Rangers, Eddies excited to be in playoffs

Published 8:51 pm Thursday, October 28, 2010

It’s been 20 years since Bernard Thomas led the Dowagiac football team to the Class BB state championship.

So it only seems fitting that to celebrate that anniversary, Thomas is taking his new team — the Cassopolis Rangers — to the post season for the first time.

The Rangers are no strangers to the playoffs, having qualified the previous four years. But this one will be special to not only the players, but the coach.

“It’s exciting from a coaching perspective,” Thomas said. “This is one of the goals that teams set for themselves at the beginning of each year. It’s important to achieve those goals. We wanted to go undefeated and win the conference championship, but came up a little short on those. But this one we were able to hold onto and achieve.”

Thomas is a firm believer that it is important when you work with young people to talk with them about setting goals and working toward them.

“I’m excited for the kids,” he said. “I am excited to be back in the playoffs. This is what it is all about. Being in a position to compete for a state championship.”

Thomas isn’t promising anyone that this team will accomplish the same thing that Dowagiac did in 1990, but he knows that in order to compete for a state title you have to get into the playoffs.

“All you can ask for is an opportunity to compete,” he said. “Now we have that opportunity.”

The Rangers will open up the 2010 playoffs on the road against Southwestern Athletic Conference South Division champion Lawton. The Blue Devils capped a perfect 9-0 campaign with a wild 40-34 win over Watervliet last Friday night.

“They have a real good running back who reminds me a little bit of Brent Lesniak (Dowagiac’s all-time leading rusher).” Thomas said. “He is 90 percent of their offense. They run out of the ‘I’ formation. He’s not as shifty or as fast as Brent, but he is a good football player.”

That player is senior Corban Olson, who ran for 295 yards on 38 carries and scored three touchdowns against the Panthers. Colton Callaway also scored three times for Lawton, which rushed for over 400 yards for the sixth time this season.

“Defensively, we are looking at a five or six man front,” Thomas said of the Blue Devils. “We are are not sure because we only saw them play against spread teams, so I don’t know how they will defense our wishbone and veer. We are just going to have to prepare to face a slanting defense or a six-man front.”

The Rangers gathered at a downtown eatery in Cassopolis on Sunday night to take in the selection show. The event was put on by the Cass Athletic Booster Club.

“The boosters had a little party for the kids and it was just so exciting to see their faces when Cassopolis came on the screen,” Thomas recounted. “To be a part of this is very special to me. This has been a homecoming of sorts. I grew up here, played football here and have lived here all my life. I am just so glad that it turned out the way is has.”

Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at Lawton High School. The winner will face either Springport (9-0) or defending state champion Mendon (8-1) in the district final.

Otsego at Edwardsburg

The runner-ups from the Lakeland and Wolverine conference will square off Friday night in a Division 5 district semifinal game at Leo Hoffman Field in Edwardsburg.

The Eddies (8-1) are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005, while visiting Otsego (7-2) is making its second straight trip to the post season.

Veteran Edwardsburg coach Kevin Bartz said his team is excited to be returning to the playoffs, but what makes it even more special is the fact that the Eddies will be playing at home for the opening round.

They will be playing a Bulldog squad that knocked off Dowagiac 21-10 in Week 8 to qualify for the post season and then struggled to beat arch rival Plainwell (0-9) in the regular season finale last week.

Otsego and Plainwell were locked in a scoreless deadlock at halftime before Ashton Bowling scored the winning touchdown on a 3-yard run in the third quarter and quarterback Jared Klein connected with Harold Watkins for a 30-yard fourth quarter score.

“Otsego has a very good quarterback, who throws the ball exceptionally well on the run,” Bartz said. “They are very big up front. They go 6-3, 295; 6-3, 285; and 6-1, 295, so they have some big boys.”

The Bulldogs, like many of the teams in the Wolverine Conference, run the spread formation. Bartz noted that in film he did not see them take a single snap from under center.

One of the keys to success Friday night for the Eddies will be trying to keep Klein in the pocket and not letting him get outside and making plays down the field while he scrambles.

Defensively, Bartz doesn’t know what to expect from Otsego because they have only seen them play against spread teams.

“I never know what to expect on defense, so I have given up tying to figure it out,” he joked.

Edwardsburg capped off its season Friday night with a big 41-15 win over visiting Saginaw Nouvel. Bartz said that game helped the Eddies prepare for the post season.

“I think our Saginaw Nouvel game was a pretty good warm-up,” he said. “We treated it like a playoff game. We had a lot of activities going on, so hopefully that kind of got us prepared. I don’t think the atmosphere is going to be a lot different this week.”

This has been a historic season for the Eddies and a win on Friday night will add to the record book.

This Edwardsburg team has already scored the most points in school history, while its allowing of just 88 points on defense is the best total in 45 years.

“It is definitely a big game,” Bartz said. “A win would make this the first Edwardsburg team to win nine games in a season and it would be our first home playoff victory. So the kid realize it is more than just another football game. But I think that will help them focus even more.”

The Eddies and the Bulldogs will kick things off at 7 p.m. The winner advances to the district finals against either Allegan (7-2) or Paw Paw (8-1).