By MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY —
It was the end of the run for two northern Michigan football powerhouses.
It was one of the biggest moments in school history for another program.
This year's high school football playoffs were anything but ordinary, ranking No. 7 on the Record-Eagle Top 10 sports stories of 2012.
When the MHSAA announced its playoff pairings on Oct. 21, there were two notables left out — Frankfort and St. Francis. Both finished the regular season 4-5, ending two of the longest consecutive streaks in the state.
The Gladiators had been to 22 straight playoffs — a record now held by Iron Mountain North Dickinson — while Frankfort had been to 17 straight. The last time both teams were out in the same year was 1984.
Other schools ended long playoff droughts. For Kalkaska, a 7-2 record gave the Blazers their first playoff appearance since 2002. And for TC Central, an 8-1 regular season kept the Trojans at home for the first round of the playoffs — for the first time in 22 years.
That homefield game to open the playoffs turned into a memorable one, as TC Central beat Bay City Western 48-47 in double overtime.
"To use an ESPN phrase, that was an 'instant classic,'" Trojans coach Passinault said. "To have our first home playoff game in 22 years and then to win in that fashion was a credit to everybody in our program. I've had a number of people tell me that was the best game they've seen at Thirlby Field, so that's quite a compliment."
Trojans quarterback T.J. Schepperly had a 46-yard touchdown run with 1:09 left in regulation to force overtime. After the teams traded touchdowns in the first extra session, Nate Pupel scored from 7 yards out in the second OT for a 48-41 lead. Bay City Western got a touchdown, but missed a two-point conversion to give the Trojans the win.
TC Central went on to play top-ranked Midland the next week and came up short in a 28-16 setback. However, it didn't dampen the year the Trojans had, going unbeaten to win the Big North Conference and they tallied nine wins for the first time since 1991.
"When we put it all together and beat West, we felt like for the kids to play in that pressure-packed game was a sign that we had a pretty good football team," Passinault said.
Passinault was named the AP Division 1-2 co-Coach of the Year while Schepperly was a special mention quarterback.
Schepperly is one of 16 seniors who will graduate before next fall, but Passinault is looking to build on this year's success.
"To continue to play at that high level, it won't automatically come," Passinault said. "It will require a lot of hard work. Our goal is to stay at that level."
It was also a memorable year for Bellaire, which played in the eight-player football state title game. The Eagles came up just short against Deckerville, losing 14-12 when their final drive stalled out 4 yards from the endzone.
Bellaire played for a state title in 2010, but that was before the sport was recognized by the MHSAA.