HARBOR BEACH — For at least one game, Harbor Beach returned to its roots.
The Pirates have been built around ball control and the Wing-T offense for the better part of the last 25 years.
Lately, they have utilized the popular spread offense. Friday night, though, the conditions called for a return to tradition. It worked just fine as Harbor Beach took control of the Greater Thumb East by defeating Marlette, 12-8.
Bruising running back Sloan Klaski finally got his chance to shine and he didn’t disappoint. The junior gained 139 tough yards on a season-high 27 carries. He scored both touchdowns and came through with the play of the game.
In the first half, Harbor Beach failed to score after having two shots at the end zone from the 1-yard line. Coach Troy Schelke elected to try back-to-back quarterback sneaks with Eli Kraft. He was stuffed on both attempts.
“Sloan was mad at me at halftime, I didn’t give him the ball on the goal line,” said Schelke. “He said, ‘Coach, give me the ball.’ And we did. We rode him in the second half.
“He wanted the ball and he stepped up. I couldn’t be more proud of that young man.”
Added Klaski: “That fourth-and-1 down there, they didn’t give me the ball — and I was mad.”
Marlette took advantage of the sloppy conditions for the only score of the first half. Harbor Beach fumbled a punt attempt, giving the Red Raiders a short field.
It didn’t take long for quarterback Kolby Lange to find the end zone. He rumbled in from 20 yards and converted the 2-pointer to make it 8-0 with 4:22 to play in the first quarter.
The Pirates finally put a drive together to begin the second half. Klaski capped it off with a 2-yard plunge, but the 2-pointer was no good with 9:26 to play in the third.
After getting the ball back, Harbor Beach’s ensuing drive stalled, but on a fourth-and-6, Schelke called a play he just put in day before.
Klaski, who is the upback in the punt formation, got the ball and picked up a 25-yard gain on the fake.
“We practiced with the JV, I figured we would do a fake,” Klaski said. “We just ran it in practice, coach must have liked it. We just did what we had to do.”
Added Schelke: “That’s the first time I think I’ve actually called a fake punt. Sloan put that in yesterday in practice, so we ran it today.
“It seemed like that took a little wind out of their sails and kept our momentum going.”
A few plays later, Klaski put the game away with a dazzling 16-yard run on a fourth-and-1. Again, the 2-pointer failed, but the Pirates had their first lead of the game with 9:56 to play.
“We had a kid right there, he slipped and fell, that was the tough part,” said Marlette coach Denny Lester about the fake punt. “We had it defended, but it was just a tough break.
“That was the play of the game. It was the fake punt that killed us.”
Lester was concerned with Harbor Beach’s ability to switch offenses from the spread to the Wing-T.
For the game, the Pirates gained 232 yards, with most coming on the ground.
“We talked about him all week, he’s a good power runner and they were able to get him going,” Lester said about Klaski. “That was a tough part because we knew it was coming. Their offensive line did a great job.”
Marlette’s offense, which came in averaging over 39 points per game, was stymied by the Harbor Beach defense and the weather.
Lange was held to just 86 yards on 17 carries and completed only one pass for nine yards. Justin Carello gained 20 yards on nine totes.
“I think the defense and special teams stepped up tonight,” Schelke said.
“Our defense gave us a chance all night and the offense got it going in the second half. They have been tearing everybody up, but they didn’t get the numbers they were used to getting.”
Schelke said the second-half adjustments for his offense were simple.
“The second half, we went right at them and the offensive line stepped up,” he said. “(Sloan) ran angry. When he runs that way, he’s really awesome.
“That second half was Harbor Beach football, just the way Mr. Dillon coached it.”
Marlette hosts Deckerville for a non-conference game next week. It will have to hope for help from Sandusky to beat Harbor Beach to have any shot at a share of the GTE crown.
“We can’t sit and pout feeling sorry for ourselves, we have to go back out and play,” Lester said. “Our kids will do that, they’re a tough bunch of kids.
“We’re not done playing, we’re going to come out next week and play. We’re definitely not done.”
For Harbor Beach, the win assures the team of its first playoff berth since 2007. The Pirates travel to Sandusky for the start of three straight road games to end the regular season.
“I’m really happy for these seniors. They were 1-8 when they came up as sophomores, they’ve worked really hard,” Schelke said.
“Now, we have to put that on the back burner and focus on Sandusky.”
A few photos...