by Calli Newberry
Two top-15 football teams in the state will face off this Friday night in what has become one of the biggest rivalries in the Blue Water Area. MaxPreps Sports currently has North Branch at No. 4 and Cros-Lex at No. 15 in the Division IV rankings, and the two will settle their differences on the Pioneers’ home field at 7 p.m.
Last year, North Branch swept Cros-Lex 2-0, taking not only the BWAC title, but also the District Championship. The Pioneers landed in second place in the conference and were left with a sour taste in their mouths.
Cros-Lex head coach Mike LeGrow said his team has been in the weight room since December preparing for this season, and more specifically, this highly-anticipated game.
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“The boys want to avenge the two losses we had against North Branch last year,” Legrow said. “Every kid on the team last year didn’t think we lost to them, we just ran out of time. And the playoff game was because we were missing a handful of kids because of contact tracing. So we think that if we’re at full strength, and we come out like we know we can, we should come out with a victory.”
Strength will play a big role in Friday’s game, as LeGrow said North Branch typically brings major intensity and physicality to the field. The Broncos’ head coach, Jeremy Ferman, however, said intensity just comes with being a North Branch football player.
“We’ve got a pretty big target on our back. We’ve worked our way to the top of the BWAC, plus winning the District last year,” he said. “The guys who helped get that target are all graduated but the target still remains. So these young guys have got to understand that. The kids know the systems are all the same, it’s just a matter of refining when they get to the next level and understanding the expectations of being a North Branch football player is greater.”
The Broncos are off to a solid start this season with a 42-0 victory over Thurston last Friday that puts them at 1-0. This follows in the steps of last season’s 10-1 record, with the only loss coming against Detroit Country Day in the Elite Eight round of the Division IV playoffs.
“We graduated so many kids last year, so last week was a good test for us on multiple fronts,” Ferman said. “It was a bigger school, a Division III school, and they had quite a few athletes out there, so it was a good test for our young guys and for me to see where we’re at and their progress.”
In their season-opener, the Pioneers took on Williamston, a Division V school ranked No. 6, just behind Marine City. They fell 43-20, which LeGrow called “a piece of humble pie.”
“After the game last week I said, ‘Humble pie doesn’t taste good.’ And that game humbled a lot of us that night, almost to the point where I thought we needed it,” he said. “It was a reality check. The kids came in the next day for a film session and they were taking notes, asking questions. It was a nice way to reset ourselves.”
The reset might not have come about in the way they wanted, but LeGrow said he’s confident his team has reset and refocused for this week.
“I told them all we can be upset about this until the end of the day, but then we’re moving on to North Branch after we break this practice,” he said. “It’s challenging, but we have high expectations for the football team, and the boys do too. So getting all your workouts in all summer long and going out there and not performing the best that we could, it was upsetting for a lot of the kids, and maybe an eye opener for some of them that they maybe have to work harder.”
The Pioneers, who finished 6-2 last year, now sit at 0-1 and look to even their record this Friday, while the Broncos look to defend their BWAC title. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. in Pioneer Stadium.