BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — It's a little earlier than hoped, but the Traverse City Wolves season ends tonight.
The Wolves host West Michigan in their season finale at 7 p.m. at Thirlby Field.
"Unfortunately, we don't have a playoff picture to look at," head coach Rich Micham said. "So we're looking at this game for some redemption and to end with a win like we did last year to hopefully give us a little momentum at the end of the season."
The Tigers (7-1) won 28-7 in the third week of the season on June 16, but by then a wave of injuries had already hit the Wolves (3-6).
"We've had an average of two to three of our starting linemen — whether it's offense or defense — out every game," Micham said. "I can't remember one game where we had at least 85 percent of our players healthy. We've had usually five to seven guys out due to injury or other reasons. But we work with what we have."
The Wolves will be getting safety/linebacker Jordan Bradford back for the final game.
"He might be a little bit rusty, because he only played two games at the beginning of the season," Micham said. "But just having him back on the field gives the guys a little more confidence."
Bradford suffered a perforated intestine in the second game of the season and hadn't played since.
When he was injured, teammates took turn wearing his No. 4 jersey each week in his honor.
"It's more of a car wreck injury rather than a football injury," Micham said. "You hardly ever hear of it in football. He collided with another player coming in for a tackle. ... He impacted the ground so hard that we think a backbone is what perforated it. At first we thought it was a knee to the gut that did it, but when we looked at the tape, when he hit the ground is when the injury happened."
The Tigers are battling with the Lakeshore Cougars (7-2) for the Northern Division title and home field advantage in the playoffs.
It doesn't help that the Wolves have ended up with one of the 29-team league's toughest schedules.
"Every team we played besides the team from Canada has been in the top eight," Micham said. "We've been told by several coaches of other teams that we have the toughest schedule of any Michigan semi-pro team, especially our second-half schedule. A couple years ago, when we had a full, healthy squad, we probably would have handled it a little better."
The team has also had some distractions this season from the team being sold during the season. Current offensive coordinator Sean Liles lead a group that purchased the team from founder Daniel Skibbe.
"There was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that unfortunately took away from practice time and whatnot," Micham said. "But we wanted to keep it together, play the season and have something tangible for a new owner. And fortunately, coach Liles was able to step up. Even though the season isn't over we're already building towards next season to make sure we can recruit better and have more community involvement."
Tonight's game will also benefit Traverse Health Clinic.
Fans are asked to mention Traverse Health Clinic at the ticket booth, and the Wolves will donate a portion of every ticket sale to the clinic, which provided health services to nearly 3,000 people in need last year. A benefit raffle will also be held. For ticket information, visit www.tcwolves.com.