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Gwinn Modeltowners taking long trip downstate to open MHSAA football playoffs

Gwinn fullback Reid Hill, right, stiff arms Norway’s Easton Dwight on his way to a 10-yard touchdown run on Oct. 9 at Ronberg Field in Norway. (Iron Mountain Daily News photo by Matt McCarthy)

GWINN — It’s been an up-and-down season for the Gwinn High School football team, one filled with successes and disappointments.

On the latter side, the Modeltowners’ last true game was a heartbreaking overtime loss in their only home contest, but on the positive side, Gwinn finished the year with a forfeit win and heads into the MHSAA Division 8 playoffs with a 3-3 record.

When asked about the season as his team prepares for Friday’s playoff game at downstate East Jordan, Modeltowners head coach Ben Olsen said he thinks his team has improved a lot since the season opener.

“I feel like there’s been a natural progression,” he said. “The first two games, we kind of got it taken to us. We had some injuries early on and we lost our starting quarterback in the preseason, believe it or not.

“So I think we’re progressing as a team in the right way and we’re getting some kids back from injury this week. So that’s going to help us with the depth of our team and having some other choices to go to if something were to happen.”

Max Jayne returns a kick for the Gwinn Modeltowners in a game against Lake Linden-Hubbell on Sept. 13, 2019, in Gwinn. (Journal file photo)

The Modeltowners are the No. 5 seeded team in its eight-team district, while East Jordan is No. 4 and received the last home berth for this weekend’s playoff round.

One of the encouraging signs for Gwinn has been its defense, which has looked solid all fall despite some of the final scores.

“Our defense has been a real bright spot for us,” Olsen said. “We’ve only given up under 200 yards a game. Even in the Hancock game where we got beat like 42-6, we only gave Hancock 270 yards of total offense. Usually if you give up that many points, you’re giving up a ton of yards, but we had a couple pick-sixes and it kind of snowballed. We had a fumble inside of our 20-yard-line that kind of snowballed that score kind of out of control.

“But our defense has been, other than giving up a big play here and there, we’ve been really good on the defensive side of the football.”

The defense will need to step up big if the Modeltowners want to get past pass-heavy East Jordan, who like the Modeltowners have a 3-3 record. The Red Devils run a spread offense, which isn’t exactly a common occurrence in the Upper Peninsula, but Olsen said his team saw that in an earlier game against Norway and he’s confident that his defensive backs can handle it.

“They like to fling it around the field,” he said of East Jordan. “They’ve got a big quarterback, I guess he’s 6-foot-4 and they kind of run the spread and they like to throw it around a little bit.

“They also have a bit of a power running game that they can rely on as well. I’ve got a couple of films on them and I feel confident in our scheme and what we’re going down there with.

“I think if we can get some pressure on that quarterback and make him uncomfortable, I think it’s going to go a long ways into whether or not we win or lose that football game.

“To be honest, I think it’s the best our (defensive backs) have played in kind of the seven or eight years that I’ve been here. I feel good in where we are there. You just can’t have any blown coverages and breakdowns.

“The Norway game definitely helped us with kind of the spread, so it’s not going to be different or awkward.”

Unlike some other teams, Gwinn hasn’t played for a full game in two weeks, so that might be seen as a disadvantage going into Friday, but Olsen finds it as a positive.

“The forfeit wins are nice, but they don’t pack the same punch as actually going out there and battling for one,” he said. “We only played really 3 1/2 games this year because at Calumet we got delayed at halftime and never went and took the field again because of lightning and weather.

“So really, we played Hancock, Calumet for a half, Norway and West Iron County. Those are really the only four games that we’ve played. So it would’ve been nice to get on the field and play, but on the flip side, we got a win and we left Gogebic without any injuries, which is a huge thing as well.

“We’re as healthy as we’re gonna be, or as we’ve been all year, which I think is going to bode really well for us Friday night. I think If we do have some nicks, we’re actually prepared. We got some backups in places where we haven’t had backups before.”

Overall, Olsen says his team is ready to go and that the game should be hard fought.

“I think it’s two evenly matched teams and I think it’s going to be a battle,” he said.

“It obviously would’ve been nice to host, but that’s not the way it is and we’ve been kind of road warriors all year. We only played one home game, so I think the kids are comfortable playing on the road and we’ve taken some long trips.”

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

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