HOUGHTON - It's time to get out the game jerseys and power up the lights: football season is back in the Copper Country.
Because of the holiday weekend, a majority of games involving local teams will be played tonight, though Calumet is in action Friday and Hancock plays Saturday, both on the road.
Two local-local match-ups highlight tonight's schedule, the first at Alumni Field in Houghton, where the Gremlins will begin their second season under coach Karl Borree with a home contest against L'Anse.
Houghton finished 2012 on a high note, beating Baraga and Hancock in the last two weeks of the season, and Borree had many positive things to say about training camp.
"They have a lot of energy and they're enthusiastic and they want to do well," Borree said.
L'Anse has won four straight meetings and will be the favorite tonight. After 2012, in which they contended for the WestPAC crown and won a playoff game for the first time in five years, the Purple Hornets return many of their key weapons, including QB Jacob Ostermeyer, RB James Veker and Ryan LaBerge, who suited up for Houghton for the first three years of his prep career.
"They're very fundamentally sound, they're going to run the ball right at us, and they've got very good skill players," Borree said.
However, especially at this early point in the season, he stressed the importance of Houghton playing its own game well.
"If we execute well and we're resilient, I think we stand a chance as well as anybody,"
The other local-local matchup is a Great Western Conference game in Baraga, where the Vikings will be hosting Lake Linden-Hubbell.
New coach Eric DeMink will be attempting to get Baraga back into the win column. The Vikings are 1-17 over the last two seasons with the only win coming over Washburn, Wis., late in 2011. Baraga hasn't won a game against a Michigan team since beating Ontonagon in Week 9 of 2010 to earn a playoff berth.
The Lakes have won seven straight season openers. After tonight, they begin a three-game homestand against Hurley, Wis., North Central and the Gogebic Miners at Warner Field.
Ontonagon faces a long trip down to Powers tonight for a non-league game at North Central.
It'll be a combination of unusual offenses as the Glads bring their single wing, while the Jets have gone with a spread option attack since 2007.
The Jets have been competitive, though not elite, since then, earning one-and-done playoff berths in 2010 and 2012.
Ewen-Trout Creek also plays its opener tonight in the Bridge Alliance eight-man league, hosting Rapid River.
Friday, Calumet and Northland Pines rematch one of the most entertaining games of the 2012 season. The Eagles won that one on a last-second field goal, but the Copper Kings go into Friday's game with a rare Week 1 aid: legit game tape.
Wisconsin's season starts a week earlier, so the Eagles already have a game in, a 50-22 rout of Wittenberg-Birnamwood last Friday, which coach John Croze and his staff saw in person.
To the relief of the WestPAC, NP tailback Austin Ramesh has since graduated to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but the Eagles appear to have compensated well with quarterback Cooper Kerner, who threw for 283 yards and four touchdowns. NP sewed the game up with five first-half TD's for a 36-8 lead.
Croze is relieved to not have Ramesh to deal with and thinks the hard-hitting Copper Kings can make an impact on Pines' aerial game.
"I think we do a good job of mixing up our defense and creating multiple looks. Hopefully we can create some confusion," he said.
Saturday, Hancock hits the road for its opener against the Gogebic Miners, which will be played on the lightless field in Wakefield.
The Miners won a tight one, 20-14, at McAfee Field last season, but must replace eight two-way starters from a team that went 6-2 in 2012.