Negoni will represent the region as the sole representative for UP in the 11-man MHSAA Championship games tonight and Saturday at Detroit’s Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions.
Last weekend, North Central made Eupers proud as they captured the eight-player MHSAA State Title in Division 2 at the Superior Dome in Marquette.
The Pitmen had a big pre-dawn send-off Thursday, with people lining the streets, fire trucks and police cars with lights on and sirens blaring, escorting them out of their Marquette County hometown.
They then reported that they had another vehicle escort in Munising about an hour later, including first responders and approximately 75 people. This reception was attended by Alger County resident Greg Pond, who performed an NHS fight song as the team traveled through the area.
Finally, after the miners left the UP, there was a sign of support at the toll booth at St. Ignace leading to the Mackinac Bridge.
According to veteran head coach Paul Jacobson, it takes this Negowne team two days to make the nearly 500-mile trip to Detroit.
“We’ll stop at Mount Pleasant on the way down, where I still have connections.” he said Wednesday night, alluding to the fact that he played football at Central Michigan University in the late 1980s and early 90s and after that coached at Mount Pleasant High School for several years.
He later joined the Miners under Hall of Famer head coach Dick Kosky in the 1990s, and later took over the position after Kosky retired before the 2000 season.
Despite the fact that two whole decades have passed, Jacobson is still fresh in Jacobson’s memory of winning the 2002 Division 6 championship – the same title the Pitmen claim today at 16:30 – and of the Negauni teams of that era.
“Comparing our group this year to 2002, I see a lot in common,” said the veteran NHS head coach. “These are two bands that were – and still are – very unique, with a special love to be together and a love to be on the football field.
“You can even include our group from 2003 that made it to the (state) semi-finals.”
So he’s not too worried about the Miners’ current approach to entering the big stage, which will include television coverage of this game and seven other state finals at Bally Sports Detroit.
Seven of the final games will be shown live, including Negoni’s game, with one likely to be shown later in the evening due to prior commitments by the Detroit Pistons and Detroit Red Wings.
“Especially on my part, since I also wear the hat of a sports director, it was a short, eventful week.” Jacobson said.
“But it’s great. A lot of excitement, a lot of emotions. In any case, I live in the moment, and now we are focused on daily activities.
“The most important thing in our team is preparation, pushing forward and focusing on what is happening on the field.
“I don’t feel any nervousness, maybe some anxiety and anticipation, but as soon as the game starts, the environment disappears and you are immersed in the game.
“The focus is on what we need to do to get to this point. Just keep focusing on the task at hand.”
They will face an opponent they have never faced before, at least in Jacobson’s playoff history with the Pitmen, Grand Rapids West Catholic.
That’s because the Falcons have been a Division 5 team — and one year of Division 4 — since the playoffs moved to numerical divisions in the late 1990s. This fall, GRWC is promoted to Division 6 for the first time.
Western Catholic has actually defeated the Menominee in the D-5 playoffs for seven years in a row, most recently in a state championship game in 2016.
Negoni has played in Division 6 for most of the past two decades, although their paths may have crossed paths with West Catholic as both schools made the Division 5 playoffs in 2005 and 2008, but neither went far enough to meet each other. with a friend in the semi-final or final.
Both teams are regularly in the playoffs. It’s Jacobson’s 19th playoff appearance in 23 years at Negoni, while West Catholic has only missed the playoffs once – in 2019 – in the last 20 seasons.
While the Falcons won half a dozen state titles in 2010-17, they also had years of being knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.
“We know that Grand Rapids West Catholic will be a challenge. Jacobson said. “They can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally and they pass the ball to their playmakers.
“I understand that they have a runner who will play in the Air Force.”
It will also be the first time the Miners play indoors this season, although they have one game on artificial turf – their final regular season game on October 20 against Westwood, who was relocated to Marquette Senior High School due to an early-season blizzard that rendered the Negauni pitch unplayable.
“We don’t see it as a problem” Jacobson spoke of a different feel to this game. “In fact, it’s even nice – we couldn’t just play football without any conditions since mid-October.”
So far, their playoff games have been wind, rain, and snow, and sometimes more than one at a time.
Finally, Jacobson reports that the Pitmen are healthy – maybe more than the coach should expect at this stage of the season.
“We were lucky, we were very lucky, that after 15 weeks of training and games, we were almost not injured,” the coach said.
Steve Brownlee can be contacted at 906-228-2500 ext. 252. His email address is [email protected]