SAVELA: Let the record show: Chips’ season was one for the ages

The 2018 Manistee Chippewas are the winningest team in program history. (News Advocate file photo)

The 2018 Manistee Chippewas are the winningest team in program history. (News Advocate file photo)

With little regard and zero remorse, a loss will end a season in almost every case. It’s sad, but true, and stings every time.

A loss will put some seasons out of their misery and bring others to a screeching halt, paying no mind to the momentum it had.

The few who find a way to avoid it are called champions, while the rest are left with a bitter taste and their business unfinished.

A loss hurts, plain and simple. But while it comes with lasting implications, in special cases it’s not at all what lasts…

Magic was in the air this season for the Manistee football team, made even more spectacular by the fact the Chippewas had won just two games a season ago.

They believed they had more in them.

“We worked so hard in the summer to improve, that by the time this season started we were confident we could do something special,” said senior Logan Buren. And he was right.

The Chippewas won week after week until talks of an undefeated season went from dream, to goal, to reality.

With a deceptive, speedy ground game and tough-as-nails defense, Manistee outscored opponents 360-183, translating to a 40 points-per-game average and a 20-point average margin of victory over the course of the regular season.

The Chippewas notched signature wins over rival Ludington and perennial powerhouse Muskegon Catholic Central, among others, and clinched its first outright conference title in nearly 60 years.

They eclipsed the school’s record for total points in a season by a wide margin and eventually became the winningest team in program history as they secured the first undefeated season Manistee High has seen since 1961, all while reinvigorating a fanbase and capturing the town’s attention.

When the dust settled between the regular season and the playoffs, the Chippewas had nine wins and zero losses to their names — an historic run by any measure.

“That particular combination of numbers is going to stick with these kids forever,” said coach Troy Bytwork. “9-0: that’s always the goal. Whether every team that I’ve coached or helped coach has believed it, that’s hard to say. But these kids did. … I’ll never forget this team for that.”

On Saturday, the Chippewas made just their sixth playoff appearance in program history, and first since 2015. They did so in front of a full house at Chippewa Field, having earned the right to host their postseason opener.

However, Manistee was in the trenches with Clare, no stranger to the playoffs and reloaded with talent again this year. Both teams were athletic, fast and could score if the other blinked. But somewhere along the way, Manistee ran out of magic.

“These were two evenly matched squads today that went at each other until the bitter end,” Bytwork said after his team’s 42-28 loss. “It was athletes against athletes out there, and they got a couple more scores than us.”

The Chippewas’ first loss of the year was now their last, capping an unforgettable season with a game they most likely want to forget.

But let the record show: the loss was just a footnote.

“It’s not how we wanted to go out,” Bytwork said, “but this team has done so many things that people didn’t think were possible here.

“When I first got to Manistee, the thing I heard over and over and over again was that these kids were too small, too slow and they’re not strong enough,” he said. “This team proved all of that wrong.

“These kids worked their tails off to get stronger and put themselves into position to do what we did this year.”

And despite the departure of 16 seniors, Bytwork believes a fresh foundation has been set.

“Winning programs start this way,” he said. “You have a group that takes it upon themselves to do something about it: Not fall into the same trap of, ‘it’s not how we do things here,’ ‘we can’t do it here,’ ‘blah, blah, blah.’

“There’s got to be a group that starts it. And there’s got to be groups that follow,” he added. “We proved it’s possible. So, I’d be disappointed if the kids coming up didn’t want to experience what this group experienced.”

Together, the Chippewas huddled on their home field for one last time Saturday evening, soaking in the end of something special.

“I told these kids to look over at that huge crowd,” Bytwork said. “I’ve only lived here for five years, but I imagine what you saw today, as far as people coming out for the game, has been a long time coming.”

Looking back at them were family, friends, classmates, alumni and fans — young and old, die hard and born again.

“This team’s legacy is cemented,” Bytwork said. “They are one of the greatest teams to come through this school as a group. That doesn’t change tonight.”

A loss ended the Chippewas’ season. That much is true. But if you take time to look around, you’ll see it didn’t define it.

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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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