Hamilton a roadblock for ChieftainsPublished 8:11am Thursday, October 29, 2009
By SCOTT NOVAK
Dowagiac Daily News
An opponent it has never faced is the first roadblock for the Dowagiac varsity football team in its attempt to win a district title.
The Chieftains haven’t been district champions since 1996.
Dowagiac hasn’t been to the state finals since winning it all in 1990.
But the Chieftains aren’t really looking down the road to Ford Field, but are instead focused on a team from the north that has an identical record and plays in what is perceived as one of the best conferences in the state of Michigan.
Hamilton plays in the Ottawa-Kent Conference’s Green Division.
Also in the OK Green are Zeeland West, Holland Christian, Wyoming Park, Zeeland East, Bryon Center, Hudsonville Unity Christian and Wyoming Rogers.
Several of those teams have won state championships and most of the teams have reached the post season in recent seasons.
Hamilton defeated Coopersville (21-0), Coloma (21-0), Zeeland West (28-16), Zeeland East (49-7), Bryon Center (20-10), Hudsonville Unity Christian (31-14), Wyoming Rogers (53-0) and Wyoming Park (46-0).
The Hawkeyes lone loss came at the hands of Holland Christian in Week 8, 33-21.
Hamilton has posted three straight winning seasons after going 4-5 in 2006.
Since 2000, Hamilton is 67-32 and is making its third straight playoff appearance.
Dowagiac has gone 58-39 over that same stretch and is in the post season for the fifth consecutive season.
The Chieftains are 35-15 during that stretch.
Dowagiac coach Mike Stanger said his team is looking forward to getting a chance to represent the Wolverine Conference instead of facing it.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “They are ranked No. 7 in Division 4 and two of the last four state champions have come from their conference. So it’s going to be a great atmosphere up there and it’s going to be fun from that standpoint.”
Hamilton plays a 4-3 on defense with a cover 2 against Wing-T teams, while offensively, they are in the spread and have a pass-run balance of about 60-40 according to Stanger.
“They are a spread team much like Otsego,” he noted. “They have good wide receivers and their quarterback throws a good ball.”
Evan Mudd has thrown for over 1,000 yards so far this season and running back Aric Spotts has rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
“We have to avoid giving up the big play,” Stanger said. “I think we can stop their running game, but we have to be able to keep their passing game between the sticks (first down markers).
“We have to work to control the line of scrimmage. Their defense can run and they are aggressive. They will run you down, so we have to be able to sustain drives.”
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
The winner advances to next week’s district final against the winner of the Otsego-Three Rivers contest.
The Rangers and Hornets are no strangers to each other on the football field in the playoffs.
Cassopolis and Mendon met in the District finals in 2007 with the Rangers coming out on the short end of a 39-18 victory.
The Hornets went on to win the state championship that season, one of 12 that Mendon has captured over the years.
The final score is no indication of how close that game was.
In fact, with six minutes remaining in the contest, Cassopolis had the lead.
Rangers’ coach Andy Hubbard is hoping the players who were on the squad, including leading rusher DaShaun Curtis, remember that fact.
“They are not unbeatable,” Hubbard said. “They are not a Sherman tank. They can be penetrated.”
While the Hornets may not be unbeatable, they are a pretty darn good football team which has only given up 21 points the entire season, of which 14 came against playoff-bound Bronson in Week 8.
Mendon (9-0) and Cassopolis (6-3) have one common opponent in Lake Michigan Catholic.
The Hornets defeated the Lakers 53-7, while the Rangers knocked off LMC 40-7.
After starting out the season 4-0, Cassopolis lost three of its final five games, including the last two contests.
A last minute loss to Berrien Springs in a battle for the Lakeland Conference championship may have led to the Rangers’ loss to Coloma in the season finale.
Hubbard said he could see the team was still down from that game and didn’t play very well.
But if the Rangers are going to beat the Hornets, they will have to be firing on all cylinders.
There can be no mistakes against Mendon.
“We can’t have penalties and turnovers because Mendon is a good, fundamentally sound football team,” he said. “They don’t make many mistakes and they don’t miss many open field tackles.”
Hubbard also said that Cassopolis cannot give up the big play and get behind.
“They are patient and play the field position game because their defense is so good,” Hubbard said. “We are going to have to put some drives together. We have to keep the game close and use the clock to our advantage.”
Curtis will lead a very strong running game into Saturday afternoon’s contest.
The senior four-year starter has scored more than 70 touchdowns in his career and has rushed for more than 5,000 yards.
He did not have a lot of success against the Hornets as a sophomore in 2007.
Mendon held the Rangers to just 130 yards on the ground and Curtis to 25 yards on 17 carries.
Cass was able to throw the ball, as it finished with 150 yards through the air.
Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.
The winner will take on the winner of the White Pigeon-Decatur contest.