Another of those old sports clichés came into play last Friday and actually I was thinking about it in the moments after the playoff pairings were announced. I bet a lot of you were too. “It’s hard to beat a team twice in the same season,” especially a good team that has a great player. Al Warner is certainly a great player and, good talent surrounds him. Throw in a coaching staff with 30 years of experience and a head coach with over 250 wins and you have a team/program that isn’t going to go down without a fight. The Pioneers defeated Gladwin 32-12 last Friday night in the opening round of the playoffs.
“Clare did a really good job of making adjustments on both sides of the ball,” said Gladwin Coach Marc Jarstfer. “They moved some defensive alignments and did some different things to counter our personal groupings.” It was also clear from the start that the Pioneers were going to ride their best players. Warner carried the ball nine times for 58 yards on their first drive including the final four yards for a touchdown.
“Their adjustments weren’t something that we could prepare for because they were not something that they had done this season,” continued Jarstfer. “They broke a lot of their tendencies and changed things up. Eventually we figured it out.” Clare also scored on their second possession when they took over at the 49-yard line and Warner immediately went 49 yards for the score putting Gladwin in a 12-0 hole with 3:31 left in the first quarter.
The back breaker for Gladwin came at the end of the first half. After giving up the two quick scores the Gladwin defense settled down and with time running out they had the Pioneers pinned deep in their own territory. They were going to get the ball first in the second half and with the adjustments that were sure to come it looked like they would get back in the game, but Warner had other ideas. He went 84 yards for a touchdown as time expired to put Clare up 18-0 at halftime.
Gladwin made their halftime adjustments and scored on their first possession of the second half on a nine-yard run by Aaron Kozlow to get back into the game 18-6. Clare responded with an 11 play drive which ate up almost seven minutes to go back up by three scores 25-6. “We made adjustments and went right down the field and scored,” said Jarstfer. “When they went back up by three touchdowns it became a battle against time.” Clare focused on taking away the passing game because time was in their favor. Gladwin wasn’t going to be able to get back into the game by strictly running the ball.
Each team scored again in the fourth quarter to make the final score 32-12. No one likes to lose, but what eventually separates the good teams from those that have the potential to become great is what you do in response to a loss. The Gladwin coaching staff has already broken down what went wrong. “They did something that hadn’t been done all year, but now it’s in our memory bank,” said Jarstfer. “Going forward, against Clare or anybody else, we know what we should have done. We now have a plan for attacking that kind of defensive strategy.”
When asked about what this season, 9-1 undefeated Jack Pine Conference Champions, means for the program he was quick to credit the attitude of his players. “I think that this group has done a great job of just putting their foot in the ground and saying we are done losing. We are going to work hard and earn everything that we want to get.” He went on to say that they have set the standard going forward with the expectation that we will be competing for Jack Pine Conference titles and be a tough out in the playoffs.
Nick Wheeler was six of 17 for 79 yards passing and ran for 85 yards. Kozlow and Logan Kokotovich rushed for 34 and 22 yards respectively both also had touchdowns. Kaden McDonald had three catches for 25 yards, Lucas Mead caught one pass for 25 yards and Kozlow caught one for 21 yards.
McDonald led the defense with five tackles. Wheeler, Kokotovich Logan Simrau, and Lincoln McKinnon all had four each. The Flying G’s will take a well-deserved break from football activities until after the Christmas season. Jarstfer expects that the majority of his players will compete in another sport this winter. Everyone, including the coaching staff, needs a mental break from the daily grind, but if the last off-season was any indication they will hit the weight room hard once the New Year arrives.
As the old cliché says, winning is a lot more fun than losing. These Flying G’s now know what it takes to get to the next level and I wouldn’t bet against them getting there.