Sunday, November 22, 2009

NHS faces road test vs. Maroons

By CRAIG REMSBURG Senior Sports Writer

Some high school football coaches wouldn't relish playing a game at Walton Blesch Stadium in Menominee.

After all, it's an old facility surrounded by a concrete wall and the home of the perennial powerhouse Menominee Maroons.

But Negaunee High School head coach Paul Jacobson is looking forward to taking his Miners there Saturday for a 2 p.m. (EST) Division 5, District 1 championship clash with the Maroons.

"I just love playing Menominee," he said, "especially at their place with all the football heritage and tradition there.

"When you step inside those walls and the fans are on your back, it's great."

The 7-3 Miners will be taking on an 8-2 Menominee squad they beat last year in Negaunee, 14-13, in playoff action.

"I haven't brought that up to my kids," Menominee head coach Ken Hofer said. "We should have played better than we did and Negaunee took advantage of our mistakes.

"They also took care of us by running the option. We have to do a lot of work against that."

All-Upper Peninsula "Dream Team" junior guard Kyle Michaelson, senior tailback Cody Dagenais and senior quarterback Tyler Nault (if healthy) will spearhead the Negaunee offense Saturday.

Dagenais - with the help of Michaelson's blocking - averaged 5.1 yards a carry and scored nine touchdowns during the regular season.

Nault passed for 385 yards and rushed for 358 more, accounting for eight TDs overall.

Nault is nursing a high ankle sprain, however, and Jacobson said the signal-caller is "questionable" for Saturday's game.

If Nault's unable to go, junior Dan Bingel will get the call. He completed 4-of-9 passes for 39 yards in last Saturday's 30-28 Negaunee playoff win over Grayling.

The Maroons will counter with their fabled single-wing offense headed by "Dream Team" picks Brandon Colvin at guard, Erik Hines at end and Keeler Conery in the backfield. Colvin's a senior, the other two juniors.

Hines caught 38 passes for 649 yards and 10 TDs, while Conery rushed for 705 yards.

"Menominee ... can run the ball and also throw," Jacobson said. "That makes them a potent offense.

"Their single-wing comes off a 'shotgun' snap. It's almost like a spread offense, only they pack it tight and run up the middle. There's more blocking at the point of attack."

Defensively, Menominee - which beat Elk Rapids 42-15 last week to advance - features All-U.P. Class ABC selections Travis Cherney at tackle and Jordan Miller at linebacker. Cherney's a senior, Miller a junior.

Cherney made 37 tackles (nine solo) during the regular season; Miller came up with 79 (24 solo), an interception and two fumble recoveries.

"We're a pretty balanced team," Hofer said. "We try to make the same emphasis on both sides of the ball."

The Miners are led defensively by Nault and senior defensive back Nathan Alexander. Nault recorded 85 tackles and seven sacks this season; Alexander came up with 75 tackles and picked off four passes.

"The big thing will be the line of scrimmage," said Hofer, now in his 43rd year of coaching. "They have some big linemen and we have to control their big people up front.

"We'll have to 'outquick' them as much as we can.

Jacobson said the Maroons' single-wing offense won't be a complete mystery to his Miners.

"We've played (the Maroons) in the lower levels and played against Grayling's shotgun last week. It's similar to Menominee's (offense)," he said.

The Negaunee-Menominee victor will play the winner of Saturday's Pinconning-Clare matchup in state regional play.
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