GRAYLING — Grayling senior receiver Tyler McClanahan knew he didn’t want to end his stellar prep career losing at home to U.P. rival Kingsford. On Saturday in the Division 5 pre-district playoff opener against the Flivvers, he helped to make sure it didn’t happen.
McClanahan caught 10 passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns as the high-octane Vikings outscored the visitors 42-25 in a thrilling slugfest to advance to the district title game against Menominee.
“Our mindset going in was revenge for them beating us up there last year (in the playoff opener),” said McClanahan, who also re-set the single-season Grayling receiving record with his performance Saturday. “There’s no way we wanted to lose to them at home, especially all the seniors. In three years on the varsity, none of us seniors have ever lost a home game.”
Grayling (9-1), the No. 2 seed, travels to the western U.P. to take on the top-seeded Maroons (10-0), who defeated Houghton 63-6 in Saturday’s other district contest. It is the third time in the past four years that Grayling will play at Menominee in the postseason.
Last year, Grayling didn’t play at Menominee but traveled to nearby Kingsford to open the playoffs and lost 36-14. This year, the Flivvers made the long trip from the U.P. to Grayling and the Vikings returned the favor.
McClanahan had TD catches of 11, 50 and 9 yards, all in the first half, as Grayling built a 28-13 advantage.
The Flivvers closed the gap to 28-19 on their first possession of the third quarter but the Vikings answered right back a minute later as senior QB Jake Swander fired his fourth TD pass of the game, a missile that Brandon Latusek wrestled away from converging Kingsford defender Cole Tengesdahl in the corner of the end zone.
Kingsford trimmed the lead to 35-25 early in the fourth quarter but the Vikings responded with an 18-play, 80-yard drive to finally seal the victory with 2:50 remaining when Swander found a seam up the middle on a keeper from 3 yards out. Kevin Harris’s fifth successful PAT of the game gave the home team an insurmountable 17-point lead.
Swander found Danny Schultz for 19 yards and a key first down early in the march, then hooked up with McClanahan for 16 yards for another third-down conversion to bring the ball into Flivver territory before firing to the leaping Latusek for 13 yards on a fourth-and-11 play from the 14-yard line to set up the clinching score.
The Flivvers got the ball back one final time but were unable to advance as QB Joe Hofer was sacked by blitzing linebackers Nick Swiercz and Branch.
“It feels great,” said Grayling coach Tim Sanchez afterward. “This is the first time we’ve beaten a U.P. team (in the playoffs) since I’ve been head coach and it was great being able to do it today at home with so many of our fans here.
“Our kids played hard,” he added. “Kingsford’s a very tough team and we knew we had to match their toughness and be very physical on the line. I was really pleased with our effort.”
Grayling amassed more than 600 yards of offense in the game with a lethal mixture of running and passing. Swander hit on 18-of-36 for 263 yards via the airways but the Vikings also had two runners with more than 150 yards each on the ground.
“When they doubled Tyler (McClanahan) and put six in the box, the run was there and that’s what we did,” Sanchez said. “When they put seven in the box and left Tyler in single coverage, Jake put the ball in Tyler’s hands.”
Grayling’s hard-driving senior Michael Branch slashed and slammed his way to 152 yards on 23 carries with a 10-yard TD burst and slippery senior Kevin Harris sprinted to 155 yards on 17 carries. Nearly all the Grayling rushing yardage was attained on quick hitters straight up the gut. Swander also rushed for 48 yards and a TD.
Kingsford (6-4) kept itself in the contest with big plays on both sides of the ball and special teams. Cornerback Jaxson Ferree returned an interception 75 yards to put the Flivvers’ first points on the board. Running back Alex Patterson raced 74 yards to set up the visitors’ second touchdown, a 1-yard plunge by fullback Tyler Roberts. Lineman Hugh Harris blocked a punt to set up Kingsford’s final touchdown of the day, a 56-yard bomb from Hofer to streaking Brody Sundquist on a fourth-and-11 play with 8:53 left remaining in the game. Harris also recovered a fumble, as did Roberts on a muffed punt.
Both teams moved the ball effectively much of the time. Each team was stopped twice in the red zone, however. Grayling turned the ball over three times and the Flivvers turned the ball over once.
In addition to his receiving yards, McClanahan had a big game defensively for the Vikings as well, making 10 tackles to go with an interception inside the 5-yard line to halt the Flivvers’ first drive of the game.
Branch had a team-high 11 tackles and defensive tackle William Romain made nine stops and had two sacks.
Grayling lost by lopsided scores in its previous two visits to Menominee, falling by a 60-16 margin in 2010 and 63-22 in 2011.