Football: Trojans eye 1st trip to 8-player state title

Forest Park faces unbeaten Pickford in state semis Friday

Forest Park's Connor Bortolini (28) looks for running room in last week's eight-player Division 2 regional with Engadine at Dick Mettlach Field in Crystal Falls. (Theresa Proudfit/The Daily News)

CRYSTAL FALLS — The Forest Park Trojans have played in 13 Class D or Division 8 state football championship games.

That number will move to 14 by beating Pickford in an eight-player Division 2 state semifinal Friday.

The unbeaten Panthers (11-0) will host the Trojans (8-2) at 7 p.m. EST. The winner takes on Kinde-North Huron (10-1) or Portland St Patrick (10-1) in the Superior Dome for the state championship.

Forest Park head coach Dave Graff expects the defenses to decide the state finalist.

“The team whose defense digs their heels in to get the critical stops will find the free pass to play in the Superior Dome,” Graff said.

While Forest Park carved up Engadine for 487 yards on the ground in last week’s regional, Pickford polished off Onekama 26-14 with an offensive output of 385 yards (233 passing).

“Pickford has a lot of size, especially on their offensive line,” Graff said. “They will run a lot of trap and counter-type plays, and don’t get stopped very often.”

The scouting report says Pickford can fly, but a soggy field may nullify that factor.

“I’ve been told they have a lot of team speed, but it was tough to see exactly how much in the films that we exchanged,” Graff said. “Their field was in rough shape last week, and now with a lot of snow predicted, I don’t expect it to get much better.

“We are expecting a field in which size does matter. Their offense will be well suited for those type of field conditions.”

Pickford head coach Josh Rader acknowledged his team’s speed, noting muddy field conditions slowed his Panthers against Onekama.

“It makes it tough to make cuts and take advantage in the open field,” Rader told The Evening News. “But it was that way for both teams. It became a downhill kind of game, and our kids did well.”

Nick Edington, a 6-foot-7 sophomore receiver, made two catches in the regional. He soared above defenders for a 31-yard touchdown pass from Jonah Bailey and also raced 67 yards for another score.

“When they pass expect it to be in the direction of Nicholas Edington,” Graff said. “He is a player.”

All-UP Dream Team linebacker Jimmy Storey spearheads the defense. The sophomore made 18 tackles and broke up two passes against Onekama.

“Their defense has a number of good players that have a nose for the ball, especially their linebackers,” said Graff, indicating that Storey leads the way.

Pickford senior running back John LaMothe was the Bridge Alliance Conference Offensive Player of the Year, compiling a team-best 678 yards on 49 carries (13.8 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns.

The balanced Panthers accumulated 2,759 yards rushing, with four players running for at least 500 yards.

Pickford had five other all-conference first-teamers in offensive lineman Garrett Dodds, utility/hybrid Joey Boik, defensive specialist/hybrid Lane Warner, linebacker Storey and wide receiver Edington.

“They have a well balanced team, and don’t make many mistakes,” Graff said. “We need to stop their running game. Our offense has led the way for us all year, and it must continue if we want to win.”

The only common opponent this season was Engadine. The Panthers downed the Eagles 40-22 in the third week of the season. Peter Ropiak rushed for 213 yards and Connor Bortolini added 211 when the Trojans beat Engadine 62-20 in the regional.