U.P. teams prepare for NMU Superior Dome tripleheader

Four Upper Peninsula football teams remain in the MHSAA state tournament, and three of them will be playing at the Superior Dome in Marquette in a triple-header that should make for an full-on exciting day of football.

The action kicks off at 10 a.m. with Division 8 opponents Forest Park (12-0) going against the Associated Press No. 1-ranked Beal City Aggies.

On the surface it would seem the Forest Park Trojans, even at 12-0, have their work cut out for them. Beal City has proven to be an absolute powerhouse over the last two seasons. Having fallen just short of the state title last season, Beal City has won seven of its last eight playoff games. This postseason, no one has even come close to being competitive with the Aggies steamroller. They have outscored their three opponents 161-15 coming into this game. Their most recent conquest? A 55-0 thrashing of a very respectable St. Ignace team in the regional final.

The Aggies employ a multi-back attack with four rushers combining for 229 yards last week. Senior quarterback Kurt Gross threw for an additional 196 yards.

But don’t write off the Trojans just yet. Forest Park had some adversity in this tournament, escaping L’Anse and North Dickinson by slim margins, but the Trojans, coached by the great Bill Santilli won’t roll over and die. With their powerful line and athletes like Jeff Johnson, Lee Graff and Austin Snell, Forest Park should at the very least make it hard on Beal City.

Up next, in Division 7 it’s AP No. 1-ranked Ishpeming (12-0) against Harbor Beach (11-1).

The Hematites are bidding to make their second consecutive trip to Ford Field to play for the Division 7 title, but they will have quite a test with the Harbor Beach Pirates. Interestingly enough, Harbor Beach is looking to win their second consecutive state title, having won the Division 8 title a season ago. This could be a dream matchup that may answer some lingering questions.

The Hematites may claim to have the best player on the field in quarterback Alex Briones, and their reputation for crushing defense certainly remains intact. Last week Ishpeming absolutely held high-scoring Lake City in check, in a 25-13 victory. The Pirates employ the spread and have a quarterback of their own that’s more than capable of running it to near perfection. Last week, in a 31-14 victory over Pewamo-Westphalia, even in unfavorable conditions, quarterback Eli Kraft was a force to be reckoned with. He threw a 78-yard touchdown pass, had a five-yard touchdown run and on defense, ran back an interruption 40 yards for a touchdown.

However, if last week was any indication, the Hematites proved that an unrelenting defense will take you farther than a powerhouse offense.

At 4 p.m., it’s a Division 5 matchup featuring Menominee (12-0) and Muskegon-Oakridge (11-1). The Maroons have been strong for years, but under head coach Joe Noha, appear primed to compete for a Division 5 state title. Menominee has cruised through to the state semifinal with victories over Houghton, Grayling and Standish-Sterling Central, all by at least 22 point margins.

Muskegon-Oakridge beat Millington 31-12 last week, to secure the Eagles’ first regional title since 2008. The Eagles’ defense is strong and they also have a secret weapon, a punter with a monster leg in Dom Greenawalt. Late in the first half of their game against Millington, Greenawalt pinned Millington on its 1-yard line. The Oakridge defenders then forced a fumble and scored three plays later to go up 17-6 with only a second remaining on the clock, effectively taking control of the game.

Offensively, the Maroons likely have the edge, but this game could likely come down to a battle of field position and Oakridge could hold the advantage there.