A bigger step this season: Munising High School football team looks to reach playoffs, then advance after joining West PAC

This is the 2018 Munising High School Mustangs football team. In the front row from left are Mason Behning, Thomas Murdock, John Herman, Mason Schieding, Anthony Mattson, Jessie Matson, Trevor Johnson, Dayne Murk and Devin Moore. Second row from left, Clayton Smith, Dylan Moore, Mathew Revord, Logan Waldron, Carter Gould, Andrew Priebe, Jason Linsenman and Josh Huotari. Third row from left, Bryce Bowerman, Gabriel Cole, Austin Killips, Steve Richardson and Isaac Cooper. Top row from left, head coach Jeff Seaberg and assistant coaches Matt Mattson, Beau Boden and Rick Bowerman. (Photo courtesy Jeff Seaberg)

2018 schedule

(* West PAC “B” Division game)

Friday, Aug. 24 — * at West Iron County, 7 p.m. ET

Friday, Aug. 31 — * at Norway, 7 p.m. ET

Friday, Sept. 7 — * BARK RIVER-HARRIS, 7 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 14 — at L’Anse, 7 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 21 — HANCOCK, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 29 — * MANISTIQUE, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 6 — * at Lake Linden-Hubbell, 2 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 12 — * at Ishpeming, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 19 — * GWINN, 7 p.m.

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MUNISING — After an off-season two years ago, the Munising Mustangs returned to the MHSAA Division 8 playoffs last season, before falling to powerful Gaylord St. Mary in the first round.

This year, the Mustangs appear poised to make it two seasons in a row in the postseason. They could also get past the first round for the first time since their run to the state championship game in 2014.

“Last year, we struggled but we were able to make it in,” Munising head coach Jeff Seaberg said. “We played a good Gaylord St. Mary’s team and the kids worked hard all season.

“We weren’t big in numbers, but we overcame some things and we did enough to get into the playoffs. This year, we want to make a deeper run instead of just making an appearance.”

The Mustangs lost quarterback Alec Blank, who has graduated and moved to suit up for Finlandia University this fall, but Seaberg said Josh Huotari is set to take over the offense.

“Josh came up last year after being the quarterback on the JV and he came up as a receiver for us about midway through the season,” Seaberg said. “He did an outstanding job for us and he’s a good athlete and can play a lot of different positions.

“He’s got big shoes to fill, but we’re certainly planning on him to do that.

“He’s got the ability to run the ball well and he’s also pretty smart on the field. That’s a big thing that you look for in a quarterback. Someone who thinks well on the move and can make things happen when things aren’t going right.”

Huotari won’t have to carry all of the load, though, as he’s got Matthew Revord and Mason Schieding to split up the rushing duties. He’s also got a big target to throw to in tight end Anthony Mattson.

As far as the line goes, Seaberg says it looks stable with two key returnees in Dane Murk and Logan Waldron. Mattson and Clayton Smith will also be there at the ends.

The Mustangs also have more players on the roster than last year, but he still thinks most of his roster will have to play both offense and defense.

Andy Cooper and Bryce Bowerman will handle kicking and punting duties.

Looking at the conference, like the majority of 11-man program in the Upper Peninsula, the Mustangs are now in the West PAC and were placed in the smaller enrollment “B” Division with teams that include Ishpeming and Gwinn.

All nine games are against teams from the West PAC, a contrast to the past few seasons when Munising struggled to fill its schedule.

“It’s a relief,” Seaberg said. “The kids work really hard so you hate to see them get cheated out of a game, but unfortunately, that’s the way things are turning these days with declining enrollment and schools dropping to eight-man.

“You start losing games and you have to start searching and traveling a long way. With a nine-game schedule, we’ve still got some distances, but it’s not going downstate or (to) Wisconsin, so that’s nice.”

The Mustangs open with two road games in the Central Time Zone, at West Iron County this Friday and at Norway the following Friday. Both are “B” Division games counting in the conference, with the balance of the “B” schedule to include Bark River-Harris, Manistique and Gwinn at home and Lake Linden-Hubbell and Ishpeming on the road.

The nonconference games against “A” Division opponents come near midseason, at L’Anse and home against Hancock.

Practice has been going on for more than two weeks and Seaberg likes what he is seeing so far from his squad.

“The kids are fired up and ready to go,” he said. “They’ve worked hard in the offseason and conditioning is the biggest thing. They just need to make sure they’re in shape because once the season starts, it’s tough to play catchup. So we’re going to work our tails off and hopefully that pays off.”

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