OSCODA – The Oscoda football team had hoped to be hard at work this week, readying themselves for a chance at some more history. The seventh ranked Owls (9-0 overall) were scheduled to play at 11th ranked Traverse City St. Francis (7-2) this coming Saturday for a division seven regional championship, but after Sunday’s executive order by Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer forced the MHSAA to postpone fall and winter sports, that contest has been called off indefinitely.
“It’s tough,” Oscoda’s head football coach Mark Whitley said. “Right now we are off all sports so my message to the team will b that they have to take it upon themselves to stay in shape and stay sharp mentally. We will have our (virtual) meetings and keep watching film and they just have to keep the faith; that’s all we can do. I will stay in contact with the kids until they tell us something different is going on.”
With three weeks remaining in the 11-man post-season tournament, when and where it could be played are just some of the lingering questions.
“It is hard to say, but my only suggestion is they play the games (indoors), just do two teams at a time,” Whitley said. “If they don’t allow fans in there, that is fine, just let the kids finish the season, especially after what happened last basketball season with our team not getting a district championship and seeing how far they could go. December is not a fun time with the elements, so maybe the teams up north can play in the Superior Dome (in Marquette) and the down state teams could play at Ford Field (in Detroit) and see if we can get the rest of the games in and get some closure on the season. They would be my suggestion and hopefully they look at that.”
St. Francis, assuming the game is played at some point, will be the Owls’ toughest opponent to date. Their lone losses came to much larger schools Sault Ste. Marie and Kingsley and they have secured wins over the likes of Ogemaw Heights and Jackson Lumen Christi. They have playoffs wins over L’Anse, Harbor Springs and topped Charlevoix last week, 44-32.
In last week’s win, the St. Francis defense held Charlevoix scoreless in the second half. This allowed its ground-and-pound style offense to take the lead, led by running back Owen Mueller, who gained 169 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Aidan Schmuckal was also a force on the ground with 75 yards and a touchdown and Charlie Peterson tossed for 52 yards through the air.
“If we get to play football again, why not us?” Whitley said. “I think we are as good of a team as any of the final eight teams out there. I’ve looked at film on St. Francis, they are a good team and yes, we would be playing at their house but I think our guys are as every bit as good, if not better than them. We are looking forward to the chance to play them, and I hope we get that chance.”
The Owls, like the rest of the remaining football teams are forced to play the all-to-familiar waiting game to see if they’ll be able to resume their post-season run.
“We are just hoping that come Dec. 8 there are some things that are made available for football and they figure it out,” Whitley said. “I don’t know if that means playing at Ford Field, we just have to see what happens. It is out of our control. We will have Zoom meetings, keep in contact with the kids and keep watching film. If we get our chance to play St. Francis, we will be prepared.”
As topsy-turvy as this football season has been amid the pandemic, Whitley is quick to remind just how mentally tough his group of kids have been.
“You are talking about a group of athletes that I handed out equipment on a Friday (in Aug.) and had to take it all back that next Monday and then they found us a path to play and we handed the equipment out again (in Sept.). We just finished a nine-game season and now we are in limbo; We just have to see how things are in a few weeks. We understand the health off all students come first. If the health department, our governor and the MHSAA says we need to stop and wait then that is what we do. We will follow the rules and wait our turn.”