Throw everything out.
The standings, the records and even the playoff implications.
It’s rivalry week and Port Huron High vs. Port Huron Northern has never meant more. Each team has had an up and down season but today they will square off in a game that amounts to a playoff game for both sides.
Port Huron Northern (4-4) still has an outside chance to qualify for the postseason with a victory. And a win would give the Huskies just their third winning season since 2002.
“Like every year, they’re a hard-nosed football team,” Northern senior lineman Mike Mahaffy said. “They might not have been as successful this year as in years past, but they’re still a hard-nosed team and we are not doubting them yet.”
Meanwhile, the Big Reds (2-6) are already eliminated from postseason play after taking their lumps in the Macomb Area Conference White Division. For the Big Reds, this will be their playoff game, as they attempt to extend their four-game win streak over Northern.
“It’s a rival. We are automatically going to come out fast, hard and strong and make plays,” Port Huron junior quarterback DeAngielo Sanderson Jr. said. “We just want to make a statement and end the season on a good note. It’s our cross-town rival, so we just have to play hard.”
With so much on the line and an enormous crowd expected to descend upon Memorial Stadium, lets take a look at the key matchups in this year’s rivalry game.
The battle in the trenches
Port Huron entered the season having to replace its entire offensive and defensive lines. That normally doesn’t bode well when your schedule includes Detroit Country Day, Warren Mott and Romeo. But the Big Reds have come together on the line of scrimmage and enter the game with those units becoming one of the team’s strengths.
“I have been really pleased with our offensive line,” Port Huron coach Ryan Mullins said. “I feel they have come together. We fortunately haven’t had many injuries in that group and they have been able to play together quit a bit.”
Northern is in a similar position along the offensive line. The Huskies have been young in some spots but continuity has helped them develop chemistry and they enter Week 9 trending in the right direction.
On defense, however, both teams have given up some big plays on the ground. But they each have appeared to stem the tide and have had some impressive showings. Northern shut out Warren Lincoln, East Detroit and really limited St. Clair in a victory this season.
Port Huron, meanwhile, gave Warren Mott a scare and played well in losses to Grosse Pointe South and Utica.
Who wins the battle of the trenches will go a long way toward deciding the ultimate winner.
The fight for turnovers
As with any big game, whoever commits the least amount of turnovers normally has a great chance to walk away as the winner.
The Big Reds and Huskies each know this and have put special emphasis on taking care of the ball and also generating mistakes from their opponent.
“Those are huge momentum plays,” Mullins said. “We talk No. 1 offensively about taking care of the ball. Those plays can really be magnified with games like this just because of the momentum with the crowd. We put a lot of emphasis on that offensively and defensively we talk about attacking the football.”
Northern has a similar strategy as it prepares for Port Huron High. In their defeats this season, the Big Reds have struggled with turnovers and the Huskies hope to capitalize on their mistakes.
“We just stay in the moment and when the whistle blows it’s the same thing we have been doing the past eight weeks,” Northern coach Larry Roelens said.
“Our defense has gotten a lot better as a whole. We have pretty much all juniors on defense. They are coming together and feeding off of each other.”
The battle on the sidelines
For the first time in a while, both teams will be led by former Port Huron High School graduates. In his first season season, Roelens has helped turn the Northern program around.
Mullins, in his ninth season, has helped put Port Huron High on the map as one of the better programs in the state.
Those two forces will collide today.
“The records are out of the window in this game,” Roelens said. “The message with the kids is that nothing is done. Nothing is over with. We will find out on Sunday if we make the playoffs. The main thing is to embrace the moment and make memories.”
Mullins echoed those sentiments.
“This is all about the kids, not the coaches,” he said. “We want to do this for our seniors and allow them to leave a legacy within the program.”
Contact Joseph Hayes at (810) 989-6268 or at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @jhayes1136.
Times Herald sports writer predictions
I have proven to be bad at predicting things this season, but here’s something I’m pretty sure I’ll get right: Friday night’s cross-town rivalry game will be a lot of fun. Not just because it’s Port Huron vs. Port Huron Northern and that’s always fun, but because these are two teams with nothing to lose who both want nothing more than to finish their seasons by knocking off their biggest rival.
Both teams have junior quarterbacks who can be dangerous as runners or passers, and both teams have athletes in the backfield and on the edges that can put pressure on the opposing defense. Basically, I’m expecting some points to be scored. Prediction: Port Huron 32, Port Huron Northern 28.
On the surface, this game is a toss up. Northern still has an outside chance to make the postseason and will be motivated to see that come into fruition. But don’t discount Port Huron. The Big Reds are a loose, angry football team and that is a dangerous combination. Port Huron is used to making the post season every year and after missing the playoffs two of the past three years, the Big Reds are ready to take their frustrations out on their main rivals. Turnovers, big special teams plays and who handles the overall atmosphere will be key. Prediction: Port Huron 34, Port Huron Northern 27.
I love the direction Northern football is heading, and only brighter days will come next year. However, Port Huron’s size on offense trumps Northern’s defense. I’m expecting a high-scoring affair at Memorial Stadium and a “wow” sort of night from Big Red quarterback DeAngeilo Sanderson Jr. in the air and on the ground. Prediction: Port Huron 41, Port Huron Northern 33.