other backs have to carry out our fakes. If you carry out a good fake, that's one less defender you have to block, which means you can get even more yards."
Tanner Shimel intercepted St. Mary quarterback Brady Hunter in the first quarter to set up Crandell's opening score in the second. Shortly afterward, Gehringer rushed in the game-clinching TD, and then Shimel called his own number and rushed in a 12-yard score to ensure J-L a 22-7 halftime lead.
Gehringer scored on a 12-yard rush to open the second half, and then he kick started the running-clock rule with a 22-yard TD at 1:43 in the third.
"It's huge having that three-headed monster thing," Smokevitch said.
Also playing well was Austin Carroll, who filled in with Finnerty sidelined. Carroll broke off a 35-yard rush to put the Cardinals in scoring position in the third. One player later, he punched in a 5-yard TD for his first score of the season.
"It was nice to see Austin do well," Smokevitch added. "He carried out his fakes really well, and he had a lot of fakes tonight. He blocked a lot, too. He thought he was in on that 35-yarder, but I'm glad to see him get in the end zone."
Nic Switalski scored St. Mary's lone TD on a pass from Hunter at 4:40 in the second. Hunter rolled to his right and threw across his shoulder to an open Switalski, who managed to get away from J-L's linebackers. St. Mary (1-3, 1-2 NMFL-Legacy) hosts Harbor Springs next week.
Shimel finished with a pair of interceptions for J-L's defense, while Tyson Claeys fell on a fumble and Sheldon Huff pulled down an interception. Huff led with nine tackles (five solo), and Gehringer recorded a sack.
While the Cardinals are in the driver's seat to win the conference title, as they're competing against Harbor Springs and Newberry to win it all, they're not overlooking their non-conference game against Charlevoix next week.
"I think our kids came out with some jitters tonight because it was against a rival like St. Mary," Smokevitch said. "I think our kids will be fine against Charlevoix because that's not a rivalry game. We got to win against Charlevoix because a loss will cost you home-field advantage in the playoffs, and right now, we're competing against St. Ignace, Frankfort and Rogers City for that home-field advantage."
Gehringer agreed, adding: "Right now, we're just looking for playoff points. That's our main goal."
A win over Charlevoix would be huge, Gehringer said, even if his name is missing from the stat sheet afterward.
"I told Smokevitch after (he apologized to me) last week, it doesn't really matter about my yards this year," the senior said. "It's all about getting wins."
Quick recap: No. 9 Cardinals down rival Snowbirds
It took a full quarter for the Johannesburg-Lewiston Football team to get going, but once it did in the second, rival St. Mary couldn’t slow the Cardinals down Friday.
The Cardinals (4-1) beat the Snowbirds 43-7. They host Charlevoix for homecoming Friday, Sept. 28. They remain undefeated in NMFL-Legacy play.
Kevin Gehringer scores three TDs.
Three second-quarter TDs put the game away for the Cardinals. First, Tanner Shimel pulled down an interception that set up a 3-yard TD run by Brett Crandell at 10:21. Then Gehringer broke loose for a 46-yard TD run at 7:25. Shimel capped off the quarter with a QB keeper at 2:19, ensuring J-L a 22-7 halftime lead.
Gehringer opened the second half with a quick score on a fullback trap at 8:07. Then Austin Carroll scored on 1-yard run at 4:56 to give J-L a 36-7 advantage. Shortly afterward, Gehringer scored once more to start the running-clock rule.
St. Mary’s Brady Hunter found Nic Switalski for a TD pass at 4:40 in the second.
Finnerty shakes 'boo-boo kid' moniker, pushes Cardinals to key win
ST. IGNACE – Logan Finnerty has come a long way for the Johannesburg-Lewiston football team.
"On the JV, he was known as the boo-boo kid," coach Joe Smokevitch said.
Finnerty decided to change the perception his coaches have of him over the summer. It's paid off so far this fall.
The junior running back rushed for a career-best 173 yards and two touchdowns, including the winning score on 7-yard run to open the third quarter, to help the Cardinals beat host St. Ignace 34-22 in a Northern Michigan Football League-Legacy game Friday.
J-L (3-1, 2-0 Legacy) hosts rival St. Mary (1-2, 1-1) for another conference game Friday, Sept. 21.
"Over the summer, I started getting in the weight room more, put in more effort and wanted to show the team that I can put my best into this and show them that I'm worth (playing running back)," said Finnerty, who carried 19 times. "Back in freshman and sophomore years, I didn't have the motivation that I have now.
"I just want to show everyone that that's not me anymore. (This season) has really given me confidence, and it helps getting into the weight room and getting all the support from my O-linemen. I've put on 25 pounds and getting bigger has helped. It's all been great since this summer."
The Cardinals nursed a 7-6 halftime advantage until Brett Crandell (17 carries, 87 yards) scored a 4-yard rushing TD at 10:34 in the third.
Shortly afterward, Finnerty broke open a 62-yard score to add to the Cardinals' lead.
"We were able to run the buck sweep with him," Smokevitch said. "We hooked the end, and got around the outside. Finnerty just had a great game.
"We ran the buck sweep, and both guards pinned the inside. Both guards got around the end, and he'd just bust big plays open with his speed."
Kevin Gehringer, J-L's bell-cow rusher, was limited to just 29 yards on 13 carries, as the Saints worked to take him out of the game plan.
Smokevitch said he apologized to Gehringer after the game, but the sixth-year coach said Gehringer responded by saying, "It's not a problem, coach. As long as we get the win, that's all I care about."
That created running lanes for Finnerty, who gave a lot of credit for his success to his offensive line.
"I like to run outside and get behind my blockers," Finnerty said. "Usually I can cut back, but I just pretty much ran hard today. Hard-nosed running. (Today's game) felt great, but I give all the glory to my linemen, honestly.
"I just got out there and had great blocks to run behind."
Tyson Claeys hauled in a 10-yard TD reception to give J-L an insurance touchdown in the fourth quarter. The senior also fell on a fumble in the end zone during the first to give the Cardinals their initial 7-6 edge.
Crandell led the defense with 10 tackles (seven solo), while Sheldon Huff, Tanner Shimel and Gehringer recorded eight apiece. Claeys finished with two sacks, Lance Upplegger reeled in an interception and Finnerty recovered a fumble.
The Cardinals are in the driver's seat to compete for a conference title. Now they know they have another running back like Finnerty to rely on as their schedule continues to get tougher.
"I told him the first day of practice, 'You can't be a boo-boo kid here anymore,'" Smokevitch said. "He hasn't disappointed us yet. He's fast. He's one of our fastest kids. He used to (sit out during games) because he was the kind of kid who just wanted that attention.
"He's overcome that and has matured. He's turned into a great athlete."
And Finnerty has helped the Cardinals turn into a great football team with conference-title hopes.
Cardinals' offense opportunistic in 42-0 win over East Jordan
EAST JORDAN – The Johannesburg-Lewiston football team marched down the field on its opening drive and found Tyson Claeys for an easy touchdown catch.
East Jordan used a shorter defensive back on the 6-foot-5 tight end. Claeys reached over the top of the defender and plucked the catch out of the air to give the Cardinals an early 7-0 lead Friday at Boswell Stadium.
After that, the Red Devils (0-3) used their best athlete, Jackson Raymond, to guard Claeys, ultimately taking Raymond away from the ball on most plays. The Cardinals took advantage of it, downing East Jordan 42-0 in their Northern Michigan Football League-Legacy opener.
J-L (2-1) visits St. Ignace (2-1) for another conference game Friday, Sept. 14.
"That No. 18 (Raymond) is a really good athlete, and they have good ballplayers," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "They used him to match Tyson, height-wise, and he could jump. That took away Tyson for us, so we looked at our other players. And they stepped up."
Logan Finnerty (74 yards), Kevin Gehringer (104 yards, two TDs) and Brett Crandell (77) each rushed in touchdowns for the Cardinals, who led 35-0 at halftime to kick start the running-clock rule in the second half.
"They took away Gehringer a bit in the first quarter, so we had to do things to make adjustments," \Smokevitch said. "We made adjustments at the line on the fly instead of waiting for halftime, which is something we haven't done since (2015)."
Another chief beneficiary of Raymond being distracted with Claeys was quarterback Tanner Shimel, who put together the best passing performance by a Cardinals player since Smokevitch became head coach six years ago. Shimel was 6 of 8 passing for 157 yards and threw TD passes to both Claeys and Finnerty.
Finnerty led with three catches for 68 yards receiving. The Cardinals finished with 492 yards of total offense.
"We still have some work to do (passing), though," Smokevitch said. "We had Tanner open up the wrong way on one pass play, and I messed the thing up with some poor play calling that got us into a bad situation once. We checked the wrong way. But he (Shimel) looked good, and I was really happy with how we looked throwing the ball."
Patrick Kennedy and Shimel each came up with an interception on defense, while Claeys recorded one sack. Sheldon Huff head a team-high seven tackles (three solo).
JOHANNESBURG – Last week, Brett Crandell texted Johannesburg-Lewiston defensive coordinator Cody Proctor and asked for permission to miss the football team's breakfast Friday morning.
Crandell had to pick up his truck from the mechanic during that time. While Crandell asking for permission doesn't sound newsworthy, it actually shows just how far the senior has come since last season.
"In the past, that would have been something he would have just blown off, so it's huge," coach Joe Smokevitch said. "Total attitude adjustment. Total leader on the team this year. It's been great. He's taken on a huge role this year."
Crandell showed glimpses of being a stellar running back for the Cardinals last season. But he was too unreliable. He'd loaf in practice at times, miss weight room lifting sessions or not make it to practice altogether.
A switch flipped during the off-season, motivating him to become a leader on the team. And so far this season, the Cardinals have benefited from his improved effort.
Crandell scored two touchdowns during J-L's 35-6 route of Mancelona in the home opener Friday.
"It's senior year. I decided to get serious about things," Crandell said. "I decided to show the team what I can do."
Kevin Gehringer (16 carries, 145 yards) remained the bell-cow for the Cardinals, but Crandell (39 yards) joins Gehringer and Logan Finnerty (69) in becoming the team's first three-headed monster rushing attack since 2015.
"He's become a big leader," said captain Tyler Madej of Crandell. "He showed a lot of improvement tonight. He's one of my best friends, and he came up big for us this week and last week. I think it's just his last year, so he wants to come in, be strong and make a difference."
Added Smokevitch: "He (Crandell) has gotten a lot bigger, he's gotten a lot faster. He likes to hit. He's a great lead blocker for us when we have to use him for that. It's been a great total turnaround for him. It's been nice. I wish he would've been that way last year."
Against Mancelona, the Cardinals trailed only momentarily. Tanner Shimel escaped pressure and hit Lance Upplegger with a 45-yard TD pass to knot the score 6-6 late in the first.
Crandell scored the next two TDs on runs of 3 and 8 yards, respectively, in the second to ensure J-L a 20-6 halftime lead.
Crandell, whose goal is to rush for 1,000 yards this season, said this game gave him confidence. It'll motivate his play going forward.
"Oh yeah, for sure," he said. "Not having any success (at the end of last season) actually motivated me even more. That's why I got into lifting this summer. We were lifting three days a week, and then conditioning started, and that was five days a week (to get me prepared)."
Finnerty opened the second half by getting around the edge for a 7-yard TD in the third.
In the fourth, a 62-yard run by Gehringer set up Shimel with a 1-yard QB keeper at 8:39.
"Kevin was able to break some runs," Smokevitch said. "They (Mancelona) started doing a little bit of an adjustment, so we moved some guys around, and that helped us out, too, obviously. It allowed us to throw the ball and get the quick pitch working."
The starting line of Madej, Garrett May, Tommy Runyan, Dan Runyan and Matthew Davidson appreciated how successful the running backs were.
"It's huge," Madej said. "We've worked a lot in practice and hit the sled. We worked on moving our feet and holding our blocks, and it worked out great for us this week."
Mancelona scored an easy TD in the first. A botched punt attempt allowed the Ironmen to quickly tackle Upplegger, the punter, at the 20-yard line. Moments later, Devan Letts plunged in for a 2-yard score to give his team a 6-0 advantage.
Madej led J-L's defense with 13 tackles (nine solo), while Sheldon Huff had 12 (nine).
Cardinals want to beat East Jordan for 3rd-straight year
• The Cardinals (1-1) visit East Jordan to open NMFL-Legacy action Friday, Sept. 7.
The Red Devils (0-2) are coming off their third-worst loss in school history, as they fell to Elk Rapids 62-0 last week. But they narrowly lost to Harbor Springs, which is 2-0 to start the year, in the season opener.
They last gave up 62 points in a game in 2014.
“We came out flat, and we couldn’t recover from it,” East Jordan coach Greg Kitson told the Petoskey News-Review this week. “That’s the kind of practice we had this week. The urgency wasn’t there. We have a lot of soul-searching to do.
“They can be as good as they want, but it’s not going to change without work. You can’t play flat. Football is an emotional game.”
The Cardinals haven't lost to East Jordan since the two joined the same conference three seasons ago.
They'll have to focus on stopping East Jordan's star player Jackson Raymond, who came up with a pair of interceptions against Harbor Springs and also hauled in four receptions as a receiver. Receiver Chandler Bartig is also another playmaker J-L's defense must slow down.
East Jordan at a glance
2017 Record: 1-8 (0-5 NMFL-Legacy)
2017 Finish: Missed D7 postseason.
2018 Record: 0-2.
Key Players: DB Jackson Raymond, WR Chandler Bartig, QB Cooper Stevenson
Worth Noting: J-L hasn't lost to East Jordan since the two joined the same conference three years ago.
Cardinals beat Mancelona in home opener
Mancelona struck first, but the Johannesburg-Lewiston football team struck often.
Brett Crandell scored twice, and the Cardinals downed the visiting Ironmen 35-6 in their home opener Friday.
J-L (1-1) visits East Jordan to open NMFL-Legacy play Friday, Sept. 7.
The Cardinals trailed only momentarily. Tanner Shimel escaped pressure and hit Lance Upplegger with a 45-yard TD pass to knot the score 6-6 late in the first.
Crandell scored the next two TDs on runs of 3 and 8 yards, respectively, in the second to ensure J-L a 20-6 halftime lead.
Logan Finnerty opened the second half by getting around the edge for a 7-yard TD in the third.
In the fourth, a 62-yard run by Kevin Gehringer set up Shimel with a 1-yard QB keeper at 8:39.
Mancelona scored an easy TD in the first. Miscommunication along the line allowed the Ironmen to quickly tackle Upplegger, the punter, at the 20-yard line. Moments later, Devan Letts plunged in for a 2-yard score to give his team a 6-0 advantage.
Power outage, fumbles plague Cardinals in season opener
MANTON – Johannesburg-Lewiston football coach Joe Smokevitch is bringing buckets of water to practice this week.
"Before every snap, the ball is going into the water," he said. "We got to get better at holding onto the ball when it's wet and slippery."
The Cardinals fumbled fives times during their 29-22 loss in the season opener Friday at Manton.
Fumbles aside, however, when Manton's football stadium lost power for 30 minutes, Johannesburg-Lewiston lost its momentum.
Jacob Haun rushed in the winning touchdown late in the fourth, helping the Rangers earn the comeback win.
Three separate outages delayed play in the third. The Cardinals' offense couldn't regain their mojo when the game resumed, even fumbling once in the end zone and allowing a safety.
"It was poor offensive coaching on my part," Smokevitch said. "When we fumbled, that safety gave them a huge momentum. We put the ball on the ground way more than we normally do. We had fumbles all over the place.
"Turnovers, fumbles and crazy penalties killed us. Even when we recovered the fumbles, it's still a wasted play."
Logan Finnerty intercepted two passes, returning one 75 yards to set up a Tanner Shimel rushing TD, and made two touchdown-saving tackles.
"I thought the defense played great," Smokevitch said. "They played hard. They stepped up and did a good job shutting them down.
"I know they gave up 27 points, but they got two picks on Manton's kids and played great the whole time. Manton got inside the 2, and due to penalties and tackles for loss, they didn't score, so they played great. Other than a few big plays, they did awesome."
Kevin Gehringer rushed for a 26-yard TD on J-L's second possession. Brett Crandell punched in the 2-point conversion on Shimel's 2-yard TD to ensure the Cardinals a 16-14 halftime lead.
Shimel left the game briefly with cramps. Patrick Kennedy stepped in at quarterback and rushed for a 10-yard score in the third.
"We just need to fix the little things offensively, and we'll be fine," Smokevitch said. "We need to make sure those wet balls won't hurt us."
Haun threw a 25-yard TD pass to Isaac Raden with 3:51 left in the first to trim Manton's deficit to 8-6. Haun threw another TD pass, this one for 45 yards, to Nick Dunham in the second. Raden was the one who fell on the safety before Haun scooted in for the winning score.
The Cardinals host Mancelona (1-0) for a non-conference game Friday, Aug. 31.
"There are just a lot of little things that need to be fixed," Smokevitch continued. "That won't take long to fix. We're just going to drill the heck out of the things we do and get better."
MANTON – When Manton's football stadium lost power for 30 minutes, Johannesburg-Lewiston lost its momentum.
Gavin Somers rushed in the winning touchdown late in the fourth, helping the Rangers earn a 29-22 comeback win over J-L in the season opener.
Three separate outages delayed play in the third. The Cardinals' offense couldn't regain their mojo when the game resumed, even fumbling once in the end zone and allowing a safety.
"It was poor offensive coaching on my part," coach Joe Smokevitch said. "When we fumbled, that safety gave them a huge momentum. We put the ball on the ground way more than we normally do. We had fumbles all over the place."
Logan Finnerty intercepted two passes, returning one 75 yards to set up a Tanner Shimel rushing TD, and made two touchdown-saving tackles.
"I thought the defense played great," Smokevitch said. "They played hard. They stepped up and did a good job shutting them down."
Kevin Gehringer rushed for a 27-yard TD on J-L's second possession. Brett Crandell punched in the 2-point conversion on Shimel's TD to ensure the Cardinals a 16-14 halftime lead.
Shimel left the game briefly with cramps. Patrick Kennedy stepped in at quarterback and rushed for a 15-yard score in the third.
The Cardinals host Mancelona (1-0) for a non-conference game Friday, Aug. 31.
Cardinals hoping to snap losing streak to Manton in season opener
JOHANNESBURG – The Johannesburg-Lewiston football team's two-game losing streak against Manton could come to an end this week.
The Cardinals visit the Rangers to open the season Friday, Aug. 24. Manton returns just five starters – three on offense and two on defense. It also has a new coach in Chris Salani, who wants to open up the offense and play a 4-3 defense.
"They back to the offense they ran the first time we played them, the spread," said J-L coach Joe Smokevitch, referencing his team's 35-32 win over the Rangers in 2015. "They got athletic ability, but they don't have the quality of linemen they've had in the past.
"But they do have some athletes, so a big thing will be limiting their big plays."
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Manton graduated most of the players that have burned them in the past. Gone are Jaden Perry, Hunter Ruell and Ethan Ancick, who helped their school finish 4-5 a year ago.
The players who are carrying the load this year are unproven.
"We are behind the eight-ball as far as talent this year, but we've got some kids coming up," Salani told the Cadillac Evening News during the summer. "We've just got to be disciplined in what we do and be ready every game."
From an offensive standpoint, Smokevitch says J-L will have opportunities to break open big plays.
"During their scrimmage last week, their defense lined up as a 6-1, but it's more of a 4-3 that looks like a 6-1," he said. "They (Manton's opponents) just pounded it on them. The other teams they played ran the spread, but they were able to run the ball between the tackles.
"That'll be our biggest thing, is to run the tackle holes and open things up for our fullback. Teams also had success throwing the ball against them in the scrimmage, too."
J-L returns a wealth of talent this season.
Tanner Shimel is back as a second-year starter at quarterback, while Patrick Kennedy will be his backup.
The Cardinals will have a host of running backs, but they should get plenty of mileage out of Kevin Gehringer, Brett Crandell and Kennedy. Crandell had one of the best offseason's on the team, Smokevitch said.
"He's huge now, and he's gotten a lot better," Smokevitch said. "He's got a great attitude now. It's noticeable. Last year, his attitude wasn't great, but this year it's been fabulous. You never knew if he was going to be at practice or if he was going to give you a good effort.
"It's been a total 180 this year. He's leading drills, and it's a total turnaround. He'll be in the mix at the running back spots as one of our top kids coming back. He's gotten really good at blocking, too."
Tyson Claeys and Sheldon Huff will play tight end. Claeys is already being recruited by Division I schools to play in college.
The most underrated position group on the team is the offensive line. Tyler Madej and Garrett May will be the veterans along the line, but Tommy Runyan, Dan Runyan and Matthew Davidson will step in to bolster it. Other guys like Gabe Law and Ryne Bennett should rotate in as well.
"We're not going to be the biggest on the line, but we'll be nasty," Smokevitch said. "Losing guys like Noah Vermilya, Leland Stephens and Devin Koscielniak kind of hurt us, and we don't have those kinds of bigger kids this year.
"So we're going to have to throw the ball more and do things to get teams out of the box. With the groups we've had in the past, we did a lot more jet (sweep) stuff. We weren't huge also, but we were pretty big and we had physically strong kids. We'll see what we have this year."
Defensively, the Cardinals should be sound with Claeys returning to play defensive end, Gehringer and Crandell playing outside linebacker, Shimel playing safety and Madej and Huff playing inside linebacker.
"Every other job is up for grabs," defensive coordinator Cody Proctor said.
Proctor must replace Koscielniak at nose tackle, who had a great career with the Cardinals before graduating last school year. Tommy Runyan, Dan Runyan, May, Law and Justin Polzin will try to replicate his play on the line.
Kennedy, Logan Finnerty and Lance Upplegger will play defensive back alongside Shimel.
The Cardinals finished 6-4 last year after losing to Lincoln Alcona in the Division 8 postseason. They're not using that loss as fuel this fall, per se, but they do want to make sure they put in the work to make a return trip to the playoffs.
"We haven't talked about the playoffs yet," Smokevitch said. "The biggest thing is you're one of 11 on this team. If you do 1/11th of the work, good things will happen. If you don't do your 1/11th, you'll let everyone down and hurt your team.
"We've had kids in the weight room like crazy. But we've also had kids who haven't done anything, and that shows. That hurts themselves and will hurt us down the road. But the kids are excited about playing football, and no matter what happens, the kids are going are going to be excited to be here."
Manton at a glance
2017 Record: 4-5 (1-4 Highland)
2017 Finish: Missed D7 postseason.
Key Players: RB Grant Bunge, DE Gavin Somers, RB Casey Shively, WR Cole Regnerus
Quick Fact: New coach Eric Salani played football at Central Michigan from 1997-2000.
2018 Season Outlook
2017 Record: 6-4 (4-1 NMFL-Legacy)
2017 Finish: Lost to Lincoln Alcona 28-12 in D8 pre-district
Key Losses: DB Kyle May, DT Devin Koscielniak, LB Jacob Marsh
Key Returners: TE Tyson Claeys, QB Tanner Shimel, LB Sheldon Huff
No. - Name - Grade - Pos. - Height - Weight
1 - Sheldon Huff - 10th - TE/ILB - 5-10 - 185
6 - Patrick Kennedy - 12th - RB/DB - 5-8 - 155
7 - Tyson Claeys (Captain) - 12th - TE/DE - 6-4 - 230
9 - Brett Crandell - 12th - RB/OLB - 5-9 - 155
12 - Tanner Shimel (Captain) - 12th - QB/S - 5-11 - 155
17 - Hayden Claeys - 10th - TE/DE - 6-2 -180
20 - Anthony Gentz - 11th - RB/DB - 5-6 - 140
32 - Kevin Gehringer (Captain) - 12th - RB/OLB - 5-6 - 150
34 - Lance Upplegger - 12th - TE/DB - 6-0 - 140
36 - Logan Finnerty - 11th - RB/DB - 5-11 - 175
40 - Austin Carroll - 11th - RB/DB - 5-9 - 150
50 - Ryne Bennett - 11th - DE/DT - 5-10 - 170
54 - Gabe Law - 12th - OT/NG - 5-11 - 240
59 - Dan Runyan - 11th - OG/DT - 6-10 - 170
60 - Tyler Madej (Captain) - 12th - OG/ILB - 6-1 - 215
66 - Garrett May - 11th - OG/OLB - 5-10 - 165
67 - Matthew Davidson - 11th - OT/DT - 6-0 - 205
73 - Justin Polzin - 11th - OT/DT - 5-10 - 270
74 - Ethan Neal - 11th - OG/DT - 5-9 - 190
76 - Tommy Runyan - 10th - OC/DT - 5-8 - 230
Cardinals' Shimel finding confidence following travel baseball season
JOHANNESBURG – When Gaylord Baseball Club wrapped up its travel season last week, first-year coach Dwain Koscielniak said the most-improved player on the team was Johannesburg-Lewiston senior Tanner Shimel.
And that's saying something because Koscielniak is an assistant coach at rival St. Mary. Shimel improved his defensive fielding, developed a more fluid batting stance and, most importantly, became more confident in his athletic abilities.
That should pay dividends when Shimel takes the field as J-L's quarterback this football season. Last year, the Cardinals, who went 6-4, graduated a slew of senior leaders and some of their best athletes. They'll need Shimel to be on top of his game while running their offense.
Shimel can no longer be just a role player. His summer baseball experience should be a boon for the Cardinals in making him a star.
"It does translate to football," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "Baseball was a good experience for him.
"He's turning into a better leader. He's not a vocal leader – and if you get two words out of him, that's a lot – but he'll look good (playing QB back there)."
Shimel took over the starting QB duties from Brandon Huff last season. He didn't run as much as Huff, nor did he have as strong of an arm, but he showed he's competent in running the offense and making the right reads when he's asked to. He's capable of rushing for a first down when the down and distance favors his skill set to tuck the ball and get a yard.
He's excited to see what he can do after such a great summer.
"I feel confident right now, and I definitely was confident at the end of the baseball season," he said. "Baseball was a lot of fun, and I got a lot better.
"Now with football, we're coming along. Everyone is going to have to be a part of the offense, and it feels good (being a leader). This year, I'm trying to teach the younger kids because we're a younger group, but it's a pretty good feeling at practice right now."
It'll help Shimel having a Division I recruit like tight end Tyson Claeys catching his passes. Claeys holds offers from Cornell University and Michigan Tech already.
"I was very happy to see Tanner did well during baseball season, and I really hope he continues to improve," Claeys said. "Last year, it was his first year playing varsity QB, and I know it can be nerve-wracking.
"But he's evolving, getting bigger, better and faster, and you can see that in camp. He's faster and making plays. You can definitely see more kids following him this season. The kids follow him because he's being a leader. And that's important to this team."
The Cardinals open the season Friday, Aug. 24, at Manton.
Claeys' recruiting heats up as Cardinals prep for new season
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor
JOHANNESBURG – Tyson Claeys is putting the recruiting trail behind him.
The high school football season is here. He's made his college visits. He has his offers (Cornell University and Michigan Tech).
Now it's time to go win games with his Johannesburg-Lewiston teammates and put enough film together to reel in some more offers in the fall.
The Cardinals, who were 6-4 but lost to Lincoln Alcona in the Division 8 playoff opener last fall, open the season Friday, Aug. 24, at Manton.
"I really just want to win games," said Claeys, who is being recruited by Division I and II schools as both a tight end and defensive lineman. "I don't care how we do it, where we do it and when we do it. I just want to win all the games we can.
"I want to see our guys have as much fun as we can this year. We enjoy having fun, and that's what it takes to win games, too."
Claeys visited several Ivy League schools on the east coast this summer. While Cornell has already offered, a few more want to see some of his senior highlights before they pull the trigger on the 6-foot-4 senior.
"They've all expressed a lot of interest and say that I could fit in on their rosters," Claeys said. "It's just a waiting game right now, especially with the other Ivy schools. You got to wait for some of the admission stuffs to take care of itself. They're all high-academic schools. It's just a waiting game now."
Claeys has put a full-court press on football since the basketball season ended in March. He's been to camps and 7-on-7s. He's even been helping some of his Cardinals teammates in Johannesburg. He's adding to the abilities that he already has and working on his weaknesses.
"(A lot of the colleges) like that I'm as big as I am, but I can also move well, too," he said. "I'm not overly fast, but I'd like to think that I play faster than I show at camp or at a combine or in a drill. I just work really, really hard on the field, and they can see that on the tape."
That extra training has paid off, too, and several people have taken notice of it.
During a 7-on-7 against Mio, the team kept calling him "high school Gronk" after New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
"He's got that big body and when he gets it into space, he runs people over," J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. "We need to run him outside more and get fade passes to him. That's what they did in that 7-on-7 league in Saginaw, and we need to do that, too.
"He'll be a mismatch nightmare. We're looking to get him free and clean down the field. We're going to work on stuff within our passing game to get him open."
While Smokevitch didn't reveal any secrets, he's going to make alterations to the passing attack with quarterback Tanner Shimel.
"The normal stuff we used to do was just predictable with our pass routes," he said. "We want to switch it up so the same guys aren't always running the same routes all the time. We need to get our QB to look for (Claeys) a lot. He's 6-4, for God's sake."
Claeys doesn't have a timeline for when he'll pick his college. But, for right now, he's hitting pause on all the recruiting talk.
It's time to have fun with his friends.
2018 Season Outlook
2017 Record: 6-4 (4-1 NMFL-Legacy)
2017 Finish: Lost to Lincoln Alcona 28-12 in D8 pre-district
Key Losses: DB Kyle May, DT Devin Koscielniak, LB Jacob Marsh
Key Returners: TE Tyson Claeys, QB Tanner Shimel, LB Sheldon Huff
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