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Playoffs come home: Marquette to host Muskegon Reeths-Puffer in playoff game Saturday afternoon

Marquette defender Desmond Mullen, left, looks for room to run after making an interception of a Sault Ste. Marie pass in the fourth quarter of their game played Sept. 24 in Marquette. Following Mullen is Ty Lotterman. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“I should discontinue that thought process because they seem to surprise me each time.” — Eric Mason, Marquette head football coach, on being worried when his team arrived in Calumet last week to 4 inches of snow on the field

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MARQUETTE — For the second straight year, the Marquette Senior High School football team has won the Great Northern Conference, and for the second year in a row, the Redmen have also earned a spot in the MHSAA playoffs.

If that isn’t enough of a repeat, Marquette will be facing a team from Muskegon in the first round, only this time the game will be at home. After finishing the year at 5-1, Marquette will host Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (2-4) at 2 p.m. Saturday.

After picking up a win in snowy Calumet a week ago, Redmen head coach Eric Mason is feeling confident.

“It was difficult because when we got there (to Calumet), there was four inches of snow on the field,” he said. “So it was quite a surprise. On the way up, you could tell it wasn’t going to be the greatest weather, but the forecast didn’t call for that much snow when we got there.

“So it was a bit of a shock, but overall, I think the game went well. The kids didn’t even bat an eye. They just came out and played and did what they had to do. The footing was bad and for us with what we do, anytime the track that you’re on isn’t the best, you’re kind of worried.

“I should discontinue that thought process because they seem to surprise me each time.”

Another surprise for Mason is how versatile the Redmen’s opponent is this week. The Rockets have a variety of ways to attack defenses and that can make it hard to analyze.

“It’s difficult watching the film,” Mason said. “What they do offensively is a lot of different formations. Somebody asked me what’s their primary offense and what are they trying to get done and I said ‘I wish I knew.’

“They run several different things from spread to I(-formation) to pistol to full house-T. Just a bunch of different things that they run. I wish I could give you an accurate description of what they do, but one thing they do make you do is prepare for a lot of things, which that in itself makes it difficult.”

Reeths-Puffer defeated Holland and Grand Rapids Union while losing to Muskegon, Muskegon Mona Shores, East Kentwood and Zeeland East during the season.

The Rockets may be difficult to prepare for, but Mason has faith in his defense and says he’s going to try to keep things simple.

“I think when you get into those type of things, you settle in on what you do best and try and kind of come up with some different things that don’t overcomplicate things,” he said. “You try and simplify it and just make it easy for the kids to understand.

“One thing we do have on defense is we’ve got some smart kids that are almost player-coaches on the field between Ty Lotterman and Desmond Mullen. They get us into the majority of looks, the defenses that we need to do.

“They’re just smart kids out there. With them back, I don’t really worry about a whole heck of a lot.”

On offense, the Redmen will need to start fast. In the first few games, Marquette started slow, though Mason thinks the Redmen have fixed that problem.

“Ever since the Kingsford game, (before) that game, we were notoriously slow starting,” he said. “But since that game, the last three, we’ve actually started very quick. In the Escanaba game, we scored on the first play. Menominee, we didn’t score on our opening drive, but after that, we scored and then we just kept going.

“Sometimes it just takes a little bit. We just haven’t had the practice this year and this fall that we’ve had in the past. If you factor in the number of weeks that we lost due to the COVID and what-not, I think we’re at about half of what we normally would have at this point. So I think we’re kind of hitting that at this time.

“Now last week was an enigma in the fact that you’re coming out and you’re playing in snow. Again, you throw in that factor, but we still scored 28 points, and when we needed it, we could go get it.

“The kids are a lot more confident, especially our quarterback. Austin (Ridl) is, since about the third game, he’s just more confident and getting things done, making the right reads, and just being a confident football player. Which in any sporting event is huge.”

Overall, Mason said his team is ready to go and he’s grateful that his team is one of the few that got a full regular season of games in.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s such a crazy year. I told the kids that the proudest thing I was of them was we made it through all six weeks. That was huge for us. I think there might be another 11-man team, I think the Soo was the only one that made all six as well. So you’re just happy.

“It’s been so, day in and day out, I can’t tell you how many times there’s been this and that. There’s times during the year where it just felt like the walls were continuing to close (in) on you, and we found a way out of it. So it’s a testament to our parents and our players and our administration that we’re at where we’re at.

“And a really great deal of luck as well I guess, too.”

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

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