Adams filed this report on Friday's Harbor Beach vs. Marlette game.
HARBOR BEACH — The only way to tell Harbor Beach and Marlette apart on Friday night may be their uniforms.
Both teams come into their Greater Thumb East showdown with identical 5-0 marks. The Red Raiders are 3-0 in GTE play while the Pirates are 2-0.
Their points-for are nearly the same, with Marlette scoring 38.2 ppg while Harbor Beach is at 37.6. The Pirates are giving up 11.8 ppg while the Raiders are yielding 11.4.
Beyond the numbers, perhaps the biggest similarity is that both teams run spread offenses led by a pair of dynamic quarterbacks — Kolby Lange for Marlette and Eli Kraft for Harbor Beach.
“Their spread is similar to ours,” said Marlette coach Denny Lester. “We do a bit of different things, but the principles are the same. They are trying to get their athletes in space to make plays just like we do.”
Unlike the Raiders, the Pirates will switch to a more traditional Wing-T offense from time to time, including in the fourth quarter of last week’s 34-22 win over Ubly.
“Harbor Beach is a very tough team to defend,” Lester said. “They switch between the spread and their traditional running sets which puts a lot of pressure on who is on the field in terms of defensive linemen and defensive backs.”
So far, Harbor Beach coach Troy Schelke has been happy with his offense, but thinks the best is yet to come.
“We have shown our big play potential, but we need to be a little more consistent and finish drives,” said Schelke.
“We’re still looking to put two halves together.”
Against the Bearcats last week, Harbor Beach was up 27-8 at halftime. But the offense stalled a little in the second half.
The Pirates fed off the emotion of playing their rival. Although that’s a good thing, Schelke is hopeful his players can keep their emotions in check Friday night.
“For us, it will come down to emotion,” he said. “I worry about getting too high or too low, but these guys are gaining confidence every week. I think they know how to control it.”
Meanwhile, Marlette was faced with its stiffest test. It needed a 34-yard scoring run from Lange with 2:00 remaining to pull off a 26-22 comeback win over Sandusky.
“I think that anytime you play a rival, you can throw out everything,” Lester said. “Sandusky is a good team. They have really developed a running game. They made us work all night with their defense.
“We turned the ball over early that led to two touchdowns. Our kids didn’t stop playing. They kept to the plan and never panicked.”
Lange once again had a big day for the Raiders, rushing for 179 yards and a pair of TDs. He also threw for a score.
“Kolby is having a wonderful year,” Lester said. “He has really been the catalyst for our offense. He has a good burst and very good vision.
“Our offensive line has done a really a great job of opening holes, and with (Justin) Carello, (Donnie) Thomas, and (Brad) Schaub around him, that doesn’t hurt.”
Through five games, he has thrown for 645 yards with seven touchdowns while running for 749 yards and 12 scores. Lange is averaging over 10 yards per carry.
“Defending the spread and their quarterback, we have to tackle well,” Schelke said. “Lange is an athlete, he’s the real deal. If you miss one or two tackles, it’s a touchdown.”
Harbor Beach features its quarterback Kraft, who has turned in some fine performances so far. Last week, he had 163 yards passing with a pair of touchdowns, and 66 yards rushing and two more scores.
Lester feels that his team will be ready for Harbor Beach’s spread offense.
“I think that seeing the spread offense in practice everyday helps us prepare for their spread better than most teams,” he said. “We have a lot of good athletes that can give us good looks in the spread.”
In a game that has the potential to be an offensive show, the deciding factor will likely be the defenses.
Both teams have faced challenges so far.
Harbor Beach has forced a number of turnovers this season, including working on short fields a couple of times last week against Ubly.
However, the Pirates have given up over 250 yards on the ground each of the last two weeks.
“Our defense has been very good. Ron Wruble is the best defensive coordinator in the Thumb,” Schelke said. “We are giving up some yards, but we are working on that.”
Added Lester: “As in any game, we must take care of the ball. When you play in championship type games, mistakes are magnified. We can’t turn the ball over and expect to win.”
Harbor Beach has had a bit of a drought. This will be the team’s first winning season since it went 12-1, making it all the way to the Division 7 semifinals, in 2007.
Before allowing his team to think about the playoffs, Schelke wants to win what has turned out to be an ultra-competitive GTE.
“I’m an old fashioned guy,” he said. “The league has always been the top goal for us.”
For Marlette, this will be the fifth straight season with at least five wins. But the Raiders have to go further back for their last league championship.
They haven’t won a conference title since 1975.
“I thought that we had a very good team coming back,” Lester said. “We had a lot of starters back.
“We have a lot of seniors that we thought were very good athletes. We thought that we would be in the thick of things. We never really talked about anything but the next game.
“After setting our goals of winning a league championship, we have just taken it one week at a time.
“Winning this game would mean a lot to our players and coaching staff. We have all worked very hard this year. It would also mean a lot to our fans. They have been great.”
Marlette (5-0, 3-0) at Harbor Beach (5-0, 2-0)
W1: O-Lake. 39-6
W2: Mayville 60-21
W3: Ubly 14-0
W4: EPBP 52-8
W5: Sandusky 26-22
PF: 191 (38.2)
PA: 57 (11.4)
Opp. Record: 7-18
Playoff Points: 62.400
W1: Bad Axe 42-0
W2: N. Huron 48-0
W3: Reese 30-16
W4: Brown City 34-21
W5: Ubly 34-22
PF: 188 (37.6)
PA: 59 (11.8)
Opp. Record: 12-13
Playoff Points: 64.000
ADAMS SAYS: Teams are almost even, but HB has played a tougher schedule to this point.
PICK: Harbor Beach 38, Marlette 35