GRAYLING — If the Grayling football team wasn’t firing on all of its cylinders in last week’s 43-0 season opening thrashing of Kalkaska, the Vikings certainly were close.
Just about everything went right for the Vikings (1-0) after they stepped off the bus. They got off to a fast start and never took their foot off the gas in spoiling the Blue Blazers home debut in a non-conference game.
But, the Vikings are expecting a much more difficult challenge from the Traverse City St. Francis Gladiators when they step on their home field for the first time this season Friday at 7 p.m. in a Northern Michigan Football Conference-Legends game.
“Kalkaska, I think they’re still figuring some stuff out,” Grayling head coach Eric Tunney said. “St. Francis is one of the best teams in the state. They lost last week, which was kind of surprising.
“If all 11 don’t do their job, we’ll get exposed by a good team. We’ve been working hard in practice to correct the little things. If we don’t fix them, they’ll get exposed against St. Francis on Friday.”
Kingsley, Ogemaw Heights and Sault Ste. Marie all opened the league schedule with victories and go into this weekend’s contests tied for first place.
The Soo made its debut in the conference last Saturday with a stunning 14-7 victory over the Gladiators in Traverse City, shutting out the St. Francis offense. The Gladiators scored their only touchdown on a 94-yard kickoff return on the game’s first play.
St. Francis was missing starting linemen Corbin Domres and Jacke Beckwith, and both are expected to be back for this week’s game, providing a combined 565 pounds up front.
In their absence, the Gladiators managed only 77 yards rushing compared to the 237 compiled by the Devils.
Both of the Devils’ touchdowns came after St. Francis fumbles, and the Gladiators had two interceptions at or near the end zone.
St. Francis has now lost only twice to an Upper Peninsula team in a regular season game. St. Ignace turned the trick in 1993.
The only previous meeting between the programs came in 1981, with the Gladiators winning in a 55-6 blowout.
Gable Olivier led the Gladiators in rushing with 34 yards, while Aldan Schmuckal contributed 24 and Owen Mueller, who had the 94-yard kickoff return for a score, 13.
“It’s kind of a double edged sword,” Tunney said, “because on one hand you want the kids to believe that ‘Hey, we can this game, and should win.’ On the other hand, they’re kind of backed into a corner. They need to get back on track and win this game.
“They played without a few guys that will probably be back this week, and had some crucial turnovers that if they don’t happen they probably win that game.
“We’ll see. I’m excited to see how we fare against a solid opponent, and see if last week was a fluke or not.”
St. Francis, which finished 8-4 and made the Division 7 regional final last year, run a full house T formation and pound the ball on the ground, but also spread it out some.
Grayling is preparing for both.
In last year’s game, the Vikings started out on fire and appeared to have the Gladiators where they wanted them, before seeing the roof cave in a 34-14 loss.
“We just have to do what we do and execute,” Tunney said. “They pack it in so all 11 are in the box essentially, but then they’ll spread it out and go in the shot gun.
“They don’t have a ton of formations, but they definitely mix it up. Preparing for all of them is challenging. We want to be ready for whatever they throw at us, and offensively we have to get things rolling again.”
St. Francis presents multiple looks on defense, moving people around with even and odd fronts in an attempt to rhow confusion into the offense.
Grayling’s linemen have to recognize what front it is, and what coverage the Gladiators are in and execute the plays.
“There wasn’t a lot of plays last Friday, which is tough because you want the kids to get into condition and game speed,” Tunney said. “At the same time, you don’t want to have any injuries.
“Cold and flu season is coming up, and I don’t want to lose a kid with all the COVID stuff. A kid gets a cough and he can’t come to school or practice, whether it’s COVID or not.”
It’s definitely a new normal.