By RON DEUTER
FELCH - North Dickinson has not met a challenge it couldn't overcome so far this prep football postseason.
Theresa Peterson/The Daily News Photo
North Dickinson celebrated a Division 8 district title last Friday night with a 61-30 win over L’Anse. The undefeated Nordics, led by head coach Joe Reddinger aim for state semifinal trip Friday night when they host St. Ignace in a regional title contest.
But the biggest test yet awaits Friday night, as the unbeaten Nordics (10-0) host undefeated St. Ignace (11-0) with a regional title and MHSAA Division 8 state semifinal berth on the line.
"Without a doubt," Nordics coach Joe Reddinger said. "And that's the way it should be. The best team we played all year is the next week. This is a good team we're playing. They have some really good athletes."
Kickoff from James D. Priestap Memorial Field is 6 p.m.
Likewise, Saints coach Marty Spencer, his team in its sixth straight postseason, sees the Nordics as their toughest opponent to date.
"I believe ND will be the toughest team we have faced this year," he said. "They are very well-coached and have a tradition like no other. Twenty-three straight years in the playoffs speaks for itself."
The Saints 11-0 record included one forfeit win, but in the other 10 games St. Ignace was simply dominant. The Saints outscored their opponents 482-48, averaging 48.2 points per game on offense. They didn't allow more than six points in any regular season game, posting four shutouts en route to the Ski Valley Conference title.
A 2010 district title game is the only previous meeting between North Dickinson and St. Ignace - a team that up until a few years ago was playing in a larger division. North Dickinson won that game 41-26. But last year, the Saints advanced to a state semifinal after knocking off Forest Park 27-14 in a regional at St. Ignace.
This year's Saints returned 10 starters on defense and 17 seniors overall - including six three-year starters. Senior linebacker Joe Ostman, bound for Central Michigan, was named this year's small school U.P. Defensive Player of the Year.
The Saints opened the playoffs with a 62-0 rout over North Central. But like the Nordics, the district title game provided some adversity. Trailing at halftime, 20-14 to Stephenson, the Saints took over in the second half and won 35-20.
Reddinger says the Nordics and Saints are two very similar football teams - both running versions of the Wing-T offense.
"They have a some guys in the backfield who are two- and three-year starters," he said. "Galloway Thurston, Richard Bentley ... and Curtis St. Louis is one of the premier athletes in the U.P. They've got players."
Junior quarterback Tyler Snyder totaled 1,137 yards and 21 touchdowns in nine regular season games, and the ground game amassed almost 300 yards per game. Last week Snyder was 8-of-17 for 74 yards with three touchdowns. Bentley ran for 121 yards on 19 carries, and St. Louis added 92 yards on 15 trips with a seven-yard touchdown. Thurston totaled 87 yards on 14 tries, with one score.
"Last time we played them, it was kind of back and forth for a while," Reddinger said. "It's going to come down to who makes the least mistakes, who gets that one more defensive stop. Two years ago they had a couple of picks and we capitalized.
"They are well-coached, do a lot of different things on offense, Defensively, they're doing the same things they did two years ago, but they do it very well."
Both coaches agree line play will be a key in this matchup.
"North Dickinson's offensive and defensive lines are very athletic, and their backs can take it the distance on any play," Spencer said. "ND players are hard-nosed tough football players. We also have a very experienced team that plays well together. I feel we have to control the ND running game and not give up the big play. Turnovers will also be a huge factor in this game."
"Both teams pose problems for each other," Reddinger said. "It could be a real challenge. Our line is a little bigger, but they might be a little quicker. We have excellent guards, and they do too. It's going to be a heck of a football game."
St. Ignace and North Dickinson shared two common opponents this season. Both the Saints' playoff foes were teams North Dickinson played in the regular season. The Nordics handled North Central 56-6 and stuffed Stephenson 55-30.
North Dickinson set a season high for points in last week's win over L'Anse. For the season, the Nordics are averaging nearly 50 points per contest, with two of their four highest-scoring efforts coming in the postseason. Dominic Christian is closing in on 1,500 yards rushing for the season. He has 21 touchdowns. Tim Hruska is over 1,000 yards. He and Matt Schultz have each scored 13 times. As a unit, the Nordics could eclipse 4,000 yards rushing in Friday's contest.
"We are looking forward to the challenge on Friday night," Spencer said.
North Dickinson last reached the state semifinals in 2001.
"We'll wait and see what shakes down," Reddinger said, noting how nice is has been to not have to travel so far this postseason. "There is a lot of excitement. The place is going to packed."