Chieftains take on Eddies for division title
Not many people would have bet on a Dowagiac-Edwardsburg football game for the first Wolverine Conference West Division championship.
The Chieftains were considered the odds-on favorite to make a run at the West title, but the Eddies were retooling from a two-year run of success.
Gone from that team were 20 starters.
The Eddies were 8-1 last season and captured its final Lakeland Conference championship. But Edwardsburg was eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs after reach the state semifinals in 2010.
The Chieftains were coming off a 10-2 season and a Division 5 District championship. The Chieftains were eliminated in the regional finals by state runner-up Lansing Catholic Central.
Both teams have turned in stellar seasons through the first seven weeks.
After stumbling out of the gate, the Eddies have won six straight games and are 6-1 as they head to Chris Taylor-Alumni Field Friday night.
Dowagiac has won all seven games this season and boasts the area’s best defense. The Chieftains have allowed just 54 total points through seven games, or 7.7 points per contest.
Last week Dowagiac faced the most potent offense of the season in the Three Rivers Wildcats. It allowed 28 points, 14 of which came in the final quarter after the Chieftains had built up a 31-14 advantage.
Dowagiac’s offense hasn’t been too shabby either. The Chieftains have put up 359 points, second best in southwest Michigan.
Throughout the weeks, Dowagiac has tried to get a bit more balanced. But in the end, the ground game is still the Chieftains’ bread and butter, although quarterbacks Brett Scanlon and Cal Cox continue to improve throwing the football.
Last week against the Wildcats, Dowagiac didn’t need to throw the ball much as it rushed for 320 yards on 54 carries.
Edwardsburg will present an entirely new challenge with their Wing-T.
The Eddies are putting up some large numbers on the ground, especially considering that they have lost their top two running backs.
Edwardsburg has outscored its opponents 273-159 this season, staying basically on the ground. In a 49-41 win over Three Rivers Sept. 21, after losing Michael Kempton to a broken leg and having suspended its second leading rusher in David Keiffer, Edwardsburg amassed 500 yards on the ground.
Led by Caleb Neff and Jack Bywaters, the trend has continued.
Last Friday night against Berrien Springs, the pair helped the Eddies rush for 263 yards on 37 carries. The Eddies used seven different runners in the process. Bywaters and Neff have combined for 13 touchdowns so far this season.
“We are going to have to play disciplined defense,” Dowagiac coach Mike Stanger said. “We can’t get caught looking in the backfield. A lot of teams say that, but they get caught looking in the backfield and it freezes you for a moment.
“Everyone has to do their jobs. You can’t overcompensate and try to do someone else’s job. We don’t want to give up the big play on defense. We want to make them earn it.”
Part of making the Eddies earn every yard will be the leg of Dowagiac’s Scanlon.
“That’s a huge weapon that I think people sometimes forget about,” Stanger said. “We have to take advantage of it.”
Dowagiac also likes to use a variety of different running backs in its version of the Wing-T.
Scanlon, Brendan Murray and reserve running back Shane Bevins have combined for 19 rushing touchdowns. Scanlon has also thrown for four scores, kicked five field goals and 32 extra points.
Stanger said that the Chieftains’ offense must also do its part Friday night.
“Offensively we have to help our defense out,” he said. “We have to convert and put some points on the board.”
Kickoff at Chris Taylor-Alumni Field is slated for 7 p.m.
Brooks in enemy territory
Former Dowagiac assistant coach and current Edwardsburg defensive coordinator Randy Brooks will be glad when the game finally arrives Friday night.
He has had to weather being harassed and teased by the Dowagiac players pretty much all year leading up to the championship contest as he is a science teacher at Dowagiac Union High School.
While he admitted he wasn’t looking forward to this week at school, the ribbing has been pretty good-natured.