There’s not usually a whole lot of 6-3 teams hosting first round contests in the MHSAA playoffs, but the Pittsford Wildcats are certainly not complaining.
Head coach Bob Clement said playing a tough schedule usually pays dividends in some way or another and this year, with more 5-4 teams making the playoffs than usual, one of the benefits is another night of Friday fun in Wildcat world.
“I’m real happy for (my team). I told them early in the year, ‘You guys hang with it and something good is going to happen,’ and it has because they just kept plugging away and working,” he said. “Six of the teams we played this year made the playoffs. I told the kids we’ve been there and done that and had to fight every week, we haven’t really had an easy game.”
Respectable losses to 9-0 Climax-Scotts and 8-1 Colon and climbing out of an 0-2 hole have aptly prepared this year’s squad for whatever they might face according to Clement, and this week they face 6-3 Eau Claire at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Fighting Beavers are much like Pittsford — a run first, run second, and possibly pass third team, with upperclassmen littering the key positions — but if they beat the Wildcats this week it would be the first winning team they defeated all season.
Clement said Eau Claire is certainly a respectable squad, and they “really didn’t look that bad” in a 48-0 loss to Bronson (7-2) last week, but it’s hard to tell a whole lot about them from the two game tapes he’s been watching on repeat.
“It’s pretty scary because you only get to see two tapes. We got two tapes and they’re way down low so you can’t hardly see how their guys are lined up and stuff, so it’s pretty much flying by the seat of your pants,” he said. “They could also come out in a totally different offense they didn’t run in those two games. The two teams we saw (them against) were spread teams, so it’s kind of scary.”
Clement said he doesn’t think Eau Claire purposely gave them less-than-spectacular video and at the end of the day two things stand out about Friday’s opponent: the Wildcats must shutdown the Wing-T offense and they might have to be a little more vertical and take shots with the passing game to exploit the Fighting Beavers.
Clement said Eau Claire’s offense is in essence the same as Climax-Scotts’ and Battle Creek St. Phil’s. Senior Josh Geisler in their starting quarterback, and at 6-1, 180 pounds wearing the number five he looks a lot like Pittsford star Garet Lee from Clement’s observations. He may not be quite as quick to get outside, but he’s a good enough athlete that the Fighting Beavers also aren’t hesitant to line him up at wide receiver or running back.
Eau Claire head coach Tom Fery, who is in his third stint as the school’s head coach and has been coaching for more than 30 years, said his team is a typical smash-mouth kind of squad.
“Run, run, run, that’s what we like to do and we don’t disguise that,” he said. “Our offensive line is our key strength on offense and we count on them to allow us to do what we want to do.”
Fery said the Wildcats defensive line isn’t all that big, but they are fast enough that his linemen are going to have to be able to find their assignments quickly and hold their blocks.
Looking at Pittsford’s offensive attack, Lee has now accounted for over 1,200 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground and Kurtis Brackman and Talyor Hatfield have combined for nearly 1,000 more.
Fery said “it all comes down to stopping No. 5” in his opinion, referring to the Wildcats prolific senior signal caller.
“We’ve got to stop (Lee). He’s a pretty good athlete I’d have to say,” Fery said. “Defensively we just have a lot of seniors who are real good players for us. They are pretty consistent, although last week we weren’t very good, and they know how to play the game.”
The Fighting Beavers boast two 6-5 defensive ends (Doug Trail and Jackson Harner) and a 250-pound tackle in Keegain Trail.
Eau Claire likes to set up in a 6-2 scheme according to Clement, but he expects they might switch to more of a 4-4 look because of Pittsford’s many power formations.
With that in mind Clement said fans might see his boys going to the air more than normal Friday.
“Actually, it sounds odd coming from me, but it looks like the best thing to do against them is pass it. They’re a smash-mouth football team and they want to run it and they want you to run it,” he said. “I told (my team) going through the playoffs we’re going to have to be passing a little bit more and we have to get ready. I told them we’ve got to run our routes hard and work hard at it so we can do that, and they have been.”
The Wildcats like to stick with three-receiver sets, highlighted by the playmaking skills of Seth Weber. They also like to utilize Zach Broughman and Jake Osborn at the tight ends spots, for solid blocking and good route running.
Even through the Wildcats have thrown for just 308 yards all season long, Clement insists it’s not like they aren’t capable of it.
“I bet Garet’s had five or six touchdown passes called back (due to penalties) — we had two (last) Friday night. It wasn’t like he doesn’t pass,” he said. “Of course then after that one touchdown was called back the next play he ran for a touchdown.”
Clement knows best though that it’s sometimes about more than X’s and O’s this time of year. He’s been coaching since 1973 when there wasn’t even a postseason in Michigan and he thinks this groups’ mental toughness and dedication could be why they hang around another week.
“I think it’s their determination. They’re just determined to get better. They could’ve quit when they were 0-2, they could’ve packed it in, but they weren’t willing to do that,” he said. “This is one of the teams that has got the most out of their ability out of any team I’ve had. They work hard, they take it serious but have fun — it’s just been fun to coach this year.”