Coyotes run away from Chippewas in playoff opener

Manistee senior Mason Swidorski (10) tries to find running room while Lane Gancarz (42) blocks during Friday’s playoff loss to Reed City. (Matt Wenzel/News Advocate)

REED CITY — If playing Reed City was supposed to be like looking in a mirror, Manistee didn’t like its reflection.

In a battle of teams that like to jam the ball down the throats of their opponents, the Coyotes suffocated the Chippewas to the tune of a 48-14 win in a Division 5 first-round playoff game on Friday night.

“They dominated all three phases tonight,” said Manistee coach Gus Kapolka. “They dominated us in the kicking game, they dominated us on the line of scrimmage, they dominated us in turnovers and they dominated us on special teams.”

The first lopsided loss of the season was additionally painful for a Manistee team that finished 6-4 for a second straight year as part of a program that has never won a playoff game.

“It’s real difficult right now,” said Manistee senior Mason Swidorski. “We didn’t expect the game to turn out like this. We didn’t come out and play like we should. They came out hungry and put it to us.”

The Coyotes (10-0) dominated from start to finish, jumping out to a 21-0 lead and scoring on their first four possessions to set up the comfortable win.

“We came out focused and played intense,” said Reed City coach Monty Price. “I thought our kids did an excellent job of establishing the line of scrimmage and played a pretty solid game.”

The Coyotes will play for their first district title next Friday against Newaygo, which beat Grant 20-7.

Reed City racked up almost 500 yards of offense while holding Manistee to 261.

Senior fullback Lane Gancarz led the Chippewas with eight rushes for 112 yards and a touchdown to go with a team-high 10 tackles while Swidorski had 19 carries for 51 yards and a score.

Quarterback Chad Samuels paced the Coyotes by rushing eight times for 101 yards and a score and went 9-for-13 for 115 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Jordan Straub added 16 rushes for 85 yards and three touchdowns.

Samuels got the offense going on Reed City’s second play from scrimmage, taking a keeper around the right side for a 72-yard touchdown run and 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

“We knew they would come out strong — Reed City always does. We didn’t have anything to counter,” Swidorski said. “They kept the pedal to the metal, didn’t let up, and we just couldn’t come back from it.”

Straub scored on a 1-yard run and the Coyotes added an 18-play drive that took 6:32 off the clock and included a trio of fourth-down conversions, one of which came on a fake punt, before Straub scored on a 4-yard carry for the 21-0 lead with 7:01 left in the second quarter.

“We felt like we had a good lead,” Samuels said, “but Manistee is a great team, we didn’t want to let down and we just wanted to keep pushing and pushing.”

Two plays later, Gancarz popped a trap for a 78-yard touchdown, but the Coyotes answered with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Samuels to Eric Bradford on 4th-and-8 for the 28-6 lead which stood up as the halftime score.

The Chippewas forced Reed City into a three-and-out to start the second half, but fumbled the punt and Samuels tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass, again on fourth down, to Kyle Wright.

“We were able to pretty much do what we wanted to do,” Price said. “We kind of stuck to the gameplan, then brought in our spread package, which is a little twist, but it kind of opened things up a little bit. It’s all about execution and our kids were ready tonight and performed great.”

Swidorski scored on a 1-yard run to make it 35-14 with 3:36 left in the third quarter, but that was as close as the Chippewas got. Samuels threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Benson and Straub added an 8-yard run for the final score.

“We got dominated,” Kapolka said. “My responsibility as a head coach is to get our guys ready to play and come out here and perform well and we didn’t do that tonight. At the end of the day, the responsibility for that falls on me.”

It was the first time the Chippewas made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and their second first-round loss by a large margin.

“It’s difficult No.1 because of the score, it’s difficult No. 2 because the performance was puzzling,” Kapolka said. “I think we came out like we were really just happy to win six games and get to the playoffs and they came out like they were on a mission to do bigger things than just win nine games.”

That being said, Kapolka addressed his team after the game and talked about how it was the winningest team Manistee has fielded in a while, and one that meant a lot to him personally.

“It’s been my favorite group,” he said. “I hate to pick favorites, but it’s been my favorite in nine years to coach because these kids, every single day, they came and they practiced and they played and they had fun and they were football players. I’m going to miss that.”

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