By BURT ANGELI
CRYSTAL FALLS - Forest Park, looking like the Trojans of old this football season, embarks on a 28th playoff trip Friday.
The unbeaten Trojans (9-0) and Bessemer-Gogebic (6-3) clash at 6 p.m. in a Division 8 pre-district at Dick Mettlach Field. The winner meets Lake Linden-Hubbell (5-4) or L'Anse (7-2) for the district title.
Forest Park, No. 1 team in the final U.P. "Small School" poll, whitewashed Lake Linden 35-0 last weekend to register the school's eighth perfect regular season.
While they limped to a 7-3 record and first-round playoff loss last season, the bull's-eye has returned to the Trojans.
"Going undefeated you kind of earn that target," Forest Park Coach Bill Santilli said. "Everybody wants to knock you off. It can be both good and bad."
As for the bad, Forest Park handled Gogebic 38-20 in the eighth week of the season. Will the Trojans look past their first-round foe?
"You might have a bit of overconfidence," Santilli said. "You always struggle with that."
However, Gogebic made a strong enough showing that Forest Park should be ready. The Miners drove the field on the first series but Austin Snell yanked the ball away in a pile-up and went 95 yards.
"Take that away and possibly the whole complexion of the game plays out differently," Santilli said. "They have some very nice players and a great mix of athletic kids.
"Their linemen are staunch and like to hit. They're clearly bigger than we are."
Forest Park junior Lee Graff rushed for 224 yards and four touchdowns against Lake Linden. He also roughed up Gogebic for 166 yards and four scores.
Santilli has high regard for a Gogebic backfield with quarterback Ben Zielinski and running backs Jess Mazzon and Paul Buerger.
"Zielinski can throw and get to the edge," Santilli said. "Buerger is as hard a runner that we faced. Mazzon is the best athlete and most consistent playmaker."
The Miners did outgain the Trojans 332-329. Forest Park missed quarterback Jeff Johnson in that game and the senior could be out again after suffering a bruised thigh in the Lake Linden contest.
"Definitely questionable," Santilli said of Johnson's status.
Gogebic graduated 19 of 22 starters from last year's team that beat Forest Park in the regular season. The Miners downed winless Ironwood 35-16 to clinch the playoff spot.
"I'm very proud of us making the playoffs again," said Gogebic coach Mark Mazzon, noting back-to-back playoff appearances. "It means a lot because it hasn't been done for many years.
Forest Park, according to Santilli, will need to be disciplined, play extremely well defensively and not make turnovers.
"We're happy to be in this position," Santilli said of reaching the playoffs and playing at home. "It's been a real nice season for us all around.
"I just hope we can perform at the same level we've played at all season."