TC ST. FRANCIS AT KINGSLEY

Kingsley’s Alex Smith (11) catches a fourth quarter pass against Traverse City St. Francis.

KINGSLEY — For two teams that have never played each other, Kingsley and Frankenmuth look alike on paper.

Both are ranked in the top 10 in Division 5, like to run the ball a whole lot more than they throw it and even look similar on defense.

One big difference: The Eagles were able to get to last year’s state finals, while a COVID-19 outbreak stalled the Stags.

“We didn’t have a chance to do this last year, so we’re going to hopefully have a good win,” Kingsley senior tight end Brett Peterson said. “We had some adversity at the end of the season, but we think that that kind of kicked us in gear and showed us we’re going to have to play great every week in the playoffs.”

The Stags also have an additional source of inspiration for Saturday’s 1 p.m. road playoff game.

Cornerback and running back Connor Schueller’s mother passed away from COVID-19 a day before the Stags’ regular-season finale against Traverse City St. Francis.

“She did everything for us, like the Touchdown Club,” Peterson said of Trina Schueller. “She did fundraisers, everything. She was like a second mom to everyone. So we’re trying to dedicate this to her.”

The Stags have “TS” stickers on their helmets dedicated to Trina Schueller, as well as wristbands. Even Kingsford, a school five-and-a-half hours away in the Upper Peninsula, was touched by the story and made its own “TS” helmet stickers to display during a 28-10 playoff loss to the Stags two weeks ago.

“That’s been huge for him and his family,” Kingsley head coach Tim Wooer said of Connor Schueller. “His dad sees him with a smile on his face on Friday nights. And he played a pretty crucial role Friday night in our win against Clare. A big play on trap on 3rd-and-16.”

Schueller’s touchdown run helped put away Kingsley’s 32-6 district championship win.

“Everyone from here grew up with him,” said Peterson, who transferred from Glen Lake two years ago. “He’s as a brother to us, no matter how long you’ve been here. We all realize what he’s going through and that we need to be there for him every step of the way. And he knows that he can lean on us.”

The Stags had some extra adversity when starting center Riley Brock injured his knee late in the Kingsford game. Junior Kyle Weger stepped in for Brock, and the offense has continued to put up points.

“Never complained the entire season,” Wooer said of Weger. “He’s playing behind Riley Brock, so he’s not going to see a ton of playing time. He just stayed the course and kept getting better week in and week out. He stepped in and did a fabulous job late in the game against Kingsford and did a really nice job against Clare.”

Wooer said it’s unlikely Brock returns in time to play, with a slight chance if the Stags advance to the state championship at Ford Field. Brock watched practice this week on crutches, helping coaches keep track of time during drills.

Frankenmuth, on the other hand, hasn’t had a game decided by less than 14 points this season.

Senior Cole Lindow leads the No. 2 Eagles’ ground game with 1,541 yards and 18 touchdowns. Frankenmuth (11-0) threw the ball only 51 times this season, the exact same number of pass attempts as No. 7 Kingsley (10-1). The Stags passed for 446 yards and four TDs to 431 yards and five TDs by the Eagles.

“They’re going to run midline, inside, outside of the veer and run some toss,” Wooer said. “They’ve got a tailback that kind of makes everything go, and they’ve got a quarterback that’s a great decision-maker. So he’s going to make all the right reads it’s just a matter of if can you counteract what they want to do.”

Kingsley doesn’t have one dominant workhorse runner like Lindow, but instead splits up its carries among several backs to produce much the same result. Sam Goethals has 733 yards, True Beeman 704, Aiden Schier 534, quarterback Gage Hessem with 283 and Schuller at 273.

“They’re really disciplined, really well coached,” Peterson said. “They obviously have good players. Everyone’s going to have good players at this point. But we’re well coached and we have a bunch of studs on our field and we’re ready to do.”

The Stags insisted on practicing outdoors, even in Thursday’s rain. When the oncoming rain appeared to be light, the team turned on the lights at Rodes Field and began practice in 48-degree conditions. Similar weather is expected Saturday at Frankenmuth.

“We talked about the real teams playing in November,” Peterson said. “So playing under the lights in practice at five o’clock, nothing better than that.”

Defensively, the well-balanced Eagles have six players with more than 50 tackles this season, led by junior linebacker Dalton DeBeau’s 70.

Another three players produced more than 40 stops.

Kingsley’s leading tackler is Phillip Brown with 48 (39 solo), although only three Stags defenders have played in all 11 games.

“It’s just going to be a slugfest,” Wooer said. “It’s going to be punch in the face, punch in the face, punch in the face. Last man standing. Rocky versus Apollo Creed.”

Follow @Jamescook14 on Twitter.

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