Trojans leaning on run game for 8-player state title
CRYSTAL FALLS — Forest Park will continue to rely on a “ground and pound, and keep the clock wound” philosophy for Saturday’s eight-player Division 2 state championship at the Superior Dome.
“It’s been a successful pattern so far,” said Trojans coach Dave Graff. “If they can figure out how to stop us then we’ll be in trouble.”
The Trojans (9-2), playing in their 14th state championship game, will face Portland St. Patrick (11-1). Kick-off is 2 p.m. EST. The game will be televised live on the FOX Sports Detroit Facebook page.
Forest Park captured Class D state titles in 1975 and 1976 under Coach Dick Mettlach. The 2007 Trojans, with head coach Bill Santilli and assistant Graff, won the Class D state championship.
Shamrocks coach Patrick Russman is well aware of the Trojans.
“They’re obviously a very great program,” Russman said. “They’ve been in a lot of playoff football through the years. They’re very solid, well coached and play hard.”
It’s no secret that the Superior Dome’s perfect conditions will favor the faster Shamrocks.
“For us, a ground and pound-type team, we like the outdoor conditions because we’re built for that,” Graff said. “As far as team speed, that’s something we don’t have.”
The Trojans, unable to practice at the Superior Dome because the Shamrocks would not have equal access, started an indoor practice routine Monday.
“We’ll be inside the gym all week,” Graff said. “We don’t have the luxury of going up to the dome this year.
“Our problem is we’re not like a downstate team where we have the ability to go to an indoor facility. We’re stuck in the gym. It’s better than nothing.”
PSP has played a game this season on Battle Creek’s artificial turf.
“It looks like a wonderful facility,” Russman said of the Northern Michigan University site. “So we’re excited to come up there and play another week of football.”
While eight-player football seems to be like a fast-break basketball game for some programs, Forest Park thrives with the basics.
Trojans quarterback Tommy Peltoma has completed 34 of 58 passes for 657 yards and 10 touchdowns. But Forest Park’s strength is Connor Bortolini (1,734 yards, 20 touchdowns) and Peter Ropiak (865, 12) carrying the football.
“It really depends on the coaches and the philosophy they have,” Russman said of the Trojans. “You see some wide-open stuff but it depends on what has been successful for your program. That’s what has worked for them in the past.”
Forest Park rushed for 406 yards in turning back Pickford 36-34 in the state semifinals. Jacob Peterson, Hal Hoenig, Robert Ponchaud and Zach Robarge lead the way up front.
“We have to rely so much on the offensive line
and our backs,” Graff said. “We have to control the tempo of the game and we have to wear the other team out by making them force us to stop us.”
The Shamrocks, who beat Frankfort for a 1992 state championship, advanced to the eight-player finals with a 33-14 win over Kinde North Huron.
On the season, PSP junior quarterback Tanner Lawson (6-foot-3, 165) has passed for over 1,300 yards and 23 touchdowns. Ned Smith (1,114 yards rushing) and his brother Isaiah are the chief backs.
“They’re a very well rounded team,” said Graff, who was able to watch video of the Shamrocks’ past two games. “They run the ball and throw the ball well. They’re not a power team but they appear to have speed to get to the edge.
They try to do it with a little deception and it looks like they were able to get behind teams. I think that’s going to be magnified once they hit the carpet (at NMU).”
Forest Park, slowed by injuries early in the season, will take an eight-game winning streak into the finals. PSP’s only loss came in the fourth week of the season to Bellevue (28-6).
A re-air of the game will be shown at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21, on FOX Sports Detroit.