SAVELA: Onekama highlighting a fantastic Fall of local football

Onekama’s Ben Acton will look to help lead the Portagers past Portland Saint Patrick in their state semifinal game at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Onekama. (News Advocate file photos)

Onekama’s Ben Acton will look to help lead the Portagers past Portland Saint Patrick in their state semifinal game at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Onekama. (News Advocate file photos)

I thought I had covered my last local football game, but life has a funny way of, well, being funny.

So there I was again — first night back on the job — in the familiar glow of Friday night lights and the sideways rain of an October evening in Northern Michigan.

With little time to prepare, I returned to this Sports Editor position at the tail end of football season, and while I wasn’t taking handoffs like the young men I was watching, in my world I was hitting the ground running.

And I had to shake off the rust.

The speed of the game was faster than I remembered, while my note-taking seemed slower. The camera felt like a foreign object, which is what my first several pictures looked to be of too (defenders aren’t the only ones fooled by the veer offense, by the way). And my 11 p.m. deadline to write a game story that makes a lick of sense loomed larger than ever.

But by the end of the first quarter, I felt like I was getting the hang of it again… only to look down at my notes and find them washed away by the rain.

Life is funny though… because it still felt good to be back.

High school football is football at its finest.

And being back made me look back:

The last football season I covered for the newspaper was in 2014, way back when iPhone 6s weren’t displayed in museums and Sharknado had just come out with its FIRST sequel.

A lot has changed in the landscape of local football too. And the fantastic Fall for area teams should be celebrated.

While Manistee Catholic Central (5-4) fell short of a postseason berth, the Sabers claimed their first winning season since 2012.

Bear Lake (1-7) finished just its second campaign as a football program, and while all their hard work hasn’t translated to many wins just yet, the dawn of a new era is exciting in its own right.

This season, three of Manistee County’s five squads qualified for the playoffs, an achievement that doesn’t come easy and should never be taken for granted.

In doing so, the Manistee Chippewas (9-1) became the first team in school history to win nine games in a single season, and the first since 1961 to win an outright conference championship and finish the regular season undefeated.

The Brethren Bobcats (7-4) also put together one of their program-best seasons with a conference championship, third-ever playoff appearance and first postseason victory since 1990.

And then there’s Onekama: still alive and just two wins away from a state championship.

Football at its finest.

The Portagers (9-2) have been on an absolute tear this season, and especially of late. In capturing a program-first regional title, the team has outscored its two playoff opponents 74-6.

“The guys are excited,” said Onekama coach John Neph. “I’m real happy with how we’ve played so far in the playoff season.

“We want to do our best and keep everything moving forward.”

Onekama will host Portland Saint Patrick at 1 p.m. on Saturday with a trip to the 8-player Division 2 state championship in Marquette’s Superior Dome on the line.

“We would be so proud to represent our community and our school and all of our families (in the state finals),” Neph said. “It just means a great deal to the young men and to the coaching staff.”

And the community should be proud too. Their run should be embraced.

In a Fall full of highlights across the county, the Portagers have stood out and are still standing. And they deserve the backing from not only their fans, but fans of the sport.

This is football at its finest. And it’s being played in our backyard.

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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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