Looking for more: Westwood football team preparing for 2nd consecutive downstate trip in playoffs

Westwood’s Ethan Burke, left, and Erik Anderson celebrate after Anderson’s 40-yard touchdown catch during the Patriots’ 30-0 defeat of Elk Rapids in the first round of the MHSAA Division 7 football playoffs on Saturday in downstate Elk Rapids. (Brendan Quealy photo)

“We have to shore up a few things both offensively and defensively in order to compete against Lake City.” — Scott Syrjala, head coach, Westwood football

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ISHPEMING — The Westwood football team has already achieved the best record in school history and now it has a chance to move one step closer to a potential state championship this weekend.

Last weekend, the Patriots hammered Elk Rapids 30-0 on the road and were dominant from start to finish. The Westwood defense pressured the Elks all game and the Patriots used a good mix of rushing and passing to move on to Saturday’s district final against Lake City.

“The game went really well,” Westwood head coach Scott Syrjala said. “We did a lot of things right.

“Our kids also came back and were telling us what they knew they did wrong. That’s a tribute to our kids. They know what they need to do and they’ll correct it.

“We have to shore up a few things both offensively and defensively in order to compete against Lake City. They are the real deal and they are well balanced with a good rushing attack and a passing attack. We’re going to have our hands full.”

Like Westwood, Lake City came off a rough 2016 season and then started to reach its full potential this year. The Trojans are undefeated at 10-0 and are coming off a 13-2 win over McBain in the pre-district round.

Syrjala said that Lake City is somewhat similar to Elk Rapids, but a lot more high-powered than the Elks. The Trojans scored at least 26 points in every game of the regular season, playing in the Highland Conference that includes McBain, Beal City, Manton, LeRoy Pine River and Evart.

“Their running back (Zach Noren) is extremely good and has over 1,000 yards and their quarterback (Matthew Holt) has passed for over 1,800 yards,” Syrjala said about Lake City. “We knew on film that Elk Rapids had a couple of receivers that were maybe not quite as good as the others.

“However, when you look at Lake City, they have four stellar receivers. They can not only run four, but can even run five or six at a time. We have to be on our toes and play fast against them.”

During the regular season, Holt completed 79 of 121 passes for 1,655 yards and 11 touchdowns, with top senior receiver Jacob Ball catching 24 of them for 642 yards and overall accounting for 11 TDs, according to information provided by the Cadillac News.

Noren rushed for 1,020 yards in 141 carries, scoring 18 TDs, and caught 19 balls for another 542 yards and six more TDs.

The good thing for Westwood is that it has a defense that could stop the Trojans. Defensive linemen Sam Gilles and Blake Hewitt have done a great job stopping the run and could limit Noren’s running abilities.

Also, Ethan Homola is a hard-hitting linebacker that can help stop the run and any passes over the middle. All three players were nominated for All-Upper Peninsula Dream Team at the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association meeting on Wednesday.

In its offensive column, the Patriots rolled up 2,939 yards during the regular season and added 541 yards against the Elks, while giving up just 1,143 yards in nine regular-season games.

Quarterback Nathan Beckman has completed 42 of 69 passes overall for 674 yards and eight TDs, including last week. Beckman also led WHS rushers during the regular season with 1,059 yards, but last week, Ashton Bergman went for 200 yards rushing to bring his season total to 647 in 98 carries, while Taylor Dellangelo had 162 yards on the ground to get to 447 for the year in just 76 attempts.

Like last week, Syrjala has faith in his players, but also knows that they have to play at their best if they want to keep moving on in the postseason.

“We have to shore some things up for sure, so I’m not super confident right now,” he said. “The first thing we have to do is to stop their run game. If we can do that and put them in passing situations, then we know what to expect.”

Westwood kicks off against Lake City at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.