SUTTONS BAY — Keep it normal. Stick to the routine.

Suttons Bay football head coach Garrick Opie said his team wasn’t doing anything special ahead of the Norsemen’s 8-player state semifinal against Rudyard on Saturday. Prepare like it was any other game, that was the plan.

Normal and routine has bred success for Opie and his crew the last three seasons. Normal and routine has led to two straight trips to the state finals, but unfortunately those trips ended with losses.

The fourth-ranked Norsemen (11-0) hope to break that trend, but they have to get by the unranked Bulldogs (9-2) to earn a trip to get that opportunity.

“We don’t expect anything. We come into each week and know we have to work hard to beat the team in front of us,” Opie said. “Of course we all want to be there, but do we expect it without hard work? Not at all. We don’t take anything for granted. We don’t make any assumptions, and we don’t carry arrogance as a team.”

Humility is something Opie has intertwined in his program. The mentality of being good people while playing good football is paramount to Opie, his coaching staff and the players.

On the wall of the Suttons Bay locker room is the phrase “We, not me.” Those three words make a powerful statement to the young minds under Opie’s care.

“That’s the way it’s got to be,” Opie said. “Football and winning is wonderful, but life is a very difficult path that we all need the tools to cope with and to be good people. This is an opportunity for me to try and help them be better individuals.”

Seniors Hugh Periard and Lleyton Krumlauf seem to take to heart what their head coach says.

“Football is more than just a sport,” Periard said. “When you’re running and don’t want to go any farther or you’re in a game and you’re tired, you’ve just got to push through things. That’s life. Sometimes you don’t want to do things, but you have to push through and get to the end.”

Krumlauf said the last two seasons have not only been filled with memorable moments but teachable ones as well.

“This game teaches you about personality and who you ideally want to be,” Krumlauf said. “This builds friendships that will last longer than high school and football. All the valuable life lessons you can learn, those go on here.”

All of the hard work and life lessons have been building to something bigger, at least that’s the hope. A win Saturday would be a step closer to that ultimate prize — a state championship.

“We’re really confident and ready to go,” Periard said. “We want to win this game and make it back — and actually win it this time. We want the trophy. We want to win. It would be a huge thing for a little town like Suttons Bay.”

The tight-knit atmosphere surrounding the team could be that extra boost to carry the Norse north to Marquette.

“We’re all so close,” Periard said. “We’ve been playing football together since we were like 10. We started young, and we’re still here — together.”

Opie said a lot of teams refer to themselves as “families,” but he said the Norsemen actually mean it.

“These guys are like brothers, good or bad. And they’re all my sons,” Opie said. “We carry mutual respect for each other, and they play hard for each other and not themselves.”

Suttons Bay’s high-powered offense has put up some gaudy numbers this season, but Opie said it was a game when his players showed class through restraint that impressed him the most.

Opie declined to name the game specifically, but he said it provided a lesson in empathy.

“I tell the guys that not everybody is as fortunate as they are, both athletically and program-wise,” he said. “That other program is trying to stitch together a team, and they’re out there to play football. So let’s play football and enjoy that and foster the sport as opposed to putting up 90 points.”

“It wasn’t about them, and they bought into 100 percent,” Opie continued. “I couldn’t ask for more. To be able to get them to understand that, that’s everything.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Suttons Bay High School, where the Norsemen haven’t lost since Week Two of the 2017 season.

The winner plays either Adrian Lenawee Christian (11-0, No. 2) or Martin (11-0, No. 6) in the state championship game at the Superior Dome on Nov. 20.

“We’re excited. We’re excited to get out on the field and play our last game at home. We’re prepared for it,” Krumlauf said. “We’re all just looking forward and wanting to get there. We can’t wait.”

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