BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY —
"One and 0 and one to go" has been kind of a mantra for Traverse City West this season.
After a tough-luck loss to Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills to start the campaign, the Titans made it a goal to win out the rest of the year.
But rather than look at it as going 8-0 down the stretch, TC West approached it more like eight one-week win streaks.
Traverse City Central could be the last big hurdle in meeting that goal. After Central, the Titans (4-1, 3-0 Big North Conference) have Petoskey (3-2, which the Trojans beat 40-0), Ogemaw Heights (2-3) and Adrian (1-4) remaining in the regular season.
But the Trojans (4-1, 3-0 BNC) are certainly a big hurdle.
"Obviously, Central is a very good team, very athletic," West quarterback Donny Cizek said. "You can tell by their record, they do a lot of things right and do a lot of good things."
TC West has won the last two matchups in two very different ways — a 14-8 defensive battle last year and a 51-42 shootout in 2010.
And who knows how this one will come out. Both teams are racking up big point totals — 130 in three league games for West, to only 25 points against; and 136 points for Central and just 27 against.
The Trojans also have excellent special teams in kicker Jake Gorter, punter Nate Pupel and returners T.J. Schepperly and T.J. Schwannecke. West will counter with a kicking game that has heated up to limit Cadillac's average starting field position to 21.6 in the Vikings' first nine possessions, thanks to the big kicking leg of Matt Gloshen.
"I've seen them live, in the scrimmage and on film, and I think that's the best Central team that they've had since I've been here," West coach Tim Wooer said. "Defensively, they are really good. Their special teams are phenomenal. And they're very similar to Cadillac in terms of having a very electrifying quarterback. Probably what they've got that Cadillac didn't have is a running back to go with him. Cadillac was kind of a one-horse show, and Central has a few guys they can throw back there. Now they've got a track star in Schwannecke back there with Schepperly — that's scary. That'll offer some different issues for us."
While Central is enjoying its best start since 1991, the Titans are also off to their first 4-1 start since 2004.
"If we can all do our jobs and nobody tries to be a hero, we like our odds," Cizek said. "If we all play within ourselves, that's going to be a really good collective effort."
The say familiarity breeds contempt. Or, in this case, it builds respect.
"We've all grown up with those guys over there," Cizek said. "We've been playing and battling in sports since we were (kids). We're good friends with quite a few of them, but come Friday, we're both going to be treated the same way. They're on the opposite side of the ball as us. After the game, we'll be buddies again. We've got a lot of respect for them."
The Titans have been using their spread offense to spread things out. West has run for 1,167 yards and 14 TDs this season and thrown for 849 and 10 more scores.
Led by Cizek (68.8 percent passing), the passing attack has found 14 different receivers in five games and is gaining almost as many yards per game (170) as opponents gain rushing (178).
"They have a lot of great athletes on both sides of the ball," West's leading receiver Tyler Johnson said of Central. "They work really well together. We have to lock them down and don't give up big plays. That's our goal this week: No big plays."
That'll be easier said than done against a team with two of the fastest players in the league in the same backfield.
"We have to have great pursuit and come to the ball every play," defensive back and receiver Dustin Tucker said. "Play whistle to whistle. If we do that, it'll be a good night, hopefully."