The morning drive


Sports Writer

CRYSTAL FALLS – The frozen tundra of Forest Park’s Dick Mettlach Field might be a good place for Mount Pleasant Beal City’s high-powered offense.

“From what I’ve seen on film, I’d love to have Beal City on our field for the game especially after our rain and snow day,” Trojans coach Bill Santilli said with a hearty laugh. “That would have to slow them down.”

Instead, Forest Park (12-0) and Beal City (12-0) will play under pristine conditions Saturday, meeting at 9 a.m. (Central time) Saturday at the Superior Dome in a Division 8 football state semifinal. The winner gets Muskegon Catholic Central (10-2) or New Lothrop (12-0) in the state finals Friday, Nov. 29, at Ford Field. Beal City lost in the 2012 state finals.

The Aggies have been dominating foes from day one, rolling to a 691-83 point advantage in the 12 games. Lake City, which lost to Ishpeming in the Division 7 regional finals, was the only team to put up a fight in dropping a 42-35 overtime decision.

Beal City’s speed and athleticism are major concerns.

“They appear overwhelmingly fast at every position,” Santilli said. “Their linemen come off the ball. Their backs get out in space. Their quarterback throws a nice ball.

“What they do, they do so well. I don’t know if they’ve ever been in an uncomfortable situation in any game they played this year (other than Lake City).”

Beal City demonstrated all those skills in clipping St. Ignace 55-0 in the regional final. Quarterback Kurt Gross completed 5 of 10 passes for 196 yards and four touchdowns. Hayden Huber ran for 73 yards on eight carries, with two scores, and 1,200-yard rusher Ty Rollin added 71.

Beal City’s defense held St. Ignace to 66 yards rushing and 48 passing.

“They’ve got a really nice team,” Santilli said. “We’re going to have to do everything to the best of our ability.”

Beal City, with Coach Lou Rau in charge since the 2000 season, is well aware of Forest Park. The Aggies have won the past two meetings with the Trojans, including the 2010 playoffs and 2009 state final at Ford Field.

Forest Park and Santilli prevailed in 2007 and 2004.

“That’s a typical Forest Park team,” Rau told The Daily News. “They’re hard-nosed and come right at you.

“They’re looking to hit you hard. They have those big backs and they come at you. As Bill says, ‘We run it at you, and if you stop it you win.’ That’s the way you roll.”

In turning back North Dickinson 24-20 in the regional final, Trojan backs Lee Graff, Raymond Tomasik and Austin Snell hammered the line. Quarterback Jeff Johnson can also throw when needed.

“Forest Park is always a tough match-up,” Rau said.

Rau admitted to some surprise that Forest Park will also sprinkle in spread and direct-snap plays to the offense.

“Sometimes you have to do that,” said Rau, who will also vary his attack. “We do a little bit of everything primarily from the straight T.”

Santilli has been looking over two Beal City game films from this year plus those in the past.

“Everything looks pretty darn similar,” Santilli said. “In a sense, they’re more basic this year than in the past.

“They only run a few plays but they execute them extremely well. I’m sure they have a big playbook but they haven’t had to show it.”

Weather and field conditions forced Forest Park to practice at Eddie Chambers Gymnasium this week. The Trojans practiced briefly outside on Monday before moving indoors.

“We elected to come in because we just weren’t getting anything done (outside),” said Santilli, noting gym practice will assist in getting acclimated to the Superior Dome temperature. “Even though it’s 65 degrees or so, it’s quite a difference than a Friday night playing around 30 degrees.

Added Santilli, “At least this way we will go through a lot of repetitions and get the guys sweating. We’ve been telling them to pound the fluids. We’re going to have a lot of two-way players. Beal City, I think, will have more one-way players. That’s going to make a difference in that indoor environment.”

As for the temperature difference, Beal City has also been taking measures.

“We’re doing our running inside and getting our lungs prepared,” Rau said.

Beal City is also concerned with the 325-mile bus ride to Marquette. Forest Park’s trek is 70.

“The big thing is the long bus ride and that’s really tough,” Rau said. “There’s also not being able to sleep in your own bed but you do what you have to do.”

Both coaches cited crowd noise in the cavernous dome.

“It gets loud in there, that’s for sure,” Rau said.

Communication with the players can be a problem.

“The dome is so big you can’t hear,” Santilli said. “The crowd noise tends to be overwhelming at times.

“So we have to work on hand signals from the bench to communicate.”

Forest Park reaching the state finals may boil down to the offensive line executing and enabling the offense to control the ball.

“We have to be able to pick up a few first downs,” Santilli said. “We have to be able to keep the ball in our possession by some means.

“If we go three plays and out, three plays and out, and give them four or five more possessions, their percentage of scoring is very high.

“If we can pick up three or four yards every play we’re going to be pretty happy.”

NOTES: Forest Park Coach Chris Nocerini has been conducting boys basketball practice for those not involved with the football program … Beal City returned 20 players from last year’s state finalists. “We had a lot of kids working hard in the off season,” said Rau, noting sophomore guards put on 30 pounds. “To get to this point that makes a big difference.” … Forest Park planned to practice for a couple hours today at the Superior Dome …