By RON DEUTER
IRON MOUNTAIN – Here we go again.
For the fourth time in six years, Week 6 of the prep football season has evolved into a battle of the unbeatens with rivals Forest Park and North Dickinson set to clash.
North Dickinson ended an eight-game losing streak to the Trojans last year with a 55-27 victory at James D. Priestap Memorial Field. The series shifts back to Crystal Falls Friday (6:30 p.m.), and maybe with it, the momentum back on the Trojans’ side.
That’s because Forest Park expects to enter Friday’s contest at full strength, while North Dickinson is still recovering from the loss of leading rusher Tim Hruska to injury.
“They appear just as good as ever,” Nordics coach Joe Reddinger said of the Trojans. “Their line really looks good, and they’ve got several good backs.”
Forest Park, with Jeff Johnson at quarterback and Austin Snell, Raymond Tomasik and Lee Graff providing plenty of talent out of the backfield, gives more than enough for any defense to worry about.
“You can’t key on any one guy,” Reddinger said. “It’s an excellent backfield.”
The Trojans, with Johnson’s experience under center, have shown they can pick up yards in the air, too.
“They are not afraid to throw the ball,” Reddinger said. “They have a very capable quarterback.”
Forest Park head coach Bill Santilli says his team has been more diverse this season than in the past.
“We have the big running backs in Tomasik (6-foot, 220 pounds) and Lee Graff (6-foot, 190 pound), more shifty cutback type with good hands in Austin Snell, and receivers Daniel Nocerini and Billy Ragio have come a long way with blocking and catching,” he said. “Johnson is doing a great job with his feet and arm, and running the offense. We’re spreading it around and not relying on that one player.”
Santilli said he’s been pleasantly surprised by the way the season has gone to date.
“This is one of our youngest teams across the board (three sophomores, 1 freshman starting),” he said. “The young kids have really come along nicely and with the returning upper classmen it’s been a real nice mix.”
Forest Park has averaged nearly 40 points per game this season while allowing under seven a game. North Dickinson isn’t far off with its 36.2 points per game mark and a defense holding opponents under 10 points per contest.
“They’re clearly the same team we’ve seen over the years,” Santilli said of the Nordics. “They execute extremely well offensively. They have excellent linemen with backs that are quick and precise. What they do, they do it so well. Defensively, maybe not as strong, but they are certainly impressive on film.”
North Dickinson leaned on Matt Schultz to carry the load in place of Tim Hruska. Whether that happens again this week remains to be seen, but he did go for nearly 150 yards while scoring three touchdowns last week.
“Schultz has been there,” Reddinger said. “He’s been a blocker, we’ve been moving him around.”
Schultz passed Hruska for the team lead in rushing yards after last week, showing 545 for the season. Derek Wagner, with not nearly as many carries yet, has 155 yards but averages nearly five yards a run.
QB Logan O’Neil has 238 yards, going for nearly seven yards a run.
“A lot if, for us, depends on how much we hang on to the football and keep their offense off the field. We are two very similar teams who want to control the football. And of course, avoid turnovers.”
Forest Park and North Dickinson share one common opponent so far this season. The Trojans defeated Bark River-Harris 39-6 in Week 1, while the Nordics dropped the Broncos 34-8 last week in their first game without Hruska.