GLADWIN – Often times the playoffs pit unfamiliar teams against one another, but that usually happens in later rounds. First round games are usually local affairs for teams from mid Michigan. If they are not a rematch from the regular season, there are often common opponents from which to draw some basis of comparison. In the case of the Gladwin game with Hancock this Saturday, 402 miles separated the schools and there were no common opponents. To make the preparation even harder for the Flying G coaching staff the Bulldogs only had a game and a half of film to share. “I didn’t know what to expect, it’s hard to tell on film, we have never seen them before or even watched them play,” said coach Marc Jartsfer, “They did look big and physical on film.”
The long distance that the Bulldogs were required to travel meant that the game would be played on Saturday afternoon. With the exception of a little wind the conditions were perfect for football and Gladwin eventually took advantage of it, but not before that wind caused some early problems. It played havoc with both the kicking and passing game in the first quarter which saw neither team able to move the ball.
With the wind at their back, Gladwin was finally able to move the ball in the second quarter. The G’s jumped out to a 12-0 lead on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Nick Wheeler to Kaden McDonald on their first full possession of the quarter. They made it 12-0 when Hunter Huguelet scooped up a Hancock fumble and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown.
It didn’t take long for Hancock to get back in the game when they returned the ensuing kickoff about 80 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was good cutting the Gladwin lead to 12-7. The G’s have responded to adversity well most of the season and did so again Saturday. They immediately marched down the field and Jacob McLemore scored on a 11-yard run and Aaron Koslow caught the two-point conversion pass, extending the lead to 20-7. After limiting the Bulldogs to one yard on the next possession, Gladwin had one more opportunity before halftime. With the ball on their own 16 they went to the air with Wheeler hitting Lucas Mead on a short route. Mead made a couple of Hancock tacklers miss and took the ball 84 yards for the touchdown giving Gladwin a 26-7 lead at halftime.
Hancock took the second half kickoff and marched 65 yards for the score with Austin Salani taking it in from the three, the extra point made it 26-14 with a little over six minutes to go in the third quarter. Gladwin moved down the field behind the running of Wheeler and Logan Kokotovich making it to the nine-yard line before a big loss and an interception in the end zone stopped the drive. The quarter ended with the G’s holding a 26-14 lead.
With a comfortable lead entering the fourth Gladwin put the ball in the hands of Kokotovich and Wheeler. The duo carried most of the workload in the quarter as Gladwin ran down the clock. Wheeler scored one more time on a five-yard run and after a successful extra point attempt by Koslow, the G’s had a 33-14 lead with five minutes remaining and that’s how it ended.
Gladwin controlled the game outgaining Hancock 387 yards to 178. The G’s had 255 yards on the ground and 132 through the air. Wheeler had a big day for Gladwin rushing for 206 yards on 24 carries and throwing for 122 yards and two touchdowns. “The focus this week was to use Wheeler, we thought he would be a big advantage for us,” said Jarstfer, “He put on a gritty performance.”
“Kokotovich was an unsung hero for us this week. He does everything right and always plays hard,” continued Jartsfer. He had 11 carries for 32 yards, and also blocked well in the run game. McDonald was the leading receiver with three catches and a touchdown. Earl Esiline led the Flying G’s with nine tackles including a sack and two for a loss. Kokotovich had 7 tackles and Huguelet added six.
With the win Gladwin moves on to face Kingsley next Saturday at 1 p.m. in Kingsley. The Stags are 7-0 ranking and rated number two in the state by the Detroit Free Press. “They are fast and physical,” said Jartsfer, “We are going to have to play good assignment football to give ourselves a chance.”