The MSR team is expanding its TVC coverage this fall. We will have more recaps and previews on this league than ever before. This coverage will be spearheaded by MSR’s Josh Longstreth, who also has a special coverage assignment on Friday night (see more below).
**ARTICLE BY JOSH LONGSTRETH**
Freeland vs Clare
What a year it was for the Freeland Falcons in 2021. The Falcons went 11-2 on the year before eventually falling to the Chelsea Bulldogs in a heart breaker in the state semifinals, 30-27. It’s no lie heading into this year, they will have a lot to replace on the offensive side of the ball. Freeland loses signal caller Bryson Huckeby who threw for over 1,700 yards, 17 passing touchdowns and ran for over 600 yards on the ground to go with 10 touchdowns. The Falcons will also look to replace Garrett Pistro and Jacob Kundinger who combined for 1,652 yards on the ground to go with 23 touchdowns. They will try and replace talented pass catcher Alex Duley who finished the year with 40 receptions, over 700 yards receiving and 9 touchdowns.
This might be hard for most programs to overcome but the Falcons are game. It’s a program that has not had a losing season since 2006. It’s a culture that is simply, next man up. Leading that charge at the helm will be Sam Talaga. Talaga was known more as a defensive player last year contributing as just a sophomore. He’ll be behind an offensive line that is led by senior Chris Morgan. The offensive line as a unit is stout and experienced. Also running behind them will be running back Evan Vasicek, who averaged nearly 10 yards per carry last year. On the defensive side of the ball the Falcons are led by 4-year starter Gabe Blanchard, who had 52 tackles to go with 6 sacks as a junior. Ty Fournier returns in the secondary where he recorded 42 tackles to go with 3 INT’s as a sophomore.
The Clare Pioneers are in a little bit of a transition themselves. Long time head coach Kelly Luplow stepped down after 34 years at the helm for the Pioneers. Luplow leaves a program where he went 251-95, that included numerous Jack Pine Conference Championships, deep playoff runs, and a state championship appearance. On top of that, he impacted many lives in the Clare community. Not only will the Pioneers have to replace Luplow, but they will also replace senior running backs Al Warner and Beau Weldon. The two combined for 1,917 yards, and 34 touchdowns on the ground. Warner also contributed with 310 receiving yards. Dawson John will be missed at wide receiver, he chipped in with 28 receptions, 734 receiving yards, and 9 touchdowns in 2021.
Similar to Freeland, the Clare Pioneers are a team that are suited to overcome that. Coach Steven Spranger now takes on the roll as the head coach. Spranger heads into his 12th year with the Pioneers previously as an assistant coach. He is truly entrenched in Clare football and takes a lot of pride in it. “It’s a program that is very near and dear to me and Itake a lot of care in continuing the tradition”, Spranger stated. “I was lucky enough to have Coach Luplow give me a lot of different responsibility throughout the years. I’m also lucky enough to have coaches Doug Haggart (defensive coordinator) and Rob Wise (offensive coordinator) with me in the transition. I’m truly in a great situation, here”. Clare will be tested this year with an opening against Freeland, Okemos, and Gaylord in non conference play. That on top of a tough Jack Pine Conference with up and coming teams. Miles Haggart will lead the charge at quarterback. Haggart has played on the offensive line but has the IQ to make the move. Jake Punches, Kyle Potter, and Jordan McPhall are the other captains. Punches is a bruising running back and linebacker. Potter and McPhall lead an experience offensive and defensive line. Sophomore Ryan Louch is an “uber-athlete”, as Spranger puts it. They’ll also have some nice size in Sophomore Chase Randall. Randall stands at 6’3, and 220 pounds at the tight end and defensive end positions.
There is no doubt that both teams are very familiar with each other. They have met 14 times in the regular season and playoffs since 2000. In the most recent matchup, the Falcons won 2021’s contest 24-14. Both teams will look to start their seasons out on the right page when Clare travels to Freeland in a 7:00 week 1 matchup on Thursday night.
Frankenmuth v Goodrich
It was another historic run for the Frankenmuth Eagles in 2021. Frankenmuth went on to a 12-1 season before eventually falling to Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the semi-finals. This has come to be somewhat expected for the Eagles. It’s a program that hasn’t had a losing season since 2009. It’s expected to be another special year for the Eagles as they come in at #4 in the Division 5 rankings. They will replace a lot offensively. Cole Lindow and Cole Jankowski move on. The two combined for 2,531 yards and 39 touchdowns on the ground last year.
When you have an intact culture, you have the ability to reload on a yearly basis. So goes the Frankenmuth football team. Aidan Hoard leads the charge at the quarterback position. The 6’4, 205 pound Senior has the ability to lead another talented Frankenmuth team. Sam Barger appears to be the next one in line at the running back position. The Junior running back averaged 11 yards per carry on the ground last year. They will look to rely on their talented pass rushers on defense while the offense settles in. The Eagles return a quartet of pass rushers who combined for 15 sacks last year. That group, led by seniors Drew Titsworth, Brenden Marker, Dayne Reif, and Dalton DeBeau. Head Coach Phil Martin is confident in his team adding, “We’ve had great participation since the off season, with a lot of leaders coming back. We have some things to clean up from our scrimmage but we believe we’ll get there”.
The Goodrich Martians will be up to task heading into week 1. The Martians are coming off a 7-3 season and are hungry to face a team that they battled in week 1 of last season. They look to change that outcome this year. The Martians have the experience returning to be able to get through yet another tough schedule in hopes of another playoff appearance. It’s also a program that has had much success of their own by making the playoffs in 11 of the last 13 seasons. They are led by a group of seniors that have a lot of chemistry. In the words of Goodrich Head Coach Tom Alward, “It’s a great group that has chemistry and loves playing for each other, truly one unit”. Like most years, they will face a gauntlet of a schedule. Alward added, “It’s always nice to play tough teams. Much like every year we have goals and to get to many of those goals you have to be able to play those tough teams”.
This is expected to be a good test for both schools. The teams were tied at the half in their 2021 meeting with the Eagles grabbing a 28-14 win. The Martians travel to Frankenmuth for a 7:00 kickoff this Thursday.
Swan Valley v Croswell-Lexington
The Swan Valley Vikings are no stranger to successful seasons. They have made the playoffs in 19 of the last 22 seasons, with many resulting in deep playoff runs. That will not change this year as the Vikings return many key players, though they will have some holes to fill. Matthew Stark, who led the team in rushing last year with 581 yards and 8 touchdowns, is gone. They will also look to fill the role that Mark Adams played, as he led the team in receiving yards with 517, tallying 29 receptions, and 3 touchdowns. On the plus side, the Vikings have several returners. They welcome back receiver Drew Kaeckmeister who finished with 32 receptions, 314 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns in 2021. He adds to the size advantages that the Vikings have in the wide receiving corps. As goes Swan Valley, so goes their running backs. The Vikings have a trio of running backs this season in Tyler Drain, Lacionno Finley, and Tyler DeRussel. They return six players on the offensive and defensive lines lead by Hunter Smith.
The Croswell-Lexington Pioneers had success of their own last fall, en route to a 10-win season. Northwood commit Jake Townsend moves on however, and in steps Gavin Espinoza. As head coach Mike LeGrow puts it, “Jake was amazing for us. We’re excited to see what Gavin can do. He’s got a chance to be special just like Jake”. You could sense the excitement with LeGrow in describing Espinoza, who moves from wide receiver to quarterback this year. Drew Hosterman, who stepped up after an injury to Jaxon Gonzalez last year, will lead a talented room of wide receivers heading into the season. Gonzalez is also back, making the offense even more dynamic. The Pioneers can beat you on the ground as well, as they found a gem in ‘Belly’ Groppi last year. The now junior carried for 824 yards on the ground to go with 14 touchdowns. The Pioneers, too, have lofty goals. “Although last season was successful for us, we as a team have even higher goals,” LeGrow shared. “We feel that we can compete at a high level with every team. That’s kind of been these guys driving force since January. They wanted more and they’re using that as fuel”. When asked about Swan Valley, LeGrow revealed that “they’re a heck of a tough team. They pound you. They’re very well coached. You know you’re going to be in a dog fight when you play them.” Both the Vikings and Pioneers will look to see where they stand as Croswell-Lexington travels to Swan Valley for a 7:00 clash on Thursday evening.
Alma v Shepherd
The Alma Panthers are coming off a 5-4 season in 2021. They are led by new head coach John Mimranek who spent the previous six seasons at Chesaning. They’re hoping the 2021 season was a step forward in getting back to where they want to be.
The Shepherd Bluejays will also be a team looking to build on their 2021 season where they went 4-5. The Bluejays expect a tough test to begin the season as they head into Jack Pine play with an up and coming Meridian team. They then travel to Gladwin to take on a Flying G team that was dominant last year with many key pieces returning. Previous conference foes, these teams are accustomed to each other. Shepherd will make way this year for a 7:00 start time with the Panthers.
St Louis v Calvin Christian
The St. Louis Sharks are coming off a 5-4 season in 2021, just narrowly missing the playoffs. The Sharks, who started 3-0 last fall, will look to get off to another great start this season. Head football coach Julian Paksi knows that it was a stepping stone stating, “It’s a really solid group. We’re a very young team but very athletic. With the pieces we have back and the additions, we’re really looking forward to it”. The young Sharks will look to be up to the task replacing
standout running back Ignatius Jackson. Joshua Dew, Thomas Zacharko, RJ Macias, and Wisdom Zanquo are experienced and ones that will look to carry the load.
The Calvin Christian Squires were able to get back to 11 man football last year. They will be lead by new head coach and Calvin Christian graduate Steve VanDam. The Squires are a young, athletic team. As St. Louis Coach Paksi stated, “They’re in a lot of ways like us, very young, very athletic. It’ll be a great, even matchup. A really good test to see where both teams are”.
It was a matchup in 2021 that was met with a lot of offensive fireworks, with St. Louis having outlasting the Squires in a 49-30 week 1 affair. This year Calvin Christian will look to return the favor in a 7:00 showdown on Thursday night.
Special Assignment: Mt Pleasant v Kalamazoo Central
*Editors Note: While neither team is in the TVC, Josh will be travelling to cover this matchup on Friday*
The Mt. Pleasant Oilers are coming off another strong season. The Oilers went 10-1 with the lone defeat coming at the hands of a tough DeWitt Panthers team. The Oilers outscored their opponents at a rate of 405-179 last year. With seasons like that, comes the moving on of some; starting quarterback Ryan McIntyre being one. He led the Oilers last year with 11 touchdowns, just 4 interceptions, 1,158 yards through the air, and 429 on the ground. Running back Kory Davis has also graduated, taking 699 rushing yards, and 17 touchdowns with him.
That would be a heavy burden for most to overcome, but not the Oilers. They return standout running back Max Humphrey. The senior running back lead the Oilers with 1,059 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground last fall. Not only that, but Humphrey finished with 95 tackles and 3 interceptions last year on the defensive side of the ball. The Oilers also return Ecarves Polk at wide receiver. He led the team with 26 receptions, 393 yards receiving, and 4 touchdowns.
On the other side of the field are the Maroon Giants of Kalamazoo Central. They went 2-7 on the year but were in every single game. It’s a group that enters this year with an instilled hunger inside. Many of their close losses can be attributed to costly penalties and turnovers. Their motto this year is, “concentrating on themselves”. It’s a close unit that has lofty goals of making the playoffs this fall. They have a daunting opportunity to start their goal on the right foot when they take on the Oilers. The Oilers took last year’s matchup, 28-12. The Maroon Giants aim to change the narrative this year as they head into Mt. Pleasant for a 7:00 kick on Friday night.
2022 MSR FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
2022 MSR WEEK 1 PREVIEWS