TRAVERSE CITY — Ishpeming Westwood features an unusual offense, so it’s a good thing Traverse City St. Francis can get some firsthand scouting reports on it.
The Patriots earned their first two postseason wins over area teams, topping East Jordan 44-6 in the opening round and Charlevoix 30-28 last week for the school’s first football district championship.
No. 8-ranked Westwood (10-1) runs an offense similar to a Wing-T, but with two quarterbacks in the backfield. One is more of thrower, the other more of a runner. Both are named Zach.
The Patriots and Gladiators have never played each other before, but St. Francis head coach Josh Sellers saw this same offense years ago from Ishpeming High School, the other program in the Upper Peninsula town west of Marquette. The Hematites’ backfield also featured two players with the same first name — Ozzy and Ozzie — in 2014. (TCSF lost to Ishpeming High in the 2014 playoffs and beat the Hematites in 2011, 2009, 2007 and 2005.)
The Gladiators and Patriots face off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Thirlby Field in a Division 7 regional championship matchup.
“They have pretty good running backs there,” East Jordan head coach Greg Kitson said. “But the strength is really their line. ... There’s no frills. We weren’t surprised by anything other than how strong they were.”
Kitson suspects No. 1-ranked St. Francis (11-0) will have better size to combat that strength and that the Gladiators could have an advantage on special teams as well. The Red Devils were able to pop off a long punt return on the Patriots’ special teams unit.
Westwood’s only loss came in Week Three against Calumet, a team that’s still alive in the Division 6 playoffs. The Patriots averaged almost 41 points a game since only scoring 14 on Calumet.
“It’s very unique, like a wildcat offense, but it’s very effective,” St. Francis quarterback Charlie Peterson said. “Clearly it works, and they score about 40-some points a game so clearly they’re doing something right. Their offense looks tough to stop, so it’s going to be interesting to see how we handle it.”
Defensively, the Patriots run a wide 6-2 defense. Charlevoix quarterback Caleb Stuck threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns as the Rayders rallied from an early deficit with their passing attack. Patrick Sterrett hauled in 238 yards of that passing total and all three scores.
St. Francis scored 119 points in two playoff games so far. Westwoods’ defense allowed double-digit scoring outputs only three times in 11 games this year, including giving up 28 against Calumet and Charlevoix. The Patriot defense has three shutouts to its credit.
“Our defense,” St. Francis’ Gabe Olivier said when asked the biggest aspect Saturday for the Glads. “If our defense makes a big statement, because we’ve been doing really well on offense and putting up points, but people have been concerned with how our defense has been playing and if we’re going to do well against teams later on. ... No. 10 and No. 2, they can run the ball super well. So I think if our defense is able to control them well and not have a bunch of points scored against us, it’ll make a good statement.”
Zach Carlson wears jersey No. 2 and Zach Beckman is No. 10 for the Patriots.
“They’ll go tackle over and then make him ineligible,” Sellers said. “And then on the short side, they’ll have an eligible receiver and they just kind of try to mix things up a little bit and get some mismatches. And they do a good job with it.”
Westwood solely played Upper Peninsula teams in the regular season, and only Lower Peninsula squads in the playoffs, with East Jordan and Charlevoix at home and now hitting the road for a trip of more than five hours to Traverse City.
“We’ve made the trip up there to play at Marquette quite a few times, so it’s kind of nice to get one of those teams coming down here and spending the night Friday night here in town or somewhere below the bridge anyway,” Sellers said. “So it’s nice to have that home-cookin’.”
The Gladiators had to adjust to playing without leading tackler Joey Donahue, who’s been out for the last three games with a torn meniscus. Sellers said it’s unlikely the star junior linebacker could return, even if the Gladiators make the state finals.
“We put Garrett Hathaway at middle linebacker and he’s been doing great,” Olivier said. “Obviously it hurt us with Joey gone. He was a leader on defense. So with guys stepping up, like Garrett and Josh Groves, we’ve been doing better.”
Saturday’s game marks the final home contest for Peterson, Olivier and a host of other Gladiator seniors.
“It’s just crazy to think I’ll never play there again,” Peterson said. “That’s kind of sad, but it’s also pretty cool that I can do it with the chance to win a regional trophy. That’s how you want to go out, right?”