GAYLORD — Gaylord St. Mary head football coach Kevin O’Connell sees confidence in the Snowbirds’ eyes.
The Snowbirds’ play on the field is evidence they believe they’re part of something special.
Gaylord St. Mary blasted Mesick 44-14 in the Division 1 8-player regional semifinal at home Friday, adding another blowout win to its 7-1 season.
“I think it’s special,” O’Connell said. “We’re a small school and small community and this means a lot to us. This was a glimpse of how special this place and what we do out here is.”
Chris Koscielniak and Conrad Korte dominated the field for the Snowbirds and shut down Mesick’s game plan on both sides of the ball. The Bulldogs held tough on defense throughout the first half, but Koscielniak’s incessant effort eventually shattered Mesick’s comeback chances. The senior St. Mary quarterback rushed for 210 yards and three scores, all of which came from inside the 10-yard line.
The Snowbirds reverted to an offensive system that mirrors last year’s team and Koscielniak said that made all the difference.
“We changed it up toward the end of our season and we started flowing with it,” Koscielniak said. “We ran something like this last year, but it feels a lot smoother this year.”
The Snowbirds dropped 232 points on opponents in their last four games alone, with Koscielniak a huge part of that. He has 23 rushing scores on the season and is responsible for 174 points by himself this year.
“He’s a quiet kid and he‘s unlike his brother Steven,” O’Connell said of Koscielniak. “He’s the leader on both sides of the ball and one of our captains. He just leads by example and he is a grinder.”
Korte dominated the defensive side of the ball for GSM, totaling eight tackles and three interceptions. Korte started his defensive day with a pick on a tipped ball over the middle that he snagged just before hitting the grass.
He would go on to snag an interception in the end zone and stop another Mesick drive inside the 20 with a pick.
St. Mary held a 22-6 halftime lead and moved the ball at will in the second half.
The Bulldogs were threatening in the first quarter and Cole Spencer made sure to answer the Snowbirds’ quick 14-0 lead with a big play of his own.
Mesick quarterback Gabe Parrish found Spencer on a go route for a 47-yard score to cut the lead to 14-6. While that was the only offensive touchdown the Bulldogs would score, Spencer found another way to get on the board late in the game. Spencer corralled a rolling ball at the 3-yard line on a kickoff and weaved his way 97 yards for the score with just under four minutes left in the game.
Spencer caught the ball 12 times for 181 yards and made dozens of Snowbirds miss tackles along the way in his final game with the Bulldogs.
“Our seniors are leaders and they brought the younger ones with them,” Mesick head coach Otto Ream said. “This is going to make them grow. I think these younger kids see this and want to be here too. They want to do the same thing and keep getting better and better.”
Mesick won its first playoff game in school history last week with a 34-0 win over Vestaburg.
Parrish went 16-for-26 passing and 209 yards with three interceptions and a touchdown pass, also rushing for 63 yards. Matthew Fuller led the Bulldog defense with 20 tackles from the safety spot.
Korte also created problems on offense for the Bulldogs as he amassed 190 rushing yards on 18 carries for GSM. The 59 carries and 23 first downs Gaylord St. Mary produced Friday were both season highs.
Brody Jeffers added a passing touchdown to Dom Keister in the third for the Snowbirds. Keister tipped the ball on a high pass and had to lay out to snag the ball that put GSM up 30-6.
The Snowbirds racked up 581 total yards of offense, with 487 coming on the ground.
St. Mary is set up for a regional final rematch with Suttons Bay (7-0) next week. The Snowbirds and Norsemen played twice last season, splitting the meetings that were decided by a combined total of seven points. The Norsemen won the regional title 36-30 last season and made it all the way to the state title game.
“We’re not going over there to grind an edge, that would be a loss of focus for us,” O’Connell said of the rematch. “We’re going over there to play football, not seek revenge.”
O’Connell said his staff has mapped out the playoffs and expected to see the Norsemen in this spot and thinks if his team shows up like the did Friday they will be prepared for anything.
“I think momentum is key for a 16-year-old’s psyche,” he said. “They need to have confidence going into the game and I think they do.”