When all the teams included in this year’s Michigan High School Athletic Association football playoffs were announced, the field included a record number of at-large selections. Of the 256 teams set to compete for respective division championships, only 225 were automatic qualifiers (six wins or more).
Four teams from St. Joseph County made it in, including Burr Oak in 8-Man football, marking the first postseason appearance in program history. Sturgis and Constantine slipped in with 5-4 records along with undefeated Mendon.
A loss to Battle Creek Lakeview in Week 9 initially appeared to be the end of the line for Sturgis, which closed out the regular season with a 5-4 record for the second straight year. The Trojans will face St. Joseph (8-1) in a pre-district game in Region 2. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Dickinson Stadium.
Third-year Bears head coach Gandalf Church served as Sturgis’ defensive coordinator under former head coach Ron Reardon. Senior running back Jack Turak averaged just over 100 yards per game and quarterback A.J. Montoya threw for 837 yards with six touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions. St. Joseph’s defense came away with 16 interceptions this year, including five by senior linebacker Justin Gambrell.
Constantine finished 5-4 takes on host Michigan Center (8-1) Saturday at 1 p.m. Cardinals finished in a three-way tie at the top of the Cascades Conference this year. Quarterback Dylan Zaborowski threw for over 900 yards in a run-heavy attack, in which he’s a major rushing threat.
The Falcons enter the postseason without leading rusher Justin Hull, who had rattled off roughly 1,400 yards before going down in Week 8 with a knee injury.
Eau Claire (4-4) heads to Mendon for a 1 p.m. Saturday kickoff. Even without junior quarterback Jordan Medich, who was injured late in last Saturday’s win over Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart, the Hornets (9-0) are heavily favored.
With a win, Mendon would likely face Climax-Scotts, which hosts Bellevue in pre-district play, in the district finals.
Burr Oak narrowly missed out on being included in the 16-team field last season but punched its ticket — the first ever for the program — this fall. The Bobcats (5-4) travel to Lawrence, which finished 8-1 in its first season of 8-Man football, Friday for their first-round game.