Kingsford to host Norway — first grid meeting in 31 years
By MATT “SWEETS” McCARTHY
KINGSFORD — Something that hasn’t occurred since 1989 will take place this afternoon at Flivver Field. Norway and Kingsford will be opponents in varsity football.
Due to the coronavirus numbers on the rise in the Escanaba area, the Eskymos canceled out on Kingsford for Friday night. Norway took the advice of the Dickinson-Iron Health Department and opted not to travel to Houghton County to play the Gremlins.
Kingsford athletic director Chris Hartman and Norway athletic director Joe Tinti had a conversation Friday morning and made the decision to play.
Flivvers head coach, and 1993 Kingsford graduate Mark Novara is excited for today’s game. “We are very thankful that Norway is willing to play us, for stepping up and giving us this opportunity,” he said.
“Not everyone would do this, it’s about giving the kids a chance to play football in these uncertain times. It’s a big deal for both schools, players, fans, and our communities,” Novara added.
Norway head coach Scott Popp is a 1995 Kingsford graduate; “I am excited to go back there. I haven’t been on Flivver Field since I last played there in 1994.”
Popp will be bringing a Knights team that has 15 players on its roster.
“The facilities there are outstanding, I am happy for our kids to get to play there,” Popp added. “The kids are excited as well, it’s going to be a fun afternoon.”
Norway and Kingsford played one another annually from 1954 through 1989. Until the mid 1960’s, both teams were in the Menominee Range Conference, with Kingsford’s last year in the MR being 1967.
The Flivvers lead the all-time series 23-12-1, with the lone tie being at Flivver Field in 1978, with a score of 8-8.
Norway defeated Kingsford in 1979 and 1980 in the years when the Knights captured consecutive Class D state championships at the Pontiac Silverdome. Norway also three straight against their much larger neighbor from 1983-1985.
Though the Knights last beat Kingsford in 1987 at Flivver Field, 13-6, the last time these teams faced one another was a game won handily by Kingsford at Flivver Field, 54-14. Norway’s roster was much like it is this year, very small on numbers.
U.P. Hall of Fame coach Bob Giannunzio was Norway’s head coach then. The Knights had only 13 healthy players for that game. Kingsford’s roster in those years was upwards of 65 players, depending on the year.
The Flivvers were also led by a U.P. Hall of Fame coach, Chris Hofer, who was in his third season at the helm of the Flivver varsity.
“It was definitely the right move for Norway at that time, they didn’t need to be playing us anymore,” said Hofer in a phone interview Friday afternoon. The Knights’ enrollment was in decline, while Kingsford’s was on the rise, he noted.
Both Novara and Popp played for Hofer at Kingsford. With a laugh Hofer said, “I could have a field day talking about the two of them. Both of them were great players for Kingsford. Scott (Popp) played on our 1993 state championship team as a junior. Mark was a great quarterback, and a Dream Team defensive end.”
Asked about his thoughts about two of his former players facing one another for the first time — and possibly the only time with the Knights moving to 8-player competition in 2021 — Hofer said, “They’re both kind of getting started as varsity head coach, it’ll be interesting for them with all things considered, especially in these current conditions.”
“When we first told the kids we are playing them there was no heads hanging they were excited and ready to go,” said Popp. “Coach Novara has a great program, so it’ll be a big challenge but I can say these kids are not backing down.”
Kickoff at Flivver Field this afternoon is 12 p.m.