BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — If area football teams are to win district titles this weekend, most will have to do it on the road.
Of the six area teams still alive, five will travel. Only Cadillac will play at home. The unbeaten Vikings host Big North rival Ogemaw Heights on Friday.
Facing the toughest assignments? The Grayling Vikings in Division 5 and the Glen Lake Lakers in Division 6. Grayling is at top-ranked Menominee on Saturday. Glen Lake is at top-ranked Ithaca on Friday.
Ithaca, in fact, has pieced together a 52-game winning streak that includes three consecutive state titles.
“You don’t win 52 games in a row and not be prepared — and that’s one thing about Ithaca, they’re well prepared,” Lakers coach Jerry Angers said.
The 10-0 Yellowjackets are outscoring opponents by nearly 50 points a game — 54.4 to 4.5
Quarterback Travis Smith, who has made a verbal commitment to Toledo, runs the offense. He’s completed 108 of 145 passes for 2,095 yards and 28 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 385 yards and nine scores.
Bryan Shaw, a 5-11, 225-pound bruiser, is Ithaca’s leading rusher. Logan Hessbrook, Josh Hafner and Eli Villalobos are part of a talented receiving corp. The 6-3, 200-pound Hessbrook has snared 34 passes for 666 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s rushed for 524 yards and another 10 scores.
“(Coach Terry Hessbrook) runs a great program,” Angers said. “They’re fun to watch on film, that’s for sure.”
Glen Lake enters the contest 9-1 after disposing of Lakeview 21-13 in last week’s pre-district. The Lakers can put up points, too, averaging 34 a game. Running back Trevor Apsey leads the attack. He’s rushed for 1,335 yards, averaging about 13 yards a carry.
Quarterback Carter Lee is back after missing time with an MCL injury. But running back-linebacker Travis Wiltjer injured an ankle in the final seconds of last Friday’s win.
“It will be a game time decision,” Angers said of Wiltjer’s availability. “If he’s there, it’s a bonus.”
Grayling, 9-1, will be making its third trip to Menominee in the last four years. The previous two stops did not go so well — a 60-16 setback in 2010 and a 63-22 loss in 2011.
Vikings coach Tim Sanchez, though, welcomes the challenge.
“You’ve got to beat them at some point, that’s our mentality,” he said. “We’re tired of going over the bridge and not coming back with something. We’re hoping this is the year we do it. We know this is one of the best teams Menominee has had. We’ll definitely have to execute and play a great ballgame to match their skill and size.”
The 10-0 Maroons average 47 points a game. Junior quarterback Justin Brilinski directs the single-wing offense. He’s passed for nearly 1,000 yards and rushed for more 800.
Ryne Francourhow, a 6-1, 255-pound linebacker, spearheads the defense. He was the Upper Peninsula’s Large School Defensive Player of the Year.
“They’re loaded,” Sanchez said. “They’ve got a lot of size, a lot of speed — and they’re just really good football players. They know what they’re doing, where they’re going and they take good angles. They’re a tough, tough football team. You name it, they’ve got it.
“We watched a ton of film, breaking (the Maroons) down. This is the most film our kids have ever watched. They’re buying into that. We feel good. We have playmakers, too.”
Grayling counters with a potent pitch-catch combination of Jake Swander and Tyler McClanahan. Swander’s completed 179 of 308 passes for 2,373 yards and 28 touchdowns. McClanahan has set school records with 76 catches for 1,191 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The two teams have a common foe. Menominee beat Kingsford 42-13 while Grayling beat the Flivvers 42-25 last week.
Two other area teams will be bound for the Upper Peninsula as well. Boyne City, 8-2, takes on Negaunee in Division 6 at Marquette’s Superior Dome on Friday. Johannesburg-Lewiston, 8-2, travels to St. Ignace in a Division 8 matchup Friday.
Boyne City and Negaunee feature talented running backs. The Miners’ Tyler LaJoie, a Upper Peninsula Dream Team player, has rushed for 1,312 yards and 21 touchdowns, averaging 12.7 yards per carry. Boyne City sophomore Malik Smith gained 1,147 yards in eight regular season contests.
Johannesburg-Lewiston and St. Ignace are members of the Ski Valley, but in opposite divisions. The Saints are led by quarterback Tyler Snyder and sophomore defensive back Gage Kreski, who has 11 interceptions.
Lake City, 9-1, is on the road Saturday at Lincoln-Alcona in Division 7. The Trojans have a top-notch signal-caller in Drew Marion, who’s passed for 1,425 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 1,182 yards and 25 scores.
Cadillac, 10-0, will seek a second win over Ogemaw Heights, Quarterback Jalen Brooks, who’s rushed for more than 1,000 yards and passed for nearly as much, sparks the Vikings.