Norway preps for biggest game of season vs. Negaunee

NORWAY – The Norway High School football team faces its biggest test of the season when it hosts Negaunee on Friday night.

The Knights’ homecoming game also has high stakes with the winner taking sole control of the Mid-Peninsula Conference and punching a ticket to the playoffs.

Kickoff is 8 p.m. EDT.

Postseason play has been the chief goal for Norway (5-0) this season. But first, Negaunee (5-0) is the focus, Knights coach Bob Madigan said after his team went on the road and shut out Ishpeming 14-0 on Friday.

“I think (Ishpeming coach) Jeff Olson is one of the best coaches in the state if not the best,” Madigan said. “We won that game, but now that’s done and it’s over.

“We’ll remember it the rest of our lives but the game we’re looking at now is Negaunee. We’re not looking past Negaunee. We have put ourselves in a pretty good spot.”

A good spot being that Norway is near its season goal of making the playoffs. A good spot, after the Knights won just one game in the M-PC last year and trudged to a 2-7 record. This year, the Knights have already surpassed their scoring total from last year.

Norway last started a season 5-0 in 2010 – and Negaunee ended that win streak with a 40-20 victory.

The Knights haven’t played meaningful games in the second half of the season since that time. In that stretch, including last year, the Knights are a combined 14-31 with one playoff win, a forfeit against Gwinn in 2011.

The Knights bring a balanced offensive attack, with quarterback Josh Plante, running backs Bryce Broden and Cody Carlson. The receivers also bring speed, size and good hands with Connor Ortman, Adam Faull, Inocencio Stankevich and Shane Vargas.

Despite the good offense, the defense is what gave previous opponents fits. And the same can be said for Negaunee.

The Knights have surrendered 61 points this season, while the Miners have surrendered 59. (Ishpeming, in four games, has surrendered 55.)

The Knights’ blanking of Ishpeming was the Hematites’ first regular-season shutout in a regular-season game since 2003.

Meanwhile, Negaunee edged Gwinn 19-12 last week.

While conference games remain on all teams’ schedules, including Negaunee facing Ishpeming next week and Norway taking on Iron Mountain on Oct. 21, Friday’s matchup will be a decisive shakeup at the top of the conference standings.

How important is an undefeated conference record? The M-PC has had an undefeated team 12 of the last 16 seasons. In 2005, three teams tied at the top of the conference – Ishpeming, Norway and Negaunee. Ishpeming had the best overall record that year, going 10-2.

At this time last year, Norway won two of its first five games and was outscored 186-131.

“What else could you ask for? Homecoming, two 5-0 teams,” Madigan said. “We met Saturday as a coaching staff from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. We watched film on Sunday. We’re doing just a tremendous amount of effort and work. We’re preparing to come and beat Negaunee on Friday. On our field.”