SSC prepares for regional match-up
STANDISH — Shotgun spread offense. A quarterback who can run and throw, a steady running back and a cadre of additional offensive weapons. A Division 1 recruit anchoring the offensive line. A mix of defensive stars that can lock down opposing offenses.
The Gladstone Braves sound a lot like the Standish-Sterling Panthers. The question heading into Saturday's 2 p.m. Division 5 regional final at Cheboygan will be which of the two squads can do what they do, better than their opponent.
"There are some real similarities," said SSC coach Paul Walderzak. "Offensively they run a lot of option, and throw a little bit too."
The similarities, on paper, at least, are striking. Gladstone quarterback Kyle Jensen, operating out of the same basic offense as the Panthers' Austin Collier, has run up very similar numbers to the SSC signal caller. Jensen, an all-UP selection at quarterback, has rushed for nearly 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns in 11 games and passed for nearly 700 yards and eight touchdowns. In nine games, Collier's numbers are nearly identical: 1260 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns on the ground, 50-for-85 passing for 773 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Jensen's brother Kollin, who is also an all-UP defensive back, topped the 1,000-yard milestone in Saturday's win over Negaunee and scored eight touchdowns.
The Panthers, of course, counter with Trevor Trombley (520 yards, including 114 against Sanford-Meridian in Friday's district final) and Casey Potts (375 yards).
"Their offensive line is huge," Walderzak said. "Their quarterback has some good speed, and they have a wingback and receiver with good speed and good hands.
"Overall it's hard to say how fast they are, but I don't think they have quite the quickness that Meridian did."
Gladstone also threw a change-up at Negaunee for the district final. Offensive lineman Bruce Anderson, a former fullback who moved into the line when the Braves switched to the spread this year, moved back to fullback and rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries as the Braves went with more of a power game.
"He's about 5-10, 195, so he's got good size," Walderzak said. "They used him at a little at fullback some against Elk Rapids (in Gladstone's first playoff game), so it's not like they hadn't used him there at all."
If the field is muddy and the weather lousy at Cheboygan, Anderson could see a few more carries if the Braves decide to go the more conservative route.
Anderson was another of the Braves' all-UP selections at linebacker, where he intercepted six passes.
Offensive lineman Josh Hadel, a Western Michigan University recruit, could at times be going to head to head with the Panthers' bison-like linebacker, Adam Gulvas, in what could be the best off-the-ball battle of the day.
Gladstone lost twice this season: a last-minute collapse to Negaunee in the regular season that the Braves avenged on Saturday, and a 34-7 loss to Kingsford. In that game, the Flivvers picked off Jensen twice and returned both for touchdowns. Gladstone also gave up three fumbles. It could be the key to the game as the Panthers have scored eight touchdowns in defense this season -- four off interception returns and four off of fumbles.
The Panthers also have been stingy in giving up the ball, which Walderzak said would have to continue if SSC wants to advance to its first-ever state semifinal.
"We need to block well, tackle well and take care of the ball," he said. "We've done those things well all season."
Walderzak said the game might come down to which team plays best on special teams -- an area the Panthers have handled exceptionally well.
"For awhile we had problems with our PAT's," he said. "But the kicking game overall has been strong. Our kick returns have been good, our punting has been good, and our coverage has been pretty good.
"We just need to go out and do what we do, and do it well. If we take care of the basics, we should be fine."