HARBOR BEACH — Sometimes, opening round playoff games wind up being blowouts.
Not this one, says Harbor Beach coach Troy Schelke.
“Brown City is no cupcake, that’s for sure,” said Schelke, whose 9-0 Pirates host the 6-3 Green Devils at 7 p.m. Friday in a Division 7 first round playoff contest.
“Brown City is a very good team,” Schelke continued. “It’s a tough matchup for us. We wound up rallying and beat them the last time we played, so we know nothing is going to be easy.”
There was nothing easy about Harbor Beach’s come-from-behind 34-21 victory over the Green Devils in Week 4. The Pirates needed a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to rally and pull out the victory, springboarding them to an undefeated season, a Greater Thumb East championship, and a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Green Devils lost two of their next three games after that heartbreaking setback, though managed to win their final two contests to get into the playoffs for just the second time since 1999.
“In our first meeting, we had the lead late in the game but just didn't make the plays when we needed to and Harbor Beach did,” said Brown City coach Scott Banks.
“Harbor Beach is playing some great football with a lot of confidence right now. We need to try and contain their running game. If we can get them in down-and-distance situations that favor our defense, we may have a chance.”
Harbor Beach comes in rolling, knocking off Unionville-Sebewaing Area 56-0 in Week 9 to secure its first undefeated regular season and playoff spot since 2007.
“Our kids worked so hard this season,” Schelke said. “The season went by so fast, but I would say I was pleasantly surprised at how we played. We knew we had some good players, but we’re a pretty young team.”
There aren’t many younger on the squad than quarterback Eli Kraft, a sophomore who has been one of the best signal callers in the GTC.
“He’s been outstanding, no doubt,” Schelke said. “He’s very intelligent, so he’s picked up things that quarterbacks have to pick up very well.”
Banks knows all too well about Kraft’s prowess. Kraft scored on runs of 25, 40 and 50 yards for the Pirates in the teams’ first meeting.
“Containing Kraft is another problem for us — as it has been for every team this year,” he said. “He can make so many things happen with his feet.”
Kraft isn’t Harbor Beach’s only weapon. Junior Sloan Klaski, who had two TDs in the previous meeting with the Green Devils, has come on and become a major threat in the backfield. Junior Aaron Ginther and sophomore Travis Essenmacher also have made significant contributions.
Schelke says his team needs to take advantage of every scoring opportunity it gets.
“We struggled in the red zone against them the last time,” Schelke said. “We need to do a better job of punching it in when we get the chance.”
For Brown City, its workhorse, Nate Primeau, had a career day against the Pirates, rushing for 252 yards in what Banks called “the best game I’ve seen from a high school running back.”
Schelke remembers it, too.
“Boy, he really did stress us out on defense,” Schelke admits. “He’s a tough runner. We’re going to have to deal with him much better.”
Primeau leads the Green Devils with 1,308 yards and 16 TDs.
Banks knows his team needs to be near flawless on offense to pull the upset
“Offensively, we need to keep our mistakes to a minimum,” he said. “We can't turn the ball over or have a lot of penalties and expect to win.”
There was some early speculation that Harbor Beach would fall into the Division 8 playoff field, though the coaching staff figured otherwise.
“We kind of knew where we were going to fall after all the games last week,” Schelke said. “I think we’re the smallest school in Division 7, but that’s OK. We kind of relish that role as the underdog.”
The winner of this game will take on the winner of the Sandusky-Reese contest for the district championship.
Brown City Recap
W1: Peck 42-0
W2: Cass City 28-21
W3: N. Huron 55-0
W4: H. Beach 21-34
W5: Mayville 50-0
W6: Sandusky 14-36
W7: Ubly 14-46
W8: Marlette 43-12
W9: Memphis 66-6
PF: 333 (37.0)
PA: 155 (17.2)
Opp Win %: 45.7
Playoff Points: 43.889
Harbor Beach Recap
W1: Bad Axe 42-0
W2: N. Huron 48-0
W3: Reese 30-16
W4: Brown City 34-21
W5: Ubly 34-22
W6: Marlette 12-8
W7: Sandusky 26-12
W8: Mayville 47-0
W9: USA 56-0
PF: 329 (36.5)
PA: 81 (9.0)
Opp Win %: 48.8
Playoff Points: 81.667
BOGAN SAYS: Brown City’s running game poses challenges, but the Pirates will respond.
PICK: Harbor Beach 32, Brown City 16