Prep football: Defending champion Ishpeming among five area teams to make MHSAA playoffs

MARQUETTE – Led by three teams from Marquette County, five Superiorland high school football squads will be playing in the first round of the Michigan High School Athletic Association playoffs this weekend.

They are among 20 Upper Peninsula schools announced Sunday night on the Fox Sports Detroit selection show that made the playoffs in nine divisions – Divisions 1 through 8 in 11-player and a single eight-player division – and feature 272 teams statewide.

Three area teams will be at home, though game times – either Friday night or Saturday afternoon – won’t be officially announced until today.

Schools qualifying for the playoffs are Marquette in Division 2, Negaunee in Division 6, Ishpeming in Division 7, and Munising and L’Anse in Division 8.

Every team in the state that was 6-3, or 5-3 for an eight-game schedule, qualfiied for the playoffs in 11-man. To reach 256 teams – 32 for each of the eight divisions – a number of 5-4, 4-4 and 4-3 teams are added. This year, 31 teams were needed to fill the field, distributed equitably over classes A, B, C and D.

Once the field is determined, teams are placed in divisions based on official enrollment numbers, with Division 1 composed of the 32 largest schools in the state down to Division 8 having the smallest 32.

The old playoff-point system – which rewards points based on the size of school a team defeats, with bonus points for an opponents’ wins – is still used in several ways. It was the sole factor in determining playoff teams before the field was expanded in 1999.

One way playoff points are used now is to pick which “wild cards” make the field, and the other is to determine matchups and home field once divisions are broken into eight geographical districts.

With a perfect 9-0 record, defending Division 7 state champion Ishpeming was a slam dunk to be playing at home in the first round, and will face a familiar opponent – downstate Mancelona (7-2) – in a game that Hematites head coach Jeff Olson said will be played at 1 p.m. Saturday.

The good news? The Ironmen appeared on Ishpeming’s playoff schedule in each of its last two runs to the state title game, in 2010 and 2012. The bad news? Mancelona was the opponent involved in a scrum at Ishpeming last season that saw a Hematite player ejected and subsequently suspended for the following game. The Hematites won that second-round game, 32-0.

“It’s nice to play at home,” said the 22nd-year coach, who has led Ishpeming to the playoffs 12 straight years and 14 of the past 15. “But we have to stress to our players to keep their composure after the undisciplinedness and the cheap shots that occurred last year.”

Negaunee will also be at home after an 8-1 regular season, hosting Indian River Inland Lakes (6-3).

“All I know about them is they played in a conference with St. Ignace and Rudyard,” Miners coach Paul Jacobson said Sunday night. “We’re just happy to be one of 32 teams to be playing for the championship.”

The 14th-year coach has led Negaunee to the playoffs a dozen times, including a 2002 state championship in Div. 6.

Marquette (5-3) was the lone area team that was unsure of its divisional placement before Sunday. For the third year in a row, the Redmen will be one of the smallest Div. 2 teams in the state and play at Midland (8-1) for the second straight year. The Chargers defeated MSHS 42-7 in the first round last season.

“This is a very good Midland team again,” said Dave L’Huillier, who has led Marquette to the playoffs in each of his four seasons heading the program.

He has the distinction of coaching the Redmen to their only playoff victory in school history, a 63-22 win at Bay City John Glenn in 2010; their only home playoff game, a loss to Cadillac a week later; and has been at the helm for four of the five playoff contests the school has played since the system was introduced in 1975.

Marquette is the fifth smallest of 32 schools in Div. 2 this season and has just 20 more students – 1,110 – than the largest Division 3 playoff school, according to numbers provided by the MHSAA.

“If we would’ve slipped into Division 3, we would be playing at home in the first round,” said L’Huillier, who calculated that the Redmen would’ve been in the spot that Sault Ste. Marie occupies in Division 3, hosting Ionia this weekend.

Munising (6-3) finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak to guarantee its spot and plays at North Central (7-2) at 7 p.m. EDT Friday, according to coach Jeff Seaberg.

“We had a heckuva finish to the regular season after losing our first three games,” he said, adding that this is the Mustangs’ second time in the playoffs in three years but only fourth in school history.

The other two appearances were in 1990 and 1980, the culmination of a 12-0 season and Class C state championship.

“We’re young, and it showed at times, but the kids are fired up to be in this position,” Seaberg said.

L’Anse (7-2) hung onto a home playoff spot despite a 17-10 loss to Munising on Friday and will host Copper Country rival Lake Linden-Hubbell (5-4).

This will be the Purple Hornets’ second straight playoff appearance and sixth in school history – other berths were earned in 2007, 1998, 1988 and 1986. L’Anse will be going for its third-ever playoff win, which includes last year’s 34-28 D8 victory over Forest Park.

Looking past this opening, pre-district, round, Ishpeming would have to play its second-round game – known as the district final – on the road if 9-0 West Iron County also wins its opener against Traverse City St. Francis (5-4), since the Wykons have more playoff points than Ishpeming. A St. Francis win would keep the Hematites at home in Week 2.

If Ishpeming reaches the third round – the regional final – it is assured to be at home since all four potential opponents have fewer points.

The fourth-week semifinals are played at neutral sites with state championship games moving to Ford Field in Detroit on Thanksgiving weekend.

Negaunee is guaranteed a home game if it makes it to the second round, while the third round is uncertain. However, looming at that point would probably be a game at three-time defending state champion Ithaca, currently riding the nation’s second-longest winning streak of 50 games.

Marquette would remain on the road in the second round and likely for the third round, too, with just one potential opponent with fewer playoff points than the Redmen.

Munising would come home to play in the second round if Pickford (6-3) wins at North Dickinson (6-2) in the first round, though the Mustangs would have to go on the road if the Nordics win.

L’Anse is in a similar position, either going to Forest Park (9-0) or hosting the Gogebic Miners (6-3) if it gets to Round 2.

Munising and the Purple Hornets would square off in L’Anse in the third round if each gets through its first two games.