By Mike Dunn
Special to the Record-Eagle
BOYNE CITY — It was a history-making night for the Grayling Vikings of coach Tim Sanchez. The Vikings completed their first-ever undefeated regular season and won their first Lake Michigan Conference championship at the same time Friday with a suffocating defensive performance, defeating host Boyne City 21-0.
"It feels great," said Grayling senior defensive lineman Brandon Handrich, who helped to spearhead the aggressive Viking attack with three sacks and a team-leading nine tackles. "We have great coaches and they had us ready to play. We played a very disciplined game. We knew Boyne was good but we all had confidence we could do this tonight."
Middle linebacker Wes Dean, who had three tackles for loss among his eight stops, credited the defensive line with keeping pressure on Boyne quarterback Corey Redman. The Vikings sacked Redman eight times.
"It all starts with the guys up front," Dean said. "This couldn't be a better feeling. I'm so proud of my teammates and my coaches and so happy we could win all nine this year and win the league as seniors."
Both teams came into the contest unbeaten.
The Grayling defense was tested early when the Ramblers moved from their own 27 to a first-and-goal from the 3 on their initial drive. A procedure penalty pushed the Ramblers back to the 8 and they couldn't score in four plays from there. It appeared that Jamael Kelly might reach the end zone on a first-down sweep around the left side but he was stopped short by outside linebacker Michael Branch. Redman was sacked by Ty Jensen and blitzing linebacker Nick Swiercz on second down. A third-down pass to Bradley Fouchia brought the ball to the 5 but a fourth down pass fell incomplete.
After the Viking defense held, the offense moved 95 yards in six plays with Jensen scoring the first of his three touchdowns on a 1-yard plunge. The big play in the drive was a 51-yard hook-up from junior signal caller Jake Swander to Kevin Harris down the right sidelines. With 1:22 left in the opening quarter, the Vikings led 6-0 and, as it turned out, had all the points they needed.
Both coaches pointed to the early Viking defensive stand as a key point in the contest.
"For us to not score there in the first quarter really hurt," Boyne coach Dave Hills said. "We're a young team and it obviously affected us. We moved the ball really well to get down there and to get that close and not score was a blow. We never had another opportunity like that again."
"That was huge," Sanchez said. "It showed our guys that we could stop them and it really fed our confidence."
The Ramblers only had one first down the rest of the half and continued to struggle moving the ball in the second half. They only moved into Grayling territory twice after the opening drive.
The Vikings were able to keep explosive playmakers Kelly and freshman Malik Smith from getting around the edge or finding much open space anywhere. That put the Ramblers in frequent passing situations and nearly every time Redman went back to pass he was under pressure.
"Coach (Kevin) O'Connell drew up a great game plan," Sanchez said. "He watches the films and comes up with a different plan for every opponent, depending on what their strengths are. He had the guys ready to play tonight and the kids came out with a lot of passion and a lot of fire. You could tell they really wanted this one."
Jensen, a senior, also scored on a 6-yard run, capping a 13-play, 77-yard second-quarter drive and he was on the receiving end of an 8-yard scoring pass from Swander midway through the third quarter.
The Vikings' final touchdown was set up when Handrich tackled the Boyne punter inside the 10-yard line after the punter bobbled the snap.
The Vikings (9-0) and Ramblers (8-1) now put this one behind them and gear for the playoffs.
"We'll celebrate tonight and tomorrow and then get back to work," Sanchez said. "Hopefully we still have a lot of football to play."
"We're not done yet," Hills said. "We're still a good football team and our best football is ahead of us. I'm not at all disappointed with our effort tonight. We needed to execute better but the effort was there. Now we'll regroup and get ready for next week."
Jensen amassed 120 yards rushing in 20 carries and Branch had 38 yards in five tries. Swander hit on 12-of-33 for 216 yards. Harris and Scout Tobin each pulled in two for 64 yards while Scott Parkinson had two for 40 yards and Tyler McClanahan had three for 37 yards.
Swiercz made eight tackles with two sacks. Jensen, Lucas Walesky and David Somero also combined for two sacks. Parkinson had an interception and Ki-Hwan Kim recovered an onside kick.
Smith secured 60 yards in 15 carries for the Ramblers and Fuschia picked up 35 yards in three tries. Fuschia also grabbed three passes for 31 yards.
Senior Alan Manross recorded 11 tackles for Boyne and Brady Calo had eight. Conner Mills and Zach Wandrie each made seven stops. Linebacker Elliot Hausler deflected two passes.