Defense comes up big for Coyotes
MANISTEE — With the ball deep in its own territory and time winding down in the fourth quarter, Reed City faced a fourth-and-2 while trying to protect a one-possession game.
Instead of punting into a strong north wind, the Coyotes rolled the dice from the 25 and trusted senior running back Trent Sims to get the yardage needed.
He did, the Coyotes won and now they’ve qualified for the playoffs after an 8-0 victory against Manistee at Chippewa Field on Friday night.
“I was going to punt but the kids said, ‘no way, we want to go for it,’” said Reed City coach Monty Price. “I wish I could take credit for the call because it worked out great, but the kids in the huddle were adamant that we go for it and they called the play, they wanted it and they got it. We put a little ownership on them and they came through.”
The Chippewas (4-2) did get the ball back with 35 seconds left and got into Reed City (6-0) territory, but had no timeouts left and, as was the case for the previous 47 1/2 minutes, couldn’t find the endzone through the air from the 32-yard line.
“Their defense outplayed our offense and we could not establish field position with our special teams,” said Manistee coach Gus Kapolka. “That is the game.”
After winning three straight games on the road, Manistee returned home only to walk off Chippewa Field the way they did a month ago — without scoring a point. Fullback Dillon Rankin had seven carries for 28 yards to lead the Manistee rushing attack while quarterback Mason Swidorski was 4-for-15 passing for 38 yards.
The Chippewas had just seven first downs compared to eight three-and-outs.
“I think we’re a good football team but it’s somewhat bothersome when you’re that inconsistent on offense,” Kapolka said. ... “Very, very frustrating. Very frustrating.”
Manistee received the opening kickoff, couldn’t generate any yards and had to punt into the wind as Reed City took over at midfield.
“We took the ball to start the game, three-and-out, about a 15-yard punt and the rest of the first half we’re pinned inside our own 30,” Kapolka said.
Reed City punted on its first two possessions before taking over on the Manistee 39 and mounting an eight-play drive that was capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Sims, who finished the game with 19 carries for 52 yards.
Garrett Benson, who scored on the ensuing 2-point conversion, finished with 16 carries for 54 yards while Nathan Kailing led the Coyotes with 19 rushes for 69 yards.
Despite not generating much offense of their own, the Coyotes got it done on the other side of the ball.
“The defense was certainly our bright shining star tonight,” Price said. “They played an awesome four quarters of football.”
Coming off giving up 30 points to Central Montcalm, Price said Friday’s shutout was his team’s best defensive performance of the season.
“Sometimes on defense we have mental breakdowns where someone misses an assignment,” Benson said. “Tonight, we really held our focus. ... When they were on offense, they couldn’t get a yard on us. Our defense really stepped up and matured a lot and did what we needed to do.”
Manistee held its own on defense as well, but it’s impossible to win without any points on the scoreboard.
“We didn’t really, I guess, execute,” Swidorski said. “We had a couple little lapses, a couple bad plays where we needed a good play and a couple drives cut short because of turnovers and that didn’t really help at all.”
Tyler Maiville had a fumble in the first half while Nick Williams fumbled midway through the fourth quarter to stall a Manistee drive as Reed City took over on its own 17.
That resulted in Price listening to his players and going for it on fourth down three plays later.
“Someone once told me ‘best back over best lineman,’” Price said, “and that’s kind of where we went and it worked out in our favor.”
By qualifying for the postseason as quickly as possible, the Coyotes can focus solely on their next opponent — Chippewa Hills.
“You get that goal out of the way and it’s one less thing you have to worry about,” Price said, “one less thing on your mind.”