By Ben Murphy
A six hour drive, 340 miles and the Menominee Maroons stand in the way of a division five football regional championship on Saturday. If that’s not a tall enough order for Clare (9-2), having to stop the single-wing offense of Menominee (10-1) just might be.
“It’s going to be tough to win up there but I tell you what it would be a great feeling to come out of there with a win,” Clare head coach Kelly Luplow said. “I want the kids to have fun but I want them to realize when they wake up Saturday we have a job to do. I really believe that once Saturday gets here we need to be sure that we’re ready.”
These two teams last met in 2009 in what was also a regional championship. The Pioneers managed to shut down a potent Maroon offense that had averaged 35 points a game to just just seven points in a 20-7 Clare win. The victory helped pave the way to Clare’s state runner-up finish.
This year the Maroons have averaged 38 points a game and avenged their lone loss of the season with a 48-14 win over Kingsford in last week’s district championship.
One notable difference from the last time these two teams met is new head coach Joe Noha, who took over last off-season after legendary head coach Ken Hofer retired after 43 seasons of coaching the Maroons.
“Our infrastructure hasn’t changed a whole lot,” Noha, who served on the Menominee staff for 20 years said. “The other coaches that I’ve hired have been here for awhile too. The coaching staff has been maintained for the most part. We have stayed with some of the offensive sets that we’ve had in the past with some single wing and we’ve opened up some of our formations a little bit but the kids are playing so well right now they’re making anything go.”
Luplow knows from experience that stopping the single-wing, a formation that hikes the ball directly to the running back and ultimately makes the quarterback an extra blocker is of great importance if the Pioneers are to win.
“They certainly have certain things that you can read,” he said. “The biggest problem is not defending their running game but their play action passes and passing game concerns us too. I think by the time we get to the game we’re going to know them as well as you can know a team and hopefully have some key things stick out and have some reads on what they are going to be running.”
Menominee hopes it learned it’s lesson from the 2009 team’s loss.
“Clare presents several challenges for us,” Noha said. “They run and they can throw the ball well. They give us some match-up problems at wide-receiver and at tight end and their quarterback runs the offense well and throws the ball well. I think the way they run their option is a challenge for us an they’re very fast defensively.”
Luplow hopes that the long distance to travel to play the game doesn’t negatively impact his team.
“We need to make this game a business trip,” Luplow said. “We need to stop that single wing, mainly on the edges, their speed on the edges really concerns me… and of course their defensive speed is phenomenal too. I think it can be a very good game, a real good game.”
Saturday’s game will be played at 2 p.m.
“The whole thing is going to be a challenge but these kids deserve the opportunity and it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Luplow said.