BOYNE CITY — Between a stable of running backs and a tough defense, Boyne City was able to overcome the absence of its starting quarterback in a 27-6 Division 6 playoff victory over Elk Rapids.
With junior signal-caller Corey Redman sidelined with a pinched nerve, the Ramblers turned to a running game that churned out 267 yards on the ground. Not to be outshined was the Boyne City defense, which limited the Elks to 135 total yards.
Malik Smith rushed the ball 26 times for 184 yards and three touchdowns on runs of 6, 5 and 57 yards to lead the Ramblers.
"We had to step our games up tremendously," Smith said. "But we had a lot of faith in our second-string quarterback. He's a good athlete and I wasn't worried at all."
Boyne (8-2) started slowly with new quarterback Jordan Wilmot under center as the Ramblers turned the ball over on their first three possessions. The second of those turnovers, the first of two interceptions by Kole Douglas, was returned 46 yards for a touchdown that gave Elk Rapids a 6-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Douglas also had a pick on Boyne's next possession, but wasn't able to capitalize that time.
Boyne City came out with some playoff jitters in the early going, trying to beat the Elks (6-4) for the second time this season, after posting a 28-12 win during the regular season meeting between the two Lake Michigan Conference rivals.
"Jordan hasn't taken a ton of snaps at quarterback," said Boyne City coach Dave Hills. "He hasn't started at that position in a few years. There's going to be that (struggle) and I was a little overly aggressive early. So the interceptions early, those are my fault. I shouldn't be calling those plays with a kid who is just trying to get settled in. I thought he played great. He adds another dimension to our offense."
That dimension is the ability to tuck the ball and carry it. Wilmot toted the ball seven times for 43 yards and a 12-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter that drove the final nail in Elk Rapids' coffin. Maceo Vroman added 86 yards on six carries and Bradley Fouchia had 45 yards on 10 carries.
The Ramblers tied the game with 8:15 to go in the second quarter on Smith's first TD, from 6 yards out, then took the lead for good with just over a minute to go before halftime on a 5-yard scamper. Dalton Gardner booted the first of three extra points after that score as Boyne took a 13-6 lead into halftime.
The Ramblers scored twice more in the second half, including a dazzling 57-yard score by Smith in the final seconds of the third period where he broke a tackle 10 yards downfield, then was off to the races before breaking a few more tackles right before he crossed the goal line.
"He's so tough and he's so physical," Hills said of Smith. "He doesn't like to get tackled. He doesn't like to go down. We knew if the opportunity presented itself and he could bounce one outside...he's got the speed that he can break it."
Elk Rapids head coach Ed Schindler was frustrated that his own team wasn't able to move the ball like the Ramblers did. Besides not being able to get yards, the Elks struggled to protect quarterback Adam Trautman, who was sacked five times. They also turned the ball over twice.
"We struggled all night," Schindler said. "They play good defense. They're a good defensive team. We just couldn't seem to make first downs. We kept our defense on the field most of the game. You can't win football games doing that."
Elk Rapids running back Thais Grays, who was coming off a brilliant regular season, was limited to 30 yards on seven carries before leaving the game with an injury with four minutes remaining.
Boyne City moves on to face the winner of today's Negaunee-Inland Lakes game in next week's district final.