Two teams with rich postseason traditions will square off Friday night in the Class C-2 state football playoffs in Battle Creek.
The Braves will host the Knights at 7 p.m. in a game that features two schools that have combined for 64 playoff appearances.
“Their kids are motivated and our kids will be motivated,” Bergan coach Seth Mruz said. “I know our players are excited to play football.”
Bergan enters the game at 7-2 and is coming off a 64-20 blowout win over Tekamah-Herman last Friday night at Heedum Field. The Braves, 8-1, recorded their third shutout of the season last week by blanking Crofton 28-0 at home.
Battle Creek has only allowed 69 points all season, including just 31 in its last six games. In the one game the Braves, lost they allowed a single touchdown in a 7-3 season-opening setback to Shelby-Rising City.
“What impressive about them is just how they play defense,” Mruz said. “They are very physical and very smart. They are pretty athletic and sound. They don’t beat themselves and always seem to be in the right positions at the right time. Points against them have been very hard to come by.”
Senior Kadin Renner (5-foot-9, 145) leads the Braves in tackles with 6.9 per game while Owen Lade (5-10, 140) is averaging 5.7 stops per game.
“They do a good job of flying around to the football, but probably the most impressive kid is (Luke) Stueve, their nose tackle,” Mruz said. “He is a mountain of a man (6-3, 270). He is very physical and takes up double- and triple-teams. He is probably going to be the best offensive/defensive lineman that we’ll go against all year.”
The Bergan offense, however, might be the toughest test of the season for the Braves. Despite a shutout loss to Oakland-Craig on Oct. 11, the Knights are still averaging 33 points per game. They put 36 up against (at the time) top-ranked BRLD during an overtime loss two weeks ago.
“Battle Creek has faced some spread teams, but I think we’re a little more athletic than the teams they’ve played across the board,” Mruz said. “We’ll have to execute at a high level and we’ll have to play physical. I think we’re one of the most athletic teams in the state, but if we aren’t playing physical or being mentally tough, it doesn’t do us much good.”
After the 52-0 loss to Oakland-Craig, Bergan bounced back to nearly knock off BRLD at Heedum Field.
“We didn’t show up that day (against O-C) and we didn’t prepare enough,” Mruz said. “We kind of got punched in the mouth and didn’t know how to react. I think the BRLD game showed the kids that if we prepare and are physical and mentally tough enough so that we can handle adversity, we are a good team. I think that game showed them we can compete with anybody and it does give us some confidence. I think that showed up last week against Tekamah. We played with a ton of confidence and played pretty well. Hopefully that carries into this week.”
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The Battle Creek offense features junior quarterback Payton Frederick, who has passed for 634 yards and six touchdowns this fall. Senior Reece Bode has ran for 892 yards and 12 touchdowns while Renner has added 594 yards and 11 scores. Senior Dylan Mettler (5-10, 175) has added 230 yards and one touchdown.
The Braves have altered their offensive look during the season.
“They started off by going with the spread, but as the season has tapered down, they’ve gone with more powering running schemes,” Mruz said. “The last few games they have run the wishbone the whole time. They have good athletes and they do a good job of scheming against each opponent.”
Stueve is a talented lineman, but he has plenty of help up front.
“The strength for them is their offensive line,” Mruz said. “They are big and physical and that is traditionally what they have been. They may not be as huge across the board as they’ve been, but their bread and butter will be their running game.”
The Battle Creek coaching staff includes a familiar face for Bergan fans. Brad Ottis, a 1990 Bergan graduate, is an assistant defensive coach for the Braves. The 1990 Fremont Tribune Athlete of the Year was a standout at Wayne State before being drafted in the second round (56th overall) by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1994 NFL draft. He played seven years in the league with the Rams and Arizona.
Mruz is hopeful the Knights will be at full strength for the game. Lineman Nolan Thomsen didn’t play the rest of the BRLD game after taking a helmet on the hip in the first quarter. He played just one series last week against Tekamah-Herman as a precaution.
“We limited him to one series last week, but we think he should be OK this week,” Mruz said.
Outside linebacker Isaac Herink was held out last week due to an ankle injury while Chris Pinales is recovering from a concussion.
“Isaac is looking better and we hope we can get Pinales back,” Mruz said.
Bergan quarterback Jake Ridder has already surpassed 1,000 yards passing for the season. He is 84 of 158 this season for 1,155 yards and 10 touchdowns. Fellow senior Ethan Villwok has 783 yards rushing on 122 carries and 10 touchdowns to lead the ground attack.