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Pickford football 2019 8-player state champions

(Rob Roos/The Sault News Photo) Pickford's Nick Edington (13) tiptoes past North Central's Ian Gorzinski (8) on Nov 9, 2019 in a MHSAA 8-player playoff game at Powers. Quarterback Jimmy Storey (18) looks on; Storey was named 2018 and 2019 Associated Press Michigan 8-player State Player of the Year.

By ROB ROOS

For The Daily News

PICKFORD — Coaches knew they were going to have something special when Pickford’s Class of 2020 were seniors.

A season that began with the mantra of ‘unfinished business’ culminated with the first football title in school history.

The Panthers were 45-5 in varsity football while the current group of outgoing seniors were in high school, getting at least to the semifinals all four years. Several players were brought up to varsity in their freshman years.

“It was a great group of seniors,” Pickford coach Josh Rader said, following the season. “I’m so proud of those guys. They overcame any obstacles in front of them. What careers those guys had. We’re going to have some great memories to talk about for many years.”

Pickford returned a wealth of football riches this past summer/fall as all but two starters were back from a state runner-up team. A trifecta of all-state players were back, including quarterback/linebacker Jimmy Storey, lineman Isaiah May and receiver/defensive end Nick Edington. The Panthers senior class included many other standouts, a group including Blaine Burnaby, Matt Bush, Stephen LaMothe, Isaac Brown, Luke Batho, Sam Burton, Jacob Satchell, Max Streichert and John LaJoie.

“In the first practice of the season, we got all the guys together and set our goals,” Storey said, following the state final game. “Winning the state championship was the final one. Every practice, every game, we were working towards this moment.

“From playing football in the backyard as kids, to competing so many years with all those guys,” Storey said. “I wouldn’t have wanted it to have been with any other group of teammates. It’s been an amazing, crazy ride.”

Pickford went 8-1 in the regular season, with its only loss (20-14 at North Central in Week 2) setting the stage for what many considered it’s biggest win of the playoffs. The Panthers turned back Engadine 57-12 in the regional semifinals, setting up a rematch between a pair of top 3-ranked teams (Pickford at North Central) in the regional final.

The Panthers committed seven turnovers in the first meeting with the No. 1-ranked Jets. Pickford felt confident it could win the playoff rematch by sticking with a ground and pound run game on a muddy field, led by linemen Burnaby, May and junior Eric Huyck. Pickford went back to Powers and indeed notched a 22-14 win over the Jets to advance. The Panthers ran for 371 yards against the Jets, led by 280 yards on 51 carries and three TDs from Storey.

The semifinals marked a return to home turf for the Panthers. On a cold night with temperature at kickoff listed at 14 degrees, the Panthers stuck mostly with their ground game again, and earned a 40-8 win over the Hillman Tigers.

“We’ve been working since August for this,” Burnaby said, following the semifinal win. “All season we’ve been saying ‘Dome or bust.’ We’re going back to the championship game and this year we’re hoping to finish it. We have one more game now, and it’s the biggest of them all. This is something we’ve all been dreaming about since sixth grade.”

Pickford returned to the Superior Dome for the 8-Player Division 2 state championship game against Portland St. Patrick, out-gaining the Shamrocks 426 to 145 in total offense on their way to a 48-15 win. Storey ran for 119 yards and three touchdowns, while going 9-for-9 passing for 193 yards and two TDs. Edington and Batho both hauled in touchdown catches, while LaMothe caught five passes for 100 yards and Bush also had a TD run.

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