All playoff experience good for rising Gremlin program

HOUGHTON – The assignment is tough, but no matter what the results, the Houghton Gremlins are focused on the benefits.

Houghton (6-3) is a decided underdog Saturday (2 p.m. ET) in a Division 5 pre-district matchup at U.P. and Michigan Associated Press No. 1 Menominee. Then again, you could have taken pretty long odds on the Gremlins getting this far back in August.

“They had to really just focus on getting better daily. A little bit at a time. It’s incremental, it takes time, and there’s no immediate gratification. It takes time and you have to just keep caring about it,” Houghton coach Karl Borree said.

Borree said he’s approaching Saturday in the way college teams do bowl games, a chance to get better and not just in the games.

“That’s why those playoff teams are so good, the deeper you get into the playoffs, that’s four weeks of practice,” he said.

The differences in the matchup are stark. Menominee has won 25 playoff games and two state championships since Houghton last appeared in the postseason in 2001.

Still, the Maroons can’t line up trophies for the kickoff Saturday.

“The last time I looked, a game has never been won in the newspaper or on Facebook. We’re keeping the kids focused and shortening practice time to keep them healthy. If mediocrity surfaces, our coaches are pretty good about redirecting the kids,” Menominee coach Joe Noha said to the EagleHerald of Marinette (Wis.)-Menominee. ?Houghton and Menominee have never met on the gridiron, which increases the degree of difficulty due to Menominee’s vintage single-wing offense.

With a week to prepare, Borree’s boys are primarily concerned about being properly aligned and then executing the same basic skills that make for a winning football team in any offense.

“There’s a short preparation time for a very unique animal, to try and harness what they do. The main thing what they do more than anything, they have really good running backs, they block, they run hard and they tackle well and that’s fundamental to any system,” Borree said.

Menominee junior tailback Justin Brilinski ran for 818 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season, and also passed for 932 yards and nine touchdowns in as close to a conventional ‘quarterback’s’ role as exists in the single wing.

Fullback James Brown and wingback Devon Harris combined for 25 scores for the Maroons, who averaged more than 40 points a game and haven’t been held under 40 since a 20-0 win over Antigo, Wis., in their opener.

“We have to score if we want to stay in the game,” Borree said.

Experience vs. new-ness; pedigree vs. possibility; no matter what, it will be a learning experience for the Gremlins.

“We’re hoping that we can bring our style of football to them that they haven’t seen,” Borree said.