By Ben Murphy
Clare quarterback Colton Punches and running back Jordan Gross had big regular seasons in the Pioneers’ 2013 Jack Pine Conference championship campaign. Tonight’s playoff opponent Reed City has already taken note.
“They’re both exceptional kids,” Reed City head coach Monty Price said. “It appears that Gross is their workhorse, he’s one of the best running backs that we’ve seen. We have to be disciplined in stopping the run. Simple mistakes such as turnovers, lack of discipline and stupid penalties, those are probably going to factor into the game. We’re going to work very hard to keep those mistakes from happening.”
The Coyotes won the Central State Conference championship and went 9-0 (all conference games), capping off their third straight undefeated regular season all while averaging 42 points of offense and giving up less than 13 a game. Conversely the Pioneers went 7-2 overall, won the JPC with a 7-0 record are in the playoffs for the eighth straight season and have scored an average of 26.7 points a game this year while giving up 13.7.
“It’s always fun,” Luplow said of playing in the post-season. “Our goal is to win the league and play into November so it feels good. Anytime you get an opportunity to play an extra game it’s beneficial to the kids. To be one of the 256 schools left playing football, it’s fun and impressive. If we’re fortunate enough to get to the second round then it’s even more frosting on the cake.”
Reed City and Clare faced off on a near annual basis in the 60’s and 70’s, but tonight’s division five pre-district game will be the first time the two schools have met for football since a 20-8 Coyote win in 1978. Clare last topped Reed City in 1975, 8-0.
“Obviously they have a very well respected program throughout the state,” Price said of Clare. “There’s no question that they’ve sustained a successful program and we’re expecting a very disciplined, very solid football team to come to our place.”
The Coyotes have a strong running game, led by Patrick Jobes, Andre Jones and Jon Green. Collin Hatfield, Branden Decator and Thomas Miller may also see time running the ball while quarterback Chad Samuels has thrown well, when needed to receivers Nolan Patterson and Josh Saez. Reed City typically gets strong defensive play from Eric Grannis and Robert Yates, who rack up tackles and Paris Jones leads an athletic secondary.
“They have a lot of athletic kids,” Luplow said. “They’re fast, have good receivers and fast running backs. You have to be good to go 9-0, regardless of who you play. They have a lot of confidence and high expectations just as we do.
“They run the ‘T’ with a split end, they run some unbalanced stuff too,” Luplow added. “We’re not going to key on anything in particular as far as personnel. We’re going to hopefully be mentally prepared and go out and start strong.”
Luplow admitted that his team got off to slow starts in several games this year, something he feels could come back to bite his team in the playoffs.
“That’s kind of been our downfall this year,” he said. “We have to figure out how we can start strong and stay consistent in the game. Hopefully we can be a little bit better at the beginning this week. The bad part about it is we have to go there and play and we haven’t played on the round in the first round of the playoffs since 1985.”
Price, who has coached the Coyotes since 1999 is hoping home field gives his team the edge.
“Home field plays a part in it so we’re excited about our opportunity to host,” he said. “We feel that we’ve earned the opportunity but we’re not going to take anything for granted. We’re going to have to execute at a high level to be successful against a solid Clare team.”