Menominee’s Justin Brilinski tries to break a tackle during Friday’s home win over Milwaukee Riverside. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Menominee’s Justin Brilinski tries to break a tackle during Friday’s home win over Milwaukee Riverside.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
MENOMINEE - Two championship-caliber teams will board buses Saturday morning for long trips to an early season test of wills.

Menominee (2-0) makes the 41⁄2-hour trek to Gaylord, Mich. to face defending Division 8 state champion Harbor Beach (2-0) in a 2 p.m. clash.

Pirates' coach Troy Schelke said that last year's 46-22 loss to the Maroons showed his team they could compete for its first state title.

"That Menominee game last year was kind of where we took off," Schelke said. "It opened our eyes a little bit that we could be a pretty good team. Now, we want to go up there and try and get the win if we can.

Maroon coach Joe Noha knows that his team will come out of Saturday's game a better football team.

"When you play good competition, it exposes weaknesses you have," Noha explained. "Harbor Beach is capable of doing that. We're ready for the challenge."

The Pirates, who return six starters on offense and defense, enter the game on a 13-game roll since losing to Menominee and have won 26 of their last 28 games.

Menominee has outscored its first two opponents 62-7 while Harbor Beach has yet to give up a touchdown in a 54-0 rout of Bad Axe and a 41-0 pasting of Sandusky.

The Pirates are relying on their team speed and the playmaking skills of third-year quarterback Eli Kraft to overcome a thin (18 players) roster.

Harbor Beach had heavy graduation losses in an offensive line that helped generate a school record 602 points last season, but the Pirates hammered Bad Axe for 443 yards last week.

Kraft connected on 8 of 13 passes for 177 yards against Bad Axe and had 84- and 47-yard scoring scampers against Sandusky.

"Last year he was the best quarterback we faced," said Noha. "He's probably 70 percent of their offense. He's by far their best player.

"He runs really well, he passes from the pocket and he throws on the run. He's a lot like (Justin) Brilinski and (Devon) Harris in his skill set."

The Pirates keep defenses guessing with a variety of looks. Harbor Beach will run off-tackle iso plays, fake traps with Kraft tucking the ball and taking off or they will spread teams out or run from the Power T.

"They're constantly changing formations," explained Noha. "They force the defense to honor it. We'll start with our basic defense and go from there."

Last year's top receving threat, Aaron Ginther, has graduated, but senior letterwinner Travis Essenmacher (5-11, 170) has picked up the slack. He had an 83-yard scoring reception against Sandusky.

Austin Seltz had a pair of TD receptions against Sandusky and D.J. Riddner is a threat at fullback.

The Pirates' defense forced five turnovers against Bad Axe and limited the Hatchets to just 58 total yards.

A Maroon defense led by Ryne Francour and Shaun Sullivan has been stout against Antigo and Milwaukee Riverside, but still has a goal of scoring its first defensive touchdown of the season.

The Maroons know all about Kraft's skills at QB, but the Pirates will be facing a new challenge. Senior Devon Harris will make his season debut after a breakout junior season and will rotate with Justin Brilinski at tailback.

Harris adds another streak of lightning to a Maroon attack that battered Milwaukee Riverside for 235 rushing yards last week.

"We're going to use our personnel depending on what's best for our team," said Noha. "We're going to move people around a little bit this week."

With the speed of Brilinski, Harris and Devon Barley, the power running of James Brown, and the receiving talents of Sullivan and Barley, the Pirates will be hard-pressed to keep contain the Maroons.

Menominee scored 21 points in the final six minutes against the Pirates last year and Noha feels the Maroons' edge in manpower could be crucial again the fourth quarter.

Noha pointed out that his team needs to clean up its snaps and holds on extra-points and field goals and improve its interior tackling and perimeter blocking.

"I like the way we hit and I love the resiliency of the defense," the coach noted. "I like the fact that we play as a group. Everyone has contributed."

Offensive tackle Sam Hartwig, who turned in a strong effort last week, is doubtful for the game because of an injury.

Alex Fox or Logan Uecke will step in for the sophomore lineman.

Menominee is ranked third in the state in Division 5 and Harbor Beach is ranked second in Division 8.
MARINETTE - While licking their wounds, the Marinette Marines are licking their chops this week.

Oconto Falls will head to Higley Stadium to face the Marine football team Friday at 7 p.m.

Falls (0-2) lost its season opener 40-0 to Denmark - a team Marinette beat - then lost 58-7 to West De Pere.

Marinette is reeling from last week's 63-7 loss to West De Pere. Senior linebacker Alex Servatius - a returning first team all-conference player and the heart of the Marine defense - suffered a broken fibula and is out for at least two to four weeks.

Starting linemen Steven Swiatnicki and Sam Baxter suffered concussions and are out indefinitely. Aaron Benson, a tight end/defensive end, has an injured shoulder and may be relegated to playing one way. Hunter Mattison will replace Benson at defensive end.

Hunter Petraski, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior, will replace Servatius at inside linebacker. Last week in special teams coverage, Petraski caught the eyes of the coaches by making two hard tackles and forcing a fumble.

Marine coach Andy Walters isn't looking for sympathy or crutches.

"It gives other kids an opportunity to step up and play," he said. "We can't use it as an excuse."

Falls is rebuilding its program around a new coach, Jeff Trochil, who previously served as head coach at Park Falls/Chequamegon for 11 seasons.

The Panthers run a spread option offense similar to Denmark, so the Marines have seen it before.

"When everyone was just focusing on doing their job, their responsibility, they did well," Walters said.

Junior quarterback Sam Konitzer has completed five of nine passes for 60 yards. Zach Brye, a 6-foot-3 senior tight end, caught the eye of Walters. Brye has caught five passes for 80 yards.

Falls runs a 5-2 defense with man-to-man coverage and aggressive play up front, Walters said.

The Bay is shaping up to be a three-team race at the top. Hortonville's eye-opening 28-2 win over state-ranked Seymour last week proved the Polar Bears are a force, as is No. 1-ranked West De Pere. After that, it's wide-open.

"Our focus right now is Oconto Falls and Oconto Falls only," Walters said. "From a coach's standpoint we do have some opportunities down the road. Playoffs are definitely in the picture. We're definitely not playing nearly good enough to think that any game we can win."

There were some positives in last week's blowout loss. Junior fullback Colton Dessart broke off a 71-yard touchdown run against West De Pere's starters in the second quarter. Dessart ranks seventh in the Bay with 190 rushing yards on 31 carries.

"We saw some real good things from our kids against one of the best teams in the state," according to Walters. "The potential is there. We just have to be more consistent."