Reed City ready for Swan Valley’s challenge

The Reed City football team lines up for a snap during practice this week. The Coyotes face Saginaw Swan Valley at 1 p.m. Saturday at Swan Valley High School. (Pioneer photo/Maxwell Harden)

REED CITY — The Reed City football team has a date with destiny on Saturday afternoon.

The Coyotes (11-0) are gearing up to face the Vikings of Saginaw Swan Valley (11-0) in Division 5 regional final play. The game will be a rematch of last season’s Division 5 semifinal which saw the Vikings earn a 29-14 victory.

Swan Valley has beaten Tri-County 41-7 and Freeland 55-10 in the playoffs.

“It was a little bittersweet losing to them in the semis,” head coach Monty Price said. “We didn’t feel like we played to the best of our ability. We’d like another shot at them to see how we stack up against them. That’s what it’s all about.”

Swan Valley defeated Cedar Springs 21-12 in Week 1 and Frankenmuth 56-20 in Week 2. Both teams are playing for regional titles, with Cedar Springs (10-1) facing Muskegon in Division 3 and Frankenmuth (9-2) against Portland in Division 5. Reed City’s best win of the season was against Montague (34-13) in Week 1. The Wildcats (9-2) are playing for a Division 6 regional title against Schoolcraft.

The Vikings sport a balanced offensive attack that averages 42.7 points behind a beefy offensive line. Quarterback Alex Fries completed 87 of 150 passes for 1,547 yards, 22 touchdowns, and one interception during the regular season while adding 377 rushing yards and six touchdowns. In the two playoff games, he has completed 15 of 26 for 244 yards and five scores.

Fries’ favorite targets are Terryon Liddell — who has 32 catches for 579 yards and 11 touchdowns — and Ethan Champney, who has 38 catches for 790 yards and eight scores.

Champney, who caught six passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns in Swan Valley’s 55-10 win over Freeland, also intercepted a pass and returned it 30 yards for another score.

When Fries isn’t throwing or running the ball, he’s handing it off to his stable of backs. Senior Chase Mendoza ran 11 times for 177 yards and two touchdowns last week against Freeland. Speedster Deondric Sanders is a homerun threat every time he touches the ball. He had four carries for 59 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win.

“Chase has great vision and is tough to bring down,” Swan Valley coach Kevin Gavenda said after last week’s playoff game. “He can see where the lanes are going to be, and he makes great cuts to create lanes. Plus, our offensive line averages, when you take out the center, 270 pounds. And those are athletic pounds.

“They can move and run.”

Only Montague and Big Rapids have reached double-digit points against Reed City’s defense this season. But Swan Valley will be its toughest test, yet.

“They’ve done anything they’ve wanted to (offensively) up until this point,” Price said. “They’re very balanced; they throw the ball very well and they have a great running attack. They’ve torn opposing defenses apart through the air and on the ground. It’s a huge challenge because they’re so diverse in what they do offensively we have to prepare to stop everything.

“It’s a tough challenge for our program but I hope our kids are up for it.”

Swan Valley’s defensive line is led by 280-pound lineman Rorey Gardner. Inside linebacker Mitchel Boehler leads the defense with 63 solo tackles.

The Vikings focus in on stopping the run, which makes this matchup a great test for Phillip Jones-Price and a Reed City offense that is eight points away from breaking its record for total points set by last year’s team. Jones-Price has rushed for 2,134 yards and 42 touchdowns on the season. Both figures are tops in the state.

In order to advance to their second state semifinal in program history, the Coyotes will have to play their best game of the season on Saturday.

“At this level, no matter who you’re playing, you have to play perfect football,” Price said. “ You have to be physical, you have to be tough, you have to fight the elements. It’s going to be cold. Our kids have had the mindset of dominating our opponents all year.

“We’re going to have to do all of the little things very well and play a complete football game.”

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