Playoff matchups announced for local teams

MHS football

MANISTEE COUNTY — Despite the spread of food, some blue and gold balloons and a general sense of excitement in the air, Manistee football coach Troy Bytwork stressed that Sunday night’s gathering was not a celebration. Rather, it was the start of a new season.

Manistee’s players, coaches, parents and friends convened in a conference room at the Little River Casino Resort to watch the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s playoff selection show.

“The weekend after the regular season gives you just a little time to relax — bring the kids and the families together to recognize a great regular season — but I want to make sure they know this isn’t the end-of-the-season banquet,” Bytwork said. “This is the start of Season 2.”

The Chippewas — who, at 9-0, are fresh off completing the program’s first perfect regular season since 1961 — cheered as their name appeared on the big screen TV. But again: this wasn’t a celebration. They know they’ve got work to do and more goals to accomplish. As a result of the playoff selections, Manistee is now slated to host Clare (8-1) in a Division 5 Pre-District at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

“Clare comes with a lot of history,” Bytwork said. “They’re always in the playoffs. And we’re two very similar teams: senior dominated with a lot of speed. It’s going to be a good matchup.”

Opening the playoffs at Chippewa Field is well deserved for the winningest team in school history.

“Like any high school, collegiate or NFL team, you want to bring teams to your place,” Bytwork said. “Part of going 9-0 — other than to say you went 9-0 — is making sure you secure home field as long as you can. Having that first game guaranteed at home is great.”

Bytwork added that he and the rest of the Chippewas aren’t satisfied with undefeated regular season, nor are they content with simply making the playoffs.

“I’m not ever sure you can just say, ‘let’s win the next one,’ because you’re basically leaving room to lose the one after that,” he said. “That doesn’t work in mind. To me, you shoot for the stars. Right now, we’re one of 32 (teams) and we want to win this whole thing.”

Manistee wasn’t the only local football family to gather Sunday to learn of their playoff fate. Onekama and Brethren had similar events, respectively, to find out where they landed in the state’s 8-player playoffs.

“First off, we’re really excited to be in the playoffs,” said Onekama coach John Neph. “The guys have worked really hard, which started in the offseason and they’ve continued to step up all the way through. We’re really quite honored to be back in the postseason again.”

The Portagers, who finished the regular season 7-2, return to the playoffs with a home Division 2 Pre-Regional game against Marion, a team they’re quite familiar with.

“We’ve had some really tough, close games with Marion over the past couple years and we know it’s going to be a tough game again,” Neph said, “but we’re excited to be hosting and our guys are anxious to play. We’re looking forward to a good week of practice, because we know that’s what it’s going to take to win the game.”

Brethren coach JJ Randall and his players will be on the road to take on Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart in Pre-Regional action.

“It’s only the third time in school history that we’ve made the playoffs, so it’s a big deal for us,” Randall said. “We’re going to be competitive, and if we play well we’ll be in it at the end.

“The kids have to believe that we can make a playoff run. And in order to do it, we’ve got to sustain our drives and maintain physicality.”

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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