CALUMET - If there's a single word to define the Calumet football program, it's probably 'intensity.'
It's a tone the Copper Kings set every time they step inside the lines at Agassiz Field. Tonight, it doesn't get more intense than a Division 6 pre-district playoff meeting with the Manistique Emeralds.
"Everyone's fired up to be in the playoffs and it's going to be like that on both sides," Calumet coach John Croze said. "It's going to be the team that can maintain a high level of intensity and still execute and cut down on the amount of mistakes."
Calumet running back Brendan Jacques steps over a L’Anse tackler during a Week 7 game at Agassiz Field. The Copper Kings are back at home for a Division 6 pre-district playoff game against Manistique tonight. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
Both teams have already been in overdrive for some time. Calumet lost its first three games of the season, then ran the table to make the playoffs automatically, while Manistique lost its first two and had to win a bizarre double overtime season finale with Harbor Springs in Week 9.
"It's sure been a fun year with these kids. It's a never say die attitude, always working hard, always having fun. When you work as hard as they do, good things happen," Croze said.
The Emeralds (6-3) have engineered a major turnaround after posting back-to-back 1-8 seasons in 2010 and '11, but postseason success is not too distant a memory. Manistique made the Division 7 bracket in 2004, 2007 and 2008, winning games in two of those campaigns.
"We were in a must-win situation for the last three weeks. Our guys knew the pressure was on," Manistique coach Todd Kangas said. "I don't think anywhere along the line we started to panic."
Where the Emeralds stand out is with a handful of stud athletes, starting with running back Kenner Brouillire. Brouillire was a unanimous selection to the all-Mid-Peninsula Conference team at both running back and kicker, and ran for 1,247 yards and 18 touchdowns.
However, the Emeralds have enough weapons to run a balanced offense with coach's son Tyler Kangas throwing for over 1,000 yards.
"He's had a nice year throwing the ball, and we don't have just one receiver. We have three or four guys to spread the ball out to," coach Kangas said.
Calumet, beginning its eighth consecutive playoff run, has a home game for the first time in three years. With the Agassiz Field crowd and their normal hard-hitting nature, Calumet will try to take the visitors, making a four-plus hour bus trip, out of it early.
"Defensively, we've really been making it tough on teams early in the game. I think it's something we've been hanging our hat on," Croze said.
The teams have not met at any point in recent history (dating to 1955), though they do have several common opponents: Negaunee and Ishpeming defeated both teams, with the Miners' Week 2 win at Agassiz Field the only close game of the four.
Coach Kangas said both the Miners and Hematites have displayed elements of the option attack the Copper Kings will employ tonight.
"They seem to be a very physical type of team. They have a good fullback, a good tailback and a good running quarterback. I think their ability to run the ball is key for them and to be able to put pressure on you defensively," he said.
Negaunee and Iron Mountain will play tonight in the opposite pre-district game for the right to face tonight's winner. Though the Copper Kings have not seen the Mountaineers this year, IM did hand Manistique its third defeat in a close 12-7 decision in Week 6.
Playoff football begins tonight, but for both of these teams, it's been underway for a long time.
"Week four of the regular season for most teams, but for us it was week one of the playoffs. Here we are seven weeks later," Croze said.