Menominee’s James Brown stiff-arms a Houghton defender in the first half of Saturday’s playoff game at Walton Blesch Field. EagleHerald/Jody Korch
Menominee’s James Brown stiff-arms a Houghton defender in the first half of Saturday’s playoff game at Walton Blesch Field. EagleHerald/Jody Korch
MENOMINEE - Walton Blesch Field has been the Temple of Doom for Menominee playoff opponents.

The Maroons (10-0) carry a 17-game home winning streak into Saturday's 1 p.m. Division 5 district title game against Grayling (9-1). The Maroons haven't lost a playoff game at Blesch since a loss to Kingsford in 2004.

Grayling coach Tim Sanchez was encouraged by the way his team matched up physically with Kingsford in a 42-25 win, the first-ever playoff win over a U.P. team for the Vikings.

"Our kids played hard," Sanchez said. "Kingsford's a very tough team and we knew we had to match their toughness and be very physical on the line. I was really pleased with our effort."

The 16 senior Vikings don't want to head back over the bridge with their third loss to the Maroons in four seasons.

"That's the biggest intangible I see," coach Joe Noha said. "They have a group of seniors that are ready to lead and fight to the end. They believe. They feel they're going to win."

The senior combination of quarterback Jake Swander and receiver Kyle McClanahan have hooked up for 1,181 yards and 21 touchdowns. Swander has completed 183 of 316 passes for 2,438 yards with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. McClanahan torched Kingsford for 10 receptions for 191 yards last week.

Brandon Latusek and Scout Tobin have combined for 47 catches and 664 yards.

"Swander and McClanahan have been together for three or four years," said Noha. "They'll use slant routes, go routes and comebacks. Those are the three routes we have to address.

"(McClanahan) is very good. If the ball is anywhere near him, he attacks the ball at high speed."

Swander will face the defensive pressure of defensive ends James Brown, Justin Brilinski and middle linebacker and a Maroon secondary that has picked off 11 passes this season. Shaun Sullivan, who has four picks, will probably draw the primary coverage on McClanahan.

"Coach (Drew) Buyarski does a nice job of playing several coverages and confusing people," said Noha. "He does a good job of putting kids in the right spot."

Swander sits in a pocket protected by a beefy and experienced line that averages 270 pounds.
"It's tough to get a rush on them because they're so good at pass protection," Noha explained. "We're going to have to cover people three or four seconds until we can get someone to (Swander)."
A solid ground game gets overshadowed by Grayling's flashy passing numbers. Michael Branch and Harris combined for almost 300 yards against the Flivvers last week. Branch has rushed for 637 yards on 118 carries and Harris has 622 yards on 78 hauls.
The Maroon defensive line will have to battle the Vikings' big front line and prevent them from setting up the pass with their running game.
"They're making more of an effort to get yards on the ground, control the clock and wear people down," Noha explained. "When you have 270-pound guys leaning on you, any good running back will be able to find seams."

Grayling will try to move the chains and keep the Maroon offense off the field with trap plays, isolation plays and the option.

While Noha has roughly 35 plays in his offensive game plan, Sanchez throws everything but the kitchen sink at opponents.

"Their playbook is mind-boggling," said Noha. "We're just preparing for what they do best."

The Vikings fired off 63 passes in a 63-22 playoff loss to the Maroons in 2011 and were limited to 141 passing yards in a 60-16 loss in 2010.

The Maroon defense, which is allowing less than 10 points per game, proved itself against the air-raid offense of Harbor Beach, limiting premier quarterback Eli Kraft to 185 passing yards in a 40-21 win. Brandon Chouinard and Mason Kewley anchor the Maroon defensive line.

A Grayling defense that is giving up 20 points per game will be stretched to the limit against a Maroon attack which is averaging 58 points in the last four games.

Brilinski has rushed for 887 yards and passed for 961 yards, Brown has 754 rushing yards and Devon Harris has 496 ground yards in eight games and 235 receiving yards.

Guard Lucas LaPerriere and tackles Skyler Reinhardt and Sam Hartwig lead an offensive line that is a wall in pass protection and an earth mover for the Maroon ground game that is averaging 253 yards per game.

Reinhardt is ready to go after suffering a bruised knee in the Houghton game.

Saturday's winner will play in the regional title game against the winner of Friday's Gladwin (8-2) at Standish-Sterling Central (8-1).
MENOMINEE - Evan Pohlmann and Devon Harris are the Maroons of the Week for their play in Menominee's playoff win over Houghton last week.

Pohlmann tied Michael Kinsey's school record with nine extra point kicks while Harris had a touchdown run, caught a touchdown pass and threw a touchdown pass and returned a punt for a touchdown.

Shaun Sullivan, Reid Rastall, Sam Hartwig, Nick Cattani and Devon Barley were the Blockers of the Week. Zac Giese, Peyton Mileski and Logan Uecke were the Scout Players of the Week.

Sullivan (interception), Harris (interception) and Aeron Forsberg (blocked punt) earned Alert Club honors.

Maroon Memory Moments: James Brown's 79-yard touchdown run, Harris's 62-yard punt return for a touchdown, Harris's touchdown pass to Tyler Howell and the defensive stop on fourth down and inches.