Think big & focus state
Thursday, November 21, 2013 6:00 PM
MENOMINEE - One goal, two teams and the emotion and electricity of two fervent fan bases will be packed into 48 minutes under the dome Saturday afternoon.
Menominee’s Devon Barley catches a pass over his head during Saturday’s playoff win over Standish-Sterling.
Menominee returns to the Superior Dome to take care of some unfinished business while Muskegon Oakridge carries its Ford Field goal with them on the 7 1/2 -hour trek to Marquette.
The "Think Big and Focus Small" Maroons (12-0) and Eagles (11-1) each head to the Superior Dome with three state championships under their belt and clash at 3 p.m. in the Division 5 semifinals.
Menominee fell 58 seconds and 30 yards short of advancing to Ford Field last year in a 24-20 loss to Grand Rapids West Catholic in the dome.
"We're relieved to get back to the semifinals," Menominee coach Joe Noha said. "The kids who saw the pain and tears of the seniors last year want to rewrite history."
When Noha watches film of Oakridge, he sees the same arsenal of playmakers the Maroons faced against Harbor Beach.
"They remind me a lot of Harbor Beach with the exception they run the ball better vertically than Harbor Beach," the coach explained. "They can all run, they're very disciplined and they're sound with their technique."
The Eagles have continued to roll after a season-ending ACL injury to all-state running back Dan Shoop in the eighth game of the season.
Senior quarterback Austin Wright (6-3, 190) is the Oakridge version of Harbor Beach's Eli Kraft. Wright has passed for 1,491 yards with 22 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
After the injury to Shoop, Wright has helped fill the void with his speed and elusive moves, gaining 877 yards on 98 carries for an 8.9 average.
"He throws well in the pocket and throws well on the run," Noha said. "He's similar to Kraft, but he runs the ball a little better. He'll be a challenge for our defense."
Senior James Abriatis has rushed for 760 yards on 106 carries for a 7.2 average with 11 touchdowns and Jerick Wambaugh is a speedy threat as a runner and receiver, rushing for 457 yards for 6.7 average and spearing 23 passes 355 yards.
Dom Greenwalt leads the Oakridge receivers with 25 catches for 446 yards (17.8 avg.) and eight touchdowns.
"They try to find mismatches out of their spread," said Noha. "Their line is built for speed. They get off the ball well and their pad level is good. Our defense is going to have to play Maroon football.
"No. 1 we have to stop their running game with Wright and Abriatis. No. 2 we have to contain Wright so he's not able to roll out and cause damage on the edge. No. 3 we have to defend the pass."
The Maroons will have to get their defense off the field against an Oakridge team that is adept at eating the clock.
Led by middle linebacker Caleb "Budda" Cook and Wambaugh (outside linebacker), Oakridge's 5-2 defense has held six teams to two touchdowns or less and has yielded just 46 points in the playoffs.
"(Cook and Wambaugh) are very good," said Noha. "They get to the ball."
While some of the Maroons experienced the dome atmosphere last year, it will be a new adventure for the Oakridge players. Noha feels that will be a little bit of an advantage for the Maroons, but the Eagles have persevered in three of four games decided by a touchdown or less, including a 31-25 statement win over Grand Rapids West Catholic in their season opener.
Oakridge will face a Maroon offense that has reeled off 40 or more points in 11 straight games and a defense that creates turnover turmoil.
Tailback Justin Brilinski, wingback Devon Harris and fullback James Brown and receivers Shaun Sullivan, Harris and Devon Barley will stretch the Eagles with their big-play ability.
"We have to limit our mistakes and make sure we are able to defensively make our reads and offensively stick to the game plan," Oakridge coach Cary Harger told Mlive.com.