L'ANSE - It's a rare convergence of circumstances in an unprecedented location: L'Anse in the postseason and Forest Park appearing beatable, all at Meadowbrook Field.
Friday's Division 8 pre-district playoff game will be a lot of things, but ordinary isn't one of them.
"For us to be able to finally have a home playoff game on our field, it's a great thing for our program and the whole community of L'Anse," L'Anse coach Mark Leaf said.
L’Anse football coach Mark Leaf, right, talks to his team after the Purple Hornets beat West Iron County in Week 2 at Meadowbrook Field in L’Anse. L’Anse’s first playoff game on its home field is Friday at 7 p.m. against Forest Park. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
Leaf led the Purple Hornets into the postseason in 2007, but a scheduled home game against Lake Linden-Hubbell in the pre-district round was moved across Keweenaw Bay to Baraga after heavy autumn rains turned Meadowbrook into a bog.
The following week, L'Anse went down 32-0 to a Forest Park squad that would win a state championship three weeks later. The Trojans don't look or feel nearly as invincible this time around.
"If we go up there and have an average performance, we're going to turn our gear in," FP coach Bill Santilli said.
Though L'Anse has several noteworthy backs, Leaf said a key to his team making the jump into the playoff ranks has been improved line play.
"In most of our games this year, we were able to control the line of scrimmage, and in high school football, if you control the line of scrimmage, you've got a good chance of winning the football game," he said.
The non-typical nature of this FP team can be seen in its lineup, which hasn't displayed nearly as many grind-it-out clock-killing drives on offense and a particularly green defense. Five junior varsity-age players started defensively for the Trojans in the regular season finale against LL-H, Santilli said.
Both sides got off to flying starts: L'Anse started 6-0 and Forest Park 5-0. Both sides have had rocky finishes. L'Anse got routed by Calumet and Northland Pines on back-to-back weeks, while FP gave up a combined 101 points in road losses to North Dickinson and the Gogebic Miners.
"They were bigger, more physical, faster, and we learned we don't have the type of team that compete with those types of squads. I think L'Anse is going to fit that mold," Santilli said.
Friday's winner will play either the Nordics or Miners in the next round.
Leaf said after the back-to-back losses, his team showed a bounce-back in the regular season finale, a 47-6 wipeout of Munising.
"I like the way our team bounced back against Munising and had a real good game. I think our kids showed they had some character and some resiliency," Leaf said.
Regardless of how the Trojans have looked in the second half of the regular season, the second season is often an entirely different matter.
"Crystal Falls is a perennial powerhouse. They have such a tradition and everything. They're very well coached and prepared to take away what you do best," Leaf said.