The Jonesville football program has transformed from somewhat optimistic to tremendously hungry for success in a few short months, and an entire season of progress hangs in the balance Friday.
Just ask any Comet player how they feel about taking on Blissfield, needing that ever so significant sixth win to wrap up a playoff spot, Jonesville’s first postseason berth in seven season.
Ask senior halfback John Sigler for example.
“I don’t know, (my teammates) can see it in my eyes, they understand (what it means to me). It’s unbelievable how I feel about this game, because I know if we lose my high school career is over, if we win we keep going,” he said. “I’ve already looked all (my teammates) in the eyes and told them we better win this game.”
In early September people might have laughed about the prospect of Jonesville winning a big game that could keep them playing into November with a new head coach, players leaving the program and a whole new philosophy to digest and put into action.
But five wins in six weeks, and a four-point loss to undefeated Reading, has Joshua Lindeman’s crew on the brink of something special that an entire community has been waiting for.
All that stands in the way is a very skilled 6-2 Blissfield Royals team, one Lindeman is confident his squad can go to battle with.
“With the community and fans and people I know, being from Lenawee County, a lot of my buddies are saying, ‘How are you going to play with Blissfield?’ and I tell them to show up Friday night, you’re going to see a fight,” he said. “And that’s one thing I can say about our kids — we will come out and we’ve been in every game. We lost to Stockbridge who is 7-1, we lost to Union City who is 6-2 and Reading is 8-0. Our three losses are to teams that are in the playoffs and we fought in every single game.”
Sigler said practice has been rather quiet and crisp all week long with coaches harping on the guys about ball security, being physical, and finishing what they have started.
On paper the Royals are quite adept offensively, averaging 40.3 points per contest, and Lindeman said that is exactly what he has seen on film.
He said they are as athletic as any team they’ve played, with a multitude of capable running backs and plenty of speed all over the field.
“They’re more of an offensive team, they’re very strong offensively. The two games they lost they scored 30 in one and (27) in the other. They lost games because of their defense,” he said. “Just like against Reading, if your linebacker over-pursues or if they’re not filling the backside lane, a fast team will exploit you. And that basically is in a nut-shell what we’ve been working on in practice.”
The Royals start junior Eric Schmidt at QB, a second-year starter who has struggled to stay healthy, but has been effective when on the field. He missed two games earlier this season and was knocked out of last week’s win over Columbia Central, but came back to finish out the evening.
Lindeman said he’s curious as to how healthy Schmidt and several other injured Royals are, but in the meantime he’s been trying to figure out a way to make the Blissfield signal caller uncomfortable.
“(Schmidt) is a good kid, the thing that makes him scary is he throws better on the run than he does in the pocket. Their offense is designed to allow him to get =outside the pocket — he has one read and if it’s not there he goes to a check-down and he throws well on the run,” Lindeman said. “I’d love to keep him in the pocket and make him throw from the pocket, but their offense is designed to get him outside. He has a strong arm and he’s just athletic enough — not a super athlete — just enough that on 3rd-and-9 if he gets outside, he can pick up nine to 15 yards, so we have to be aware of where he’s at.”
Sigler said the Comets are sticking to the same defensive mentality they’ve had all season long with the realization that the Royals will make them pay for even the slightest miscues.
“We’re just trying to get our linebackers to fill holes quicker because they’re a lot faster than any team we’ve played,” he said. “And we’ve got to wrap up and make tackles, that’s about it, we’re not changing much.”
Lindeman didn’t have a lot to say about Blissfield’s defense, but as the numbers show, the Royals have allowed just 13.5 points per game in their six wins.
They run primarily a 4-3 scheme and Lindeman said they “have really aggressive linebackers and ball-hawking safeties and corners that go up and get ball.”
They proved that last week, as sophomore Josh Knorr had three interceptions and returned a fumble for a touchdown.
While Lindeman has seen plenty of film on his opponent he’s not so sure they will be so easy to predict as Friday’s contest progresses.
“I guess I don’t know if they’ll stay in the 4-3 against us. They stayed in the 4-3 against Hudson, but Hudson ran for big yardage on them,” he said. “We’re preparing for that, but we’re also preparing for what we believe they’ll give us, which is more of a box, making our quarterback throw the ball vertical.”
If the Comets do need to look downfield they will have to count on junior Spencer Nielsen who has shown flashes of phenomenal ability this season, but is still largely unproven.
He is 17-for-39 for 314 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions on the season, and the Comets have relied heavily on Sigler, Trevor Kelley and a number of other weapons out of the backfield.
When asked what he would do if his team trailed by two touchdowns or more, Lindeman said he wouldn’t hesitate to open up the offense, but he wouldn’t pull the trigger out of desperation either.
“It’s kind of a feel for the game, you get to make those calls. You have to understand if you work on something all year and then all of a sudden you fall behind, you don’t want to abandon it, you still want to work on it,” he said. “We can be down 14 points in the fourth quarter with six minutes to go and stick with our running game, because if we bust one now we’re within one score with four minutes to go. And that’s without going to our two-minute offense or the spread offense.”
The Comets were shut out 30-0 by Blissfield last season, with the same opportunity on the line, but Jonesville players and coaches feel like they learned valuable lessons from fighting back from an 0-2 start this year, and also from the close loss to Reading.
“I think our team gained confidence (from the Reading game), which you’ve seen since we’ve played. We gained a lot of physicality from the game, where we truly believe we’re the most physical team now,” Lindeman said. “We preached from day one that we’re going to be the most physical team, that we’re going to hit people, and I think because we were able to be in that game with Reading and it was a physical game our kids are confident they can line up against anybody and be more physical than them.”
Lindeman said he knows it’s cliché, but he truly doesn’t think his team would be where they are at today with that loss to look back at.
Sigler said regardless of if the Comets win Friday or not he think the senior class has helped orchestrate a complete turnaround of the program. He is quick to admit though that Lindeman is one of the pillars of change in the process.
“Coach Lindeman is awesome, I love him. He’s helped us all out a lot, puts a lot of time in, stays up late, until about five in the morning before Friday nights,” he said. “He’s been taking his time all year long and hopefully we can get this game for him.”