By RON DEUTER
FELCH - Will he or won't he?
North Dickinson was off to a 4-0 start before losing leading rusher Tim Hruska to an ankle injury, going 2-2 in its last four games.
Now that the playoffs have arrived, the big question is whether or not the senior is able to return to the backfield, and at what percent of full health.
"We don't know," said North Dickinson coach Joe Reddinger, who has his team in the playoffs for a state-record 23rd season in a row. "It might come down to a game-time decision."
The bigger question might be if the Nordics could get by against Pickford in a Division 8 pre-district game without Hruska, giving the speedster an extra week to heal. With no room for error, it's a tough call for Reddinger and his staff.
"You're torn because you don't want to use him if you don't need to use him, but you don't want to stub your toe and not even make it to Week 2."
Hruska rushed for 539 yards (10.36 per carry) and nine touchdowns before being sidelined.
Pickford enters the postseason fray at 6-3, one of those wins a forfeit. The only common opponent to the Nordics is Bark River-Harris. Pickford beat the Broncos 30-20 in Week 2. North Dickinson won 34-8 against the Broncos, the first game played without Hruska.
Pickford and North Dickinson last met in a postseason game in 2011, with the Nordics taking a 55-20 win at home.
Pickford shows a 2-2 record in the Ski-Valley Conference (North), finishing behind St. Ignace (7-2, 4-0) and Indian River Inland Lakes (6-3, 3-1). In addition to Bark River and the forfeit over Sault Ste. Marie White Pines, the Panthers defeated Central Lake (28-14), Pellston (29-0), Rudyard (26-22) and Onaway (41-6). Those teams combined for a 10-25 record this season, with none making the postseason.
"They're a fast team," Reddinger said. "They've got some real quick kids, good speed in the backfield."
Primarily a running team, the Panthers are guided by quarterback Jared Hatfield. Using a lot of misdirection, and some option, the Panthers pounded out 286 rushing yards in last week's playoff-clinching win over Onaway. Elijah May and Jaykob Soeltner each scored twice, while Hatfield and Plesscher also found the end zone.
Soeltner totaled 78 yards on 10 carries, while May had 70 yards on 12 trips.
"We ended the season strong and met one of our goals by making the playoffs," Pickford coach Josh Rader told the Soo Evening News. "We have most of our guys back and healthy again. Our seniors have stepped up and have been leading the way."
Hatfield had seven carries for 39 yards. He has eight rushing touchdowns this season.
"They want the QB to carry the ball," Reddinger said. "He's one of their best players."
Pickford's defense held Onaway to 27 total yards of offense last week.
"We should stack up real well, Reddinger said. "What we need is some confidence back."
Matt Schultz leads ND with 863 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Derek Wagner has seven scores and a 5.15 yards-per-carry average. The Nordics have recovered nine fumbles on defense.
"We've made some adjustments," Reddinger said. "Hopefully we've made the right adjustments."