E-TC, Dollar Bay have history of major showdowns

There used to be an old saying that coming events cast a long shadow.

Such is the case with the Ewen-Trout Creek at Dollar Bay boys basketball game on Feb. 6.

All the ingredients are there for such a label. Both teams have stellar players, Jake Witt for the Panthers, and Devin Schmitz and Jaden Janke for the Blue Bolts.

Both teams are currently unbeaten, and E-TC is No. 6 in the state poll and No. 2 in the U.P., while Dollar Bay is No. 10 and No. 3. But both of the schools have been in this position before. The most notable was back in 1981 in the district tournament finals at the Michigan Tech SDC.

Of course, that was back in those enlightened days when university gyms were often used for tournament games. The thinking was that a bigger facility could bring in more fans.

A record crowd of 3,507 fans packed into the SDC to see the much-anticipated showdown of unbeatens. The two teams were in the same scenario two years earlier in the final game played at old Sherman Gym when more than 2,200 fans showed up.

But the 1981 meeting had something special. There was an electricity in the gym I had never seen for any sporting event. There were actually sparks flying. No kidding.

E-TC fans chanted, “E-TC, E-TC,” over and over, while Dollar Bay fans had am “We are DB, We are DB,” chant in response.

Dave Besonen was the star for the Tom Caudill-coached Panthers. Keith Kentala was late DB coach Jim Bronczyk’s standout player.

Besonen ranks among the top five prep players I’ve seen. Kentala was perhaps the most hustling player I can recall.

Besonen is the cousin of current Ewen coach Brad Besonen. Kentala is the cousin of today’s Bolts coach Jesse Kentala.

As sometimes happens in “Game of the Century” meetings, the game was one-sided after a close first quarter.

The Panthers scored a 65-48 victory behind Besonen’s 25 points and superb all-around play. Kentala was the Bays (their nickname then) only offensive threat with 22 points.

E-TC was edged in the regional finals by Crystal Falls at NMU’s C.B. Hedgecock Fieldhouse before another 5,000 fans.

Injuries hindered both Besonen and Kentala in college and shortened their careers.

Dollar Bay avenged the 1981 loss in 1987 by coming back from a six-point deficit in the final 37 seconds of a district championship game at Baraga High. Some 2,500 fans crowded in that night.

I’m not going to make any predictions on this year’s showdown, but if the two teams meet in the regionals later on, you can bet it will before a packed house at a high school gym.

Unfortunately, it won’t be at MTU or NMU, which tore down Hedgecock Fieldhouse several years ago.

And that’s the sad part of the whole scenario. The players and the fans will be missing out on a great experience.