TRAVERSE CITY — There’s one person who’s certainly glad all those pauses occurred in this season’s choppy fall sports playoffs resumption.
Traverse City St. Francis cornerback Anthony Piedmonte gets to play Saturday for the first time since Oct. 9, when he suffered a sprain and hairline fracture in his right ankle.
The senior captain wouldn’t have played if the Gladiators’ postseason wasn’t pushed back by COVID-19 precautions.
“I’m pretty happy about that,” Piedmonte said. “It was not fun, because I’m a senior. It was great to watch the team do well, too.”
Piedmonte just started running on the ankle right after the Glads’ 44-32 win over Charlevoix. St. Francis didn’t play last week when Oscoda forfeited because of low numbers, moving TCSF into Saturday’s Division 7 semifinal at Cass City.
It’ll also be the first time Piedmonte has played football in January.
“In the low 30s is not the worst thing in the world,” he said.
Saturday’s weather forecast in Cass City — a trip of nearly 200 miles across the state from Traverse City — is a high of 34 degrees, low of 29 and 60% chance of light snow with mild winds.
“For as crazy as everything has been,” St. Francis head coach Josh Sellers said, “could we ask for any better weather in January?”
No. 10-ranked Cass City (10-0) keeps the ball on the ground most of the time, with quarterback Bryce Fernald throwing for only 370 yards and four TDs all season.
“They don’t do a whole lot on offense, but what they do, they do it very well,” Sellers said.
But the Bearcats counter with two running backs with almost 900 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns in Alex Perry (897 yards and 13 TDs) and Jordan Mester (868 yards and 12 TDs), as well as Noah Zaleski (590 rush yards, five TDs). Fernald adds another 614 running yards and 11 TDs.
“They’re going to run the ball a whole lot,” Piedmonte said. “We’re looking forward to going down there and playing our game, even though we haven’t played in a long time.”
The No. 11 Gladiators (8-2) haven’t played a game since topping Charlevoix on Nov. 13 — a span of just over two full months.
Meanwhile, Cass City shocked previously undefeated and top-ranked Ithaca 50-24 in a neutral-site game at The Legacy Center in Brighton, also the site of this weekend’s pair of eight-player state championship games.
The Red Hawks led 34-6 at halftime and tied for the most points scored on Ithaca in 19 games, running up 471 rushing yards while holding the Yellowjackets to negative-3 on the ground.
“That got a lot of people’s attention,” Sellers said.
So now the Gladiators have to make a trip of over three hours to play in the thumb, something that harkens back to the Glads’ 2017 regional final win against Millington on a frigid November night.
“In a typical year, we’d meet in the middle,” Sellers said. “But they got the job done and got more playoff points than us.”
Cass City plays an aggressive defense that ranges from six-man fronts to nine players in the box. On offense, the Red Hawks run a double tight Wing-T with full backfield, similar to what Kingsley runs.