By J. Pruitt / Daily News Editor
If Hillsdale is going to secure a spot in next week’s MHSAA playoffs, they will have to find a way to topple an unbeaten foe.
But winning against the odds has been a theme for the Hornets who have rattled off five straight wins after an 0-3 start. They have done it in style and with drama. They have often had a sophomore quarterback at the helm and with several players in different-than-normal positions.
The team has lived by coach Marc Lemerand’s motto of playing hard and getting better every week, but this time the coaches have grown as well.
Lemerand said moving his players around has helped his staff make better decisions as the season progresses. Those switches have come after injuries have sidelined various players such as Mike Curby, Nick Reiniche and Brian Vear from time to time and finding the right fit for the boys still on the field.
“We are putting the puzzle together,” he said. “We’ve gotten better at it.”
After two blowout losses at home to Hudson and Hastings to start the season, the Hornets welcomed back Curby in Week 3. His return boosted the confidence of the team and while Hillsdale lost 10-0 to Stockbridge, the team seemed to change.
“It was a huge boost on defense,” Lemerand said. “The kids didn’t realize they could get the job done. It was a huge confidence builder.”
After leading Hillsdale to three straight wins, Curby was sidelined for the year in Week 7. Travis Hodos has filled at quarterback and has played a key role in the last two road wins over Columbia Central and Dundee. Lemerand said the 10th-grader may be small, but he is “football fast.”
“Hodos has handled the pressure,” he said. “He has only thrown one pick in the last two games.”
Other players to step up their play and fill gaps include Devon Butler, who Lemerand said has probably been the biggest surprise of the year.
“He was not a starter last year and going into the season we wondered if he is going to be the right kid,” the coach said. “He has turned into our outside containment guy and has done a really good job.”
Kirk Putnam earned praise from Lemerand for his ability to play so many different positions.
“He has had to know every position on the offensive line this year,” Lemerand said. “He’ll be in at center this week and he is our long snapper on punts and kicks.”
Another standout is Dan Vear who has been at various times a receiver, running back, quarterback, cornerback and outside linebacker, in addition to be the team’s placekicker.
With their season riding on this last game, it would easy for the team to become focused on the meaning. Instead, Lemerand said the staff has been stressing the fundamentals.
“We’re treating it like another game,” he said. “We are not making anything out of what the kids already know.”
Going up against the 8-0 Flying Dutchmen will be a formidable task. Lemerand said they are a quality team with quality wins under their belts against Addison, Clinton and Grass Lake.
“They are a very skilled team,” he said. “Their quarterback (Logan Zigila) has been a starter for two or three years.”
To win, Lemerand said Hillsdale will have to play fast, get off the ball quickly and make reads quickly.
“They have a lot of speed, and many players will go two-ways,” he said. “They are very aggressive and use formations we are not accustomed to seeing.”
With the fans and the community eager for another trip to the playoffs, Lemerand knows there’s some pressure for Friday’s game.
“The expectation is that we will always be in the playoffs,” he said. “Here’s an opportunity to step up to the challenge.”