Menominee’s Justin Brilinski runs over a Grayling defender in the first half of Saturday’s playoff win at Walton Blesch Field. EagleHerald/Jody Korch
Menominee’s Justin Brilinski runs over a Grayling defender in the first half of Saturday’s playoff win at Walton Blesch Field.
EagleHerald/Jody Korch
MENOMINEE - Menominee stomped through the mud and muck at Walton Blesch Field to its fifth straight Division 5 district title Saturday afternoon while turning Grayling's high-flying attack into a lead balloon.

The Maroons advanced to Saturday's regional title game against Standish-Sterling Central with a 47-14 win over the Panthers.

In a mistake-filled battle on the rain-soaked Blesch turf, the Menominee defense forced four turnovers and took the air out of the Vikings' passing game to offset four Maroon turnovers.

"The defense set the tone early and often," Menominee coach Joe Noha said. "We stopped their vertical running game and Shaun Sullivan had an awesome game shutting down (Kyle) McClannahan. The kid didn't get in the end zone and he had 21 touchdowns this season."

McClannahan, who had 10 receptions against Kingsford in the pre-district game, managed just four receptions for 32 yards and no touchdowns.

"The coaches had me prepared pretty well," said Sullivan. "I was in man coverage when they had trips and I was able to lock up on him pretty much the whole day."

Jake Swander entered the game averaging 247 passing yards per game, but the Maroons never let him get comfortable in the pocket. Swander connected on just 9 of 26 passes for 120 yards and had three passes picked off.

"Menominee's defense is tough," said Grayling coach Tim Sanchez. "Their front five is unbelievable and (middle linebacker, Ryne Francour) comes in and cleans everything up."

The Maroons' three-wheel drive ground game of Justin Brilinski, James Brown and Devon Harris carried almost as much mud out of Blesch Field as yardage, but got enough traction on the sloppy surface to wear down the beefy front line of the Vikings.

Brown ran his season touchdown total to 22 while churning out 118 yards on 19 carries and Justin Brilinski gashed Grayling for 110 yards on 16 carries before leaving the game with a twisted ankle early in the third quarter.

Devon Harris burned the Vikings for 90 yards on just six carries for a 15-yard average.

"Menominee's a great all-around football team. They've got three studs at running back," Sanchez said. "They run hard, they're fast and they're tough."

The Maroons drove 66 yards in 13 plays in their second series to grab a 6-0 lead. Brilinski and Brown carried the load with their hard-nosed running and Brilinski kept the scoring march alive when he unloaded a 12-yard pass to Harris while being swung around by Michael Branch. Brown rammed over from the 1 with 1:27 left in the first quarter.

Brown tore through an arm tackle and turned on the afterburners to race away from the Vikings for a 27-yard scoring burst to give the Maroons a 12-0 lead with 10:42 left in the half.

After a fumbled punt return, Grayling was ready to cut the lead in half with a first down at the Maroon 19. A fumbled snap and tight coverage by Sullivan buried the threat.

Three plays later, Harris made a sensational play that broke the backs of the Vikings. With a Grayling defender in position to pick off a pass, Harris went up and reached over the Viking's helmet to catch the ball at the Maroon 41. He deked the defender with a hip shake and streaked down the sideline for a 70-yard TD reception.

"The ball was a little behind me, but (Brilinski) put the ball where I could get to it," Harris explained. "After that I knew I just had one guy to beat (to the end zone)."

"(Harris) made an outstanding play," said Sanchez. "That took the wind out of our sails."

Aeron Forsberg showed off his strong hands by spearing a Swander pass with his mitts clinging to the nose of the football.

Mason Kewley recovered a fumble at the Vikings' 32 to set up Brilinski's 10-yard scoring run. Evan Pohlmann's kick gave the Maroons a 27-0 cushion with 36 seconds left in the half.

Sullivan dashed Graying's first drive of the second half with his fifth interception of the season. Six plays later, Harris made a side cut and blazed through a seam for a 59-yard scoring dash. Pohlmann's PAT pushed the margin to 33-0 with 8:39 left in the third quarter.

Harris dished out some defensive pain to the Vikings two plays later when he intercepted a pass, setting the Maroons up at the Grayling 33. Brown bashed over from the 5 and Pohlmann's kick stretched the lead to 40-0 and set off the running clock midway through the third quarter.

Grayling had scored at least 30 points in nine of their 10 games this season but a fierce defensive effort and a wicked crosswind knocked the life out of the Vikings' attack.

"We had a great feeling for what they wanted to do," Noha explained. "We took away what they wanted to do."

The Vikings foiled the shutout on their next series when Swander lofted a perfect 39-yard TD pass to Scott Tobin along the left sideline with 2:13 left in the third quarter.

Grayling chipped the margin to 40-14 on Branch's 1-yard run, which was set up by Swander's 26-yard run.

Austin Vorachek's long kick return set up a 31-yard scoring jaunt by Forsberg with 8:12 left in the game.