**ARTICLE BY JOSH LONGSTRETH**
Two teams have the chance to make their dreams come true when they play for the Division 5 State Championship this weekend. Every team works towards this each year. The early morning sessions. Building themselves in the weight room. Preparing since the end of the 2021 season to give their all to get to this point. It’s here, and two teams have the chance to now make that dream a reality.
Welcome back, Frankenmuth. The Eagles were runners-up in the Division 5 Finals in 2020. In what has been another special year for Frankenmuth, they now have the chance to add to that. A program that has made 12 consecutive playoff appearances, the 2022 version might be their best yet. Frankenmuth was able to cruise again last week by beating Detroit Country Day, 38-0. In fact, the closest game on the season has been a 21-0 Eagles win over Freeland in Week 5. The Frankenmuth defense gave up -2 yards of total offense with no first downs from DCD, to help out their offense which piled up over 400 total yards of offense on the day. They come into this one at 13-0 on the season.
The Eagles’ offense has rolled to the tune of 41.3 ppg on the season. Led by a dominant offensive line, you don’t see many defenses in the backfield against their offense. At the helm is QB Aidan Hoard who has put together a fantastic season. Hoard provides a different obstacle for opposing defenses. Despite being a run-first team, Hoard has managed to pass for 1,406 yards on the season to go with 15 TD’s and just 5 INT’s. He’s gotten his own contributions in the run game as well. Hoard has run for 682 yards in 2022 with 11 TD’s. He’s helped out by multiple backs. Griffin Barker leads the team in rushing with 864 yards and 14 TD’s. Sam Barger, who did miss a couple games earlier in the season, still managed to run for 717 yards and 11 TD’s. He’s pitched in another 3 receiving TD’s. Hunter Bernthal and Zac Andrews have pitched in a combined 603 rushing yards and 9 TD’s. Hoard has connected with 10 different receivers for TD pass this year. It’s a Frankenmuth team that continues to show how dynamic they can be.
As good as the offense is, the defense is suffocating to opposing offenses. Dalton DeBeau leads that group in tackles per game with 6.1. He adds 4 sacks on the season. The Frankenmuth defense as a whole has combined for 47 sacks on the season. Colin Main leads the team in that category with 9. Brenden Marker chipped in with 8 sacks. Including DeBeau, five other Eagles pass rushers have helped with 3 or more sacks on the year. The Frankenmuth secondary is aggressive and will play tight coverage. Travis Brenner is lengthy and leads the team with 3 INT’s. It’s a defense that is overwhelming.
Having a chance speak with Frankenmuth Head Coach Phil Martin, he knows he leads a special group of Eagles. “I think the biggest thing is the guys we have truly love Frankenmuth football. They’re great kids that have bought in and we’ve never had a problem with. That’s really something that can set our program apart in a way. These guys have loved being a part of the program. Even our guys that have come back, they get excited. One saying that we really use is ‘Once an Eagle, always an Eagle’”.
Frankenmuth is a program that you might not hear as much about as you should, even though the Eagles have turned their program into a perennial power. “We don’t really try and read any headlines or anything along those lines. We really just focus on our guys getting better each day. The kids never become complacent, and they know each year, no matter what we did the previous year, it’s a new year and a chance to accomplish new goals. We look at success as coming from hard work”.
There’s no denying, last year’s Frankenmuth team accomplished their own successes. But the group this year has surpassed even that. Martin added, “You know, every year you’ll always have that difficulty in what you think that team will be like that year. This year we really give a ton of praise to our quarterback Aidan Hoard. He’s really been a catalyst and knowing what he could do you kind of knew we were going to be alright. He just doesn’t get enough credit. If you wanted him to be an option QB, he could do that. If you wanted him to be a spread quarterback, he could do that. He’s a great captain and leader”.
Martin also has a lot of praise for his defense, and rightfully so. “At Frankenmuth, we really thrive off being a defensive team. We play in a way that you know we’re coming at you, and it’s up to you on whether you can stop it or not. We really give a lot of credit to those guys as well. Dalton BeBeau, Drew Titsworth, Brenden Marker, I could go on and on. Those guys have been catalysts for our defense and especially our front seven. We ask a lot of those guys, and they take it in stride and lead the right way”.
The Eagles have been dominant in many ways this year. They’re a team that gets off to quick starts and pours it on early and often. Martin gives a lot of credit to his coaching staff. “We really kind of take each day as getting better than the day before. We aren’t a big yelling group but really try and be as communitive as possible with the kids. You know, how good do you want to be? Our coaching staff has been great in that and put a ton of time in to helping our kids. And the kids take it in stride and work their tails off”.
On the current team, there were several that had the opportunity to play at Ford Field in 2020. Martin feels they were left with wanting more. “You know, we had five guys that played significant time on that team and others that were with us there. Those five are seniors now and captains. They’ve been the catalysts. They became even more focused after that loss, and it left them with really wanting that opportunity again”.
As the season draws to a close, it can be tougher meandering through Thanksgiving week and playing in the State Championship on Saturday, but Martin thinks his guys have handled it in stride. “We kind of had a bonus day today. Kind of like a football day with no school today. We had a chance to go to Northwood this morning, then back for lunch, film after, and things along those lines. The guys really enjoyed it with no complaints and were on board with it. Just the fact that they’re willing to give up personal time and things along those lines really shows who they are and their motivations”.
Even with another good week and a chance to play for it all on Saturday, Martin gives a ton of credit to their opponent and knows his team is in for a battle. “I really don’t think Gladwin gets enough credit, to be honest. They’ve had a great season and even last week, you know I think people talked about them as the underdogs in that game, but I just don’t think that was the case. We have the utmost respect for them and what they’re doing. They talk about their story as kind of a ‘Cinderella’ story, but I just don’t see it that way. It’s a great football team with guys that play hard”.
Both teams play with a similar style and that’s something that Martin pointed out. “They really are very similar. Very physical and try to win the lines of scrimmage. They love the downhill run game but can pass whenever they want and succeed with that. They’re are a very good tackling team. A lot of the same schematics, but we run our options different. Great coaching. They’ve done an amazing job and we look forward to playing a real good football team on Saturday.”
The Gladwin Flying G’s are making their first appearance in the State Championship, so you can call them the ‘New Kids on the Block’. Though that is true, they sure don’t act like it. Gladwin, who went undefeated in 2021 as well, are back and have made their name better known. After setting the school scoring record in 2021, the 2022 Flying G’s have shattered that by averaging 45.5 ppg on the season. The defense has played at a championship-caliber level as well. Gladwin started the year shutting out 5 of 6 teams they played. An offense didn’t score on this vaunted defense until week 7. They will come into Saturday with a 13-0 record.
The Gladwin offense takes pride in an offensive line who paves the way for their offense each week. Not many defenses, if any, have had success creating havoc for the offensive line. Veteran QB Nick Wheeler leads the Gladwin offense. Wheeler has passed for 937 yards on the season to go with 10 TD’s and just 4 INT’s. He’s added another 881 rushing yards and 19 TD’s on the ground. He’s helped out by a great 1-2 punch out of the backfield. Logan Kokotovich, who had a monster game last week in the win over GRCC, pitches in 932 rushing yards and 13 TD’s. Earl Esiline, who got the G’s off and running last week with a huge kickoff return TD, comes in with 1,073 rushing yards and 14 TD’s. He’s added another 5 TD’s by way of receiving, a fumble return, a punt return, and kickoff return. Lucas Mead has pitched in 8 TD’s. Kaden McDonald has added 5 TD’s.
The Gladwin defense is dynamic and limits the big play for opposing offenses. They’ve given up just 205.3 yards per game on the season. It’s a defense that is smart, sound, and limits chunk plays. It’s a group that is always talking and always in position to make a play. They create turnovers on this side and have forced a whopping 26 on the season.
This one has a chance to be an absolute battle. Frankenmuth has been dominant all year but so has Gladwin. Both teams are very similar in nearly every aspect of the game. This one will be one to watch especially up front as both teams have been dominant on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The team that can win that battle, create pressure, and limit the other from creating chaos in the backfield is going to come out on top in this one. Don’t expect either team cruising to the finish line. This will be a fight until the end and the one that can withstand that for 48 minutes will come out on top. They’re two of the toughest teams in the state and both can withstand that. If this one doesn’t get you pumped, you might want to check your pulse. Gladwin and Frankenmuth will square off at Ford Field on Saturday with a start time of 4:30.