12-24-2020 Sports

Press Box Player of the Week!

By Jerrod Birmele

Jacob Morales, a senior at Hartford High School and a member of the Indian cross country team this fall, is the Tri-City Record Press Box Player of the Week for Dec. 24, 2020.

During his final year on the cross country trails, Jacob served as an important leader for his team throughout their pandemic shortened season. Fans watching the runners wearing green and white this year knew that he would be near the front of the pack and racing amongst the top runners in not just the Southwest 10 Conference, but throughout the area.

During his senior season, Jacob picked up two overall victories – at the first Southwest 10 Conference jamboree of the year at Centreville on Sept. 23 (with a time of 19:53) and at the third conference jamboree of the season in Marcellus on Oct. 7 (with a time of 19:05). He also placed in the top five overall in the other two conference events, placing third at Mendon (with a season best time of 18:54), and finishing fifth at Bloomingdale. On the back of these four performances, he was awarded first team all-conference.

In non-conference runs Jacob placed seventh in the season-opening triangular meet at Bridgman, which also featured Stevensville Lakeshore, and qualified for the regional meet with a 14th place finish in the pre-regional held at Watervliet.

After completing high school, Jacob plans to continue his education by attending college and studying biology to become a Radiation Oncologist.

Congratulations on this great honor, Jacob! We wish you good luck in your academic future, and offer a big “well done” on your accomplishments on the trails this season!

Coloma Press Box By Dave Vollrath

Fall sports receives green light to resume and conclude season; winter sports still on hold

There was some good news finally coming out of Lansing on Friday, Dec.18, when the announcement was made that the state would allow the Jr. High and High Schools to reopen on Dec. 21. It was announced shortly after from the Michigan High School Athletic Association that the teams still in the state tournaments, which have been on hold, may also resume practicing on the 21st. The three remaining state championships that have yet to be decided are football, volleyball, and girls swimming and diving.

The games which will be played without fans in the stands are set to resume after the first of the year, on Jan. 2. The football and swimming and diving championships are then scheduled for the 15th and 16th of January, and the volleyball semifinals and finals will be contested on January 7 – 9. The volleyball finals will take place in Battle Creek at the Kellogg Center. Locations for football and swimming finals will be announced as soon as the arrangements are finalized. All previous safety protocols will remain in place, in addition to having no spectators allowed.

The Coloma winter sports will have to wait a little longer, as they will not begin practicing until Jan. 16. The MHSAA’s Representative Council will have more information available concerning the winter sports protocols, after they have met, to determine how they will proceed under the guidelines mandated by the state. It is still expected that the 2021 spring sports season will begin on time, be played out completely, and finish with the traditional championship weekends in May and June.

Lions lose to Titans, officially knocked from playoff chance

The Detroit Lions with a record of 5-8, traveled to Tennessee at 9-4 with their extremely slim playoff chances still alive. But following a 46-25 drubbing at the hands of the Titans, the Lions are officially and once again eliminated from competing in the NFL playoffs.

The Lions who played with the Titans in the first half, mostly because of miscues made by Tennessee, also couldn’t quite get out of their own way and lost two fumbles inside the red zone. One was inside the Titan 5-yard line and one inside the 20-yard line, costing the Lions great opportunities to score.

Detroit only trailed 24-15 at the half, and with Matt Prater kicking a 53-yard field goal for the only score in the third quarter, they went into the fourth quarter down six, 24-18. Tennessee scored two touchdowns in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, to pull away from the Lions and lock the game away.

Ryan Tannehill had a big day at quarterback for the Titans, completing 21 of 27 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran one in from two yards out, only the second rushing TD of Tannehill’s career. The Titan quarterback’s job was made easier as Derrick Henry was able to rush at will against a Lion defense that usually didn’t get a hand on the speedy running back until he was in the Lion’s 2nd and 3rd levels of the defense. Henry finished with 147 yards rushing on 24 carries.

Matt Stafford showed his usual brilliance, but he only plays on one side of the ball unfortunately for Detroit. Stafford hit on 22 of 32 passes for 252 yards and one touchdown. He came into the game pretty well beaten up, as he’s had a thumb issue and rib injuries keeping him from participating fully in practices the last couple of weeks. But when Sunday rolls around, no player is tougher at the quarterback position than Matthew Stafford.

The Lions now have one win and two losses since the firing of head coach Matt Patricia following a thrashing at home on Thanksgiving Day by the Texans. Darrell Bevell is the interim head coach since the firing of Patricia. The Lions have a pair of games left in the season, both at home. Next Saturday, Dec. 26 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers led by Tom Brady, and they finish the season by hosting the Vikings on Sunday, Jan. 3.

College football’s final four set for semi-finals; Irish sneak in after getting spanked by Clemson

With the College Bowl season now upon us, this strange trip through the college football season has announced the final four teams who will compete head to head for the National Championship to be played on Monday, Jan. 11, at Hardrock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The seeding as announced by the College Football Playoff Committee has Alabama number 1, Clemson at 2, Ohio State at number 3 and Notre Dame in the fourth spot.

Number 1 Alabama will play the Irish in one semi-final on Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl being played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The game was moved from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California because of COVID-19 restrictions currently in place in that state that they were unwilling to change for this game. In the other semi-final, also on New Year’s Day, the number 2 Clemson Tigers face the number 3 Buckeyes of Ohio State where they will play in the Superdome in New Orleans. The winners of these two games will play for the National Championship on Jan. 11.

There was plenty of discussion regarding the seeding of these teams, as some really good teams always seem to be left out of the final four and this year was no exception. Many believed the Irish would be voted out after getting a 34-10 beat down at the hands of Clemson on Saturday, Dec. 19 in the ACC Championship game. The Irish finished at 10-1. They did have a win earlier in the season over Clemson; however, the Tigers were missing several key players, including their Heisman trophy candidate quarterback Trevor Lawrence, in that earlier game.

Ohio State was voted in by the committee despite only playing in six games this year, but they won them all including a 22-10 victory over Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game. Trey Sermon ran for a Buckeye school and Big Ten Championship game record 331 yards, in carrying Ohio State to the win over the Wildcats. It was a game either team could have won. Northwestern led early in the game but made too many miscues when they did get in scoring position, and it caught up to them eventually. They never could find an answer in stopping Sermon.

Alabama goes in as the number one seed after knocking the Florida Gators out of the competition in a wild, high scoring affair in the SEC Championship game by a score of 52-46. As stated earlier there was plenty to discuss this year because of lopsided schedules, COVID-19 related game cancelations, and again the Power 5 Conferences dominating in the selections.

Teams that missed out, but had really good arguments for why they should have made the final four, are #6 Cincinnati who finished 9-0 and won the American Conference Championship and #5 Texas A&M who finished with a 7-game winning streak after losing their only game to #1 Alabama. Also making a case for the championship try was Oklahoma, finishing at 8-2. They won the Big 12 Championship for the 6th straight season in defeating Iowa State 27-21, who was looking for their first football conference crown since 1912, yep, 108 years and counting.

In one of the stranger happenings of this football season Oregon defeated USC for the Pac 12 Championship, 31-24. The strange part is Washington won the right to face USC, but had to bow out because of COVID-19 issues with the team and personnel which allowed Oregon to step in as the next in line.

Fall sports tournaments to resume, winter sports remain in limbo

If you, the readers of this press box, had the chance to describe in a few words what high school athletics have been like in the year 2020, what words would you use? I’m sure, like a lot of you, I would agree that a roller coaster of emotions would be an understatement. After losing winter sports tournaments, the entire spring sports season, and at-least a part of the fall sports season, student-athletes – not just in Hartford, but statewide – have faced extraordinary challenges.

But now, it appears that the Michigan High School Athletic Association is getting the opening it needs to complete the three remaining tournaments from the fall sports season – football, girls swimming and diving and volleyball – and is running full steam ahead with the opportunity.

The three remaining tournaments have resumed as of Monday, Dec. 21, in accordance to an announcement made by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), and approved by the MHSAA’s Representative Council.

Teams and individuals still participating in tournament action will be allowed to do so, thanks in large part to a pilot rapid-testing program developed by the MDHHS; which has been designed to gain insight and collect data on the spread of COVID-19. The state’s top health branch is planning to provide expanded rapid-testing availability to school districts after the calendar turns to the New Year, albeit using plans that have not been announced as of yet.

The football playoffs will begin first on Saturday, Jan. 2, with Regional Final games for 11-player teams and Semifinals for 8-player teams. The 8-player championship games in both divisions and all 11-player Semifinal games will be played the following weekend, on Saturday, Jan. 9. The football season will conclude with the 11-player Finals in all divisions the weekend of Jan. 15 and 16. Host sites will be used for all Regional and Semifinal games, but host sites for the championship games have not been announced.

The volleyball postseason resumes with Quarterfinal action on Tuesday, Jan. 5. Semifinals and Finals, held at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek, will take place from January 7 through 9.

Previous safety protocols remain in place, but the difference will be no spectators allowed at the remaining fall tournament events. If all goes as planned, media partners like MHSAA.tv and Fox Sports Detroit will be rather busy covering high school playoff action for much of the first half of the month.

However, it was announced by the MDHHS that all indoor winter sports – including basketball, competitive cheer and wrestling – remains on pause through Jan. 16.

One thing is for certain – if high school sports in 2020 are a precursor for what’s to come in 2021, hold on tight. We are in for a wild ride.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Hartford Press Box!

Before I conclude this week’s edition of the Hartford Press Box, yours truly would like to wish all of our readers Happy Holidays – Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope that this holiday season brings you great joy during these truly unprecedented times, and this year has truly made us realize the true meaning of what we should be thankful for, and be truly blessed with what we have.

Like Thanksgiving, I know many of us including myself will not have the opportunity to gather with our families around the Christmas tree or the fireplace this year. Maybe that comes in part because of the current health guidelines, or maybe you have a family member who is feeling a bit under the weather. Or maybe people that you love live out of the area, state or even country.

I know personally the feeling of all three situations listed above, and, I’m not going to sugarcoat it – it stinks. No matter how we look at it, it is not the perfect situation to be in. However, that does not stop us from making that phone call or seeing each other on FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, or any of those other technological trends of this generation.

Things like sports we document weekly in this column will always come and go with the metronomic beat of the clock, but the family and friends you are fortunate to surround yourself with lasts an eternity. While sitting down and opening those gifts, if you are so fortunate, remember that those are just material things. Be grateful for the genuine things you have, the freedom you have to celebrate the holidays and remember whatever lies ahead that better days are always just around the corner. You have the ability to make the holiday season special in your own way, and I hope you will do so positively.

And, hopefully in just a few weeks we will finally get the clearance to compete on the athletic courts and mats and get back to what this column is designed to do – and that’s report on our great Indian student-athletes.

But, until we meet again, thank you one more time for being a loyal reader of our newspaper, and for all the positive comments I receive about this column on a daily basis. Be blessed this holiday season, and enjoy all those special blessings we have in this so-called “circle of life”.

And, as always, we conclude with those two great words – GO INDIANS!

Watervliet Press Box by John Oliphant

Athletic awards archive unveiled

For those former Panthers that would get together with friends to reminisce about glory days, trying to remember who won the outstanding athlete awards at the senior awards ceremony in say 1978, there is now help. By the way the top athletes that year were Kim Phillipi and Tim Lynch. Or maybe they were trying to recall the most improved cross country runner in 2012. That would be Brendan Daly.

This is the year to start these incredibly important debates because they can now be resolved unequivocally. This is possible because the Watervliet Athletic Department recently unveiled a new website with an archive of athletic award winners stretching all the way back to 1973.

The new archives include individual sports award winners for every season back to the fall of 2011 and lists of year-end athletic winners back to 2008-2009. The archives also contain the outstanding athlete award winners starting in 1973.

Unfortunately this treasure trove of accomplishments is incomplete in some areas. For example, the outstanding senior athlete awards are not listed for the 1976, 1979, and 1982 seasons. In addition a few individual team award winners are missing from the more recent archives. Anyone having any information that can be added to the archive is encouraged to contact the Watervliet Athletic Department or the Press Box at the Tri-City Record. With help, the missing data can be filled in.

The archive can be found by visiting the Panther Athletics website at www.wpspanthers.com.

Sports to resume?

The MHSAA will resume the fall playoffs in football, swimming and volleyball. The events will feature rapid testing for all participants and no spectators at any of the events. They have also committed to an on-time spring season as well. However, winter sports are paused until January 16. The MHSAA Representative Council will meet this week to discuss the details of the winter sports.

It seems unlikely fans won’t see some kind of a season for basketball and wrestling. When they can begin practices and the length of the season is anybody’s guess at this point, but we can be optimistic given the state-wide virus trends and the limited but eventually widespread availability of vaccines and rapid testing. It seems like there might be an end near.

Jones moves one step closer to the AQB crown, Isbrecht and Lynch continue to nip at his heels

By Dave Vollrath

Dan Jones, our Tri-City Record Armchair Quarterback leader for the last couple of months, continues to set the pace. Jones hangs onto a paper thin lead over his closest competitors, RoxAnn Rodney-Isbrecht in second place and Rodney Lynch, who remains in 3. For the most part Dan just seems to roll with the crowd, keeping his nose just far enough ahead of his challengers to stay locked into the top spot and his best chance ever to win this year’s AQB championship hat.

Dan had another week over the .500 mark, finishing at 5-3, and now has an overall record of 79-38; just one point ahead of RoxAnn and Rodney who now stand at 78-39. Rodney had a 6-2 finish as RoxAnn went 5-3, which evens things back up between the two, with RoxAnn remaining in the second spot based on winning the tiebreaking game over Rodney.

Taylor Prestidge also had a fine 6-2 mark this week and as Greg Krell fell to 4-4, regains the tie with Greg both now standing at 74-43. But Greg wins the tiebreaker game to hang onto the fourth spot in the standings. Our competitors caught a break this week, as it was the first week in quite a while where none of our games were canceled and the COVID game did not come into play.

The TCR, AQB competition is held weekly from the beginning of the football season in late summer until it finishes with the playing of the Super Bowl in February. We have six Tri-City area football fans competing against each other to predict the winners of a group of pre-selected games from the high school, collegiate, and professional ranks. Following the conclusion of the Super Bowl, one winner is crowned champion and will have the honor of wearing the Tri-City Record Armchair Quarterback Championship hat.

In the event that two or more ‘backs have the same record for the week, or the yearly total, their place in the standings will be determined by a weekly tiebreaker game. In addition to trying to correctly pick the winners of each week’s games they try and predict the score from a specially selected game. The AQB who comes the closest to the total number of points scored by both teams will get the higher spot in the standings.

The “COVID game” is an additional game selected each week which only our panel sees and picks; but it is only used if one of our regular games is postponed too late to make changes.

We are now down to seven weeks remaining before our champion is crowned following the Super Bowl. So as our top three ‘backs are well positioned to win the crown, our bottom three will have to pull off something special to win this year. The clock is ticking and their chances are dwindling.

Tim Hildebrand, in spite of another good week at 5-3, remains locked in the basement; although he is only one point behind Greg and Taylor. The weekly top honors go to Rodney, who at 6-2 tied with Taylor. But he wins the tiebreaking game, which was a 34-10 thrashing the Fighting Irish took at the hands of the Clemson Tigers in the ACC Championship game. With a 3-way tie at 5-3, Tim, Dan, and RoxAnn finish in that order based on the tiebreaker. Greg finishes at the bottom this week at 4-4, but he was the only ‘back who picked New Orleans to win over Kansas City. The Chiefs prevailed in a tight game, 32-29. If the Saints had won this game, it would have changed the week drastically for our pickers, but Greg can just sit back and think of what could have been.

Check out this list of games, and try and match your skills with our panel of pigskin prognosticators and see where you stack up.

Nevada vs. Tulane


Hawaii vs. Houston

Minnesota vs. New Orleans

Tampa Bay vs. Detroit

NY Giants vs. Baltimore

Chicago vs. Jacksonville

Indianapolis vs. Pittsburgh (Tiebreaker)