SEBEWAING — Unionville-Sebewaing Area is over being the underdog.
The Patriots have been there all season long.
“We’ve kind of been the underdog all year,” said USA coach Jason Beagle. “The kids get on the Internet and read the papers. They know we haven’t been picked a lot and they know what’s going on. But I actually think they like playing the spoiler.”
Even Beagle admits the Patriots will have the odds stacked against them once again when they travel to Ubly for a Division 7 opening round playoff game Friday night at 7.
“You can’t get much more of an underdog than (us) going up against a 9-0 team which has been to the semifinals and finals the last few years,” he said. “That’s as big a spread as you can get.
“Getting to the playoffs is something that the program hasn’t experienced in a few years... To me, it’s a good life lesson for them that hard work pays off.”
There isn’t a team around which worked harder than the Patriots in 2010. Saddled with the burden of playing with as few as 13 players on some game nights, USA managed to wiggle their way into the post-season with a 5-4 record, capped by last Friday’s 30-20 victory over Harbor Beach.
“It’s a great reward for the kids who worked hard all season,” said Beagle.
The Patriots get a chance for some revenge, too. In the season opener, Ubly stuck USA with a 38-0 loss. The Bearcats led 24-0 at the half, and put it on cruise control the rest of the way.
Beagle said his staff isn’t even using the Week 1 film to scout the Bearcats.
“We’re using it more to evaluate ourselves and see the mistakes we made,” he said. “As far as scouting them, we’re using stuff toward the end of the season.
“Ubly isn’t 9-0 by accident. They were good in Week 1. And they were good in Week 9. It really doesn’t matter.
“I think we are a much different — and better — team than we were back then. We have been forced to grow because of our numbers.”
Actually, USA is as healthy as it’s been all season heading into the playoffs. The Patriots played the season opener against Ubly minus two of their top linebackers.
“Really, we had some kids who were banged up and didn’t play in that (Week 1) game,” Beagle said. “We’re relatively healthy now. It’s usually the other way around, but it’s kind of the reverse for us. And I think that’s going to help.”
Offensively, USA is led by seniors Chris Harper, Tim Canfield and Tyler Dick. Canfield and Dick get the majority of carries while Harper, though he doesn’t throw much, has had a nice season behind center.
“We don’t really want to get into a shootout with them,” Beagle said. “We joke that when we play them it’s a battle of the fullhouse Wing-T offenses against the 5-2 defense. We’re kind of mirror images of each other.”
Defensively, senior Dakota Gangler leads the team in tackles.
USA is making its first playoff appearance since 2007, a year it had to win the season finale against Pinconning to qualify. In the opening round, the Patriots suffered a 40-14 setback to the Bearcats.
In 2008 and 2009, USA had a combined 3-15 record.
“I’m proud of this group, regardless of what happens,” Beagle said. “They are the ones who have started the turnaround.”
The winner of this game will take on the winner of the Reese-Saginaw Nouvel game for the district championship.
USA Season Review
Week 1: Ubly 0-38 L
Week 2: BCAS 27-12 W
Week 3: EPBP 21-6 W
Week 4: C. City (ot) 27-21 W
Week 5: Bad Axe 58-6 W
Week 6: Vassar 20-34 L
Week 7: Reese 0-29 L
Week 8: Sandusky 0-12 L
Week 9: H. Beach 30-20 W
PF: 183 (20.3): PA: 178 (19.7)
Opponents winning %: 56.8