When you aspire to win league championships and make the playoffs, they’re all big.
Such is the case on Friday, Sept. 7, when Petoskey and Cadillac meet in a Big North Conference football game at Curtis Field.
Both teams are 2-0. The Northmen opened defense of their league championship a week ago with a 34-8 win over West Branch Ogemaw Heights. The game marks the conference opener for Cadillac, which is coming off a thrilling 15-14 win over Bay City John Glenn. The Vikings opened the season with a 33-20 win over Lansing Eastern.
“Big game for both teams,” Petoskey coach Kerry VanOrman said. “They’re off to a good start and we’re off to a good start so it makes it more interesting for fans to zero in on this game and say, ‘What does each team have? They’re both undefeated, how good are they?’”
The Northmen may be without top rusher Chase Ledingham. The junior running back aggravated a groin injury in last week’s win over Ogemaw. He left late in the first quarter after running for 144 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Ledingham has run for 299 yards on 34 attempts this season for an 8.8-yard average.
“We’re holding him out (of practice), trying to get that leg healthy,” VanOrman said Wednesday. “Right now, he’s questionable.
“You don’t want to hurry a kid back and lose him for the year. It’s a touchy situation. That’s why we tell the kids that you’ve got to be ready to go at any time if you’re a backup.”
If Ledingham doesn’t play on Friday, junior Nick Strobel would start at wingback while junior Connor Reed would start at middle linebacker. Reed started last week on defense, joining a unit that has lived up to its billing through two games this season.
The Northmen shut out Sault Ste. Marie in their season opener (the Blue Devils pasted Alpena, 46-10, in week two), and they forced three turnovers and surrendered a fourth-quarter TD and two-point conversion — after building a 34-0 lead — a week ago against Ogemaw.
Cadillac is likely the best offensive team the Northmen have encountered to this point in the season, and junior quarterback Jalen Brooks may be one of the best athletes in the Big North Conference.
He has a pair of standout senior tackles in front of him in 6-foot-7 290-pound Riley Norman and 6-6 265-pound Jack Ford.
“He makes everything go,” VanOrman said of Brooks. “He has two big bookends on either side to protect him and get behind, and that makes it even tougher.”
Norman is among the state’s most sought after players by college coaches, but he has turned down football scholarship offers and will instead attend Michigan State where he will throw the shot put for the track and field team.
“You can’t really load up on one end on them,” VanOrman said. “They can run to either side very well. Just makes it tough to try to take something away.”
Brooks connected with Patrick Briggs on a 53-yard touchdown pass play with under two minutes remaining a week ago to pull the Vikings within a point of John Glenn. Brooks then ran for the two-point conversion, giving Cadillac its first victory over Glenn since 2006. Cadillac is 2-0 for the first time since that season.
Last year, in Petoskey’s 63-24 win at Cadillac, Brooks ran for 156 yards, passed for 91, and scored three TDs, two of which came on runs of 50 or more yards.
“He’s elusive,” VanOrman said. “You get concerned in a one-on-one situation with him on the edge.
“The thing that impresses me about him is I’ve never seen him take a hard hit. He always seems to be going forward and he gets hit and gets another yard or two.
“He’s going to get his yards, but we’ve just got to make sure we keep him down and not allow him to make several big plays.
“You never ever feel safe defending him. He’s a good thrower, so your secondary can’t fall asleep and just worry about the run. Your front seven really have to do a good job tackling him.”
One key, VanOrman said, is not allowing the Vikings to strike a big blow early.
“It’s going to be a real challenge for us defensively,” he said. “You just kind of hope you can get through that first quarter without giving up a couple TDs early and then let the kids pick up the speed of the game.
“Our defense has played well the first couple of games. They’ll be tested this week for sure.”
WHAT: Cadillac at Petoskey in a Big North Conference football game
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7
WHERE: Curtis Field
RECORDS: Both 2-0. Petoskey is 1-0 in league. It’s the conference opener for Cadillac.
RADIO: WMBN-AM 1340
NEXT: The game begins a rugged three-game stretch for the Northmen. They play at Traverse City Central on Friday, Sept. 14; and play host to Cheboygan on Friday, Sept. 21.
EATS: The Petoskey Football Boosters Club 28th Annual Bratwurst Tailgate Picnic is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the field. Cost is $8 (two for $15) and includes bratwurst, potato salad, baked beans, sauerkraut and beverage. All proceeds go to the Petoskey football program.