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Algonac reaching new heights as program makes its mark in 2015

Football   | Scott Burnstein

Algonac reaching new heights as program makes its mark in 2015

Algonac – The jump Algonac has made on the football field in just a year’s time is massive. Maybe leap is a more appropriate description.

Last October the Muskrats were in the midst of a dismal 1-8 campaign. This season they’re 6-0, the best start for an Algonac team since 1972 and equaling the amount of victories under coach Scott Barnhart in his previous three seasons at the school with a third of the schedule still left to play.

Algonac is located in the southern portion of the Thumb in St. Clair County. In ‘72 the Muskrats ran the table to finish 8-0.

A charter member of the Blue Water Area Conference, Algonac has never won a BWAC title since it formed in 2002. On Friday Algonac will host Almont (6-0), last season’s BWAC champions, with the winner clinching at least a share of the title. The following week Algonac will face Richmond (5-1), which won the conference title in 2013 and lost to Almost, 30-29, earlier this season.  

“This is a great school, with great kids, great parents and a great community that supports it,” Barnhart said. “It was a process. It didn’t happen overnight. Gradually, though, we established our identity, we installed the same offensive and defensive packages at all levels of football in Algonac, from varsity down to the youth teams. Everyone’s finally on the same page and we’re finding consistency on the field week-to-week as a result.”

The Muskrats’ effort in the season opener in August set the tone for what was to come. Foreshadowing the fairy-tale sprint to the program’s first playoff spot in a decade, Algonac nudged past mighty Marine City 19-18 for the school first victory over the Mariners in 29 years. Algonac qualified for the 2015 postseason last Friday night with a 33-21 clipping of Croswell-Lexington.

Barnhart was hired in ‘11 after 10 years pacing the sidelines at Farwell. His program at the high school level and the city’s middle school program, and Algonac’s little league club,  run the triple option on offense and a 4-2-5 scheme on defense. Combining all of the football teams, from little league to high school, the city is 21-1, reaping the benefits of Barnhart’s patient approach.

“The success is spreading,” Barnhart said.

Algonac’s varsity squad is on a tear. Since edging Marine City, the Muskrats have outscored their opponents 216-28, including a stretch from the third week through week 5 where they spun three shutouts and scored 151 points.

“We’re balanced on both sides of the ball,” Barnhart said. “We have outstanding young men on this team. They were super kids last year at 1-8, too, and they never got down. They’ve taken responsibility for this program and put the team on their shoulders this fall.”

Senior quarterback A.J. Garshott has thrown 17 touchdowns and his late 35-yard scoring hook-up with receiver Brandon Spencer served as the fourth-quarter knockout blow to Croswell-Lexington. That secured the program’s first playoff appearance since 2005 and just its third overall.

Garshott ran for three touchdowns in that game as well and was almost at a loss of words talking about his team’s accomplishments.

“This is the greatest feeling I’ve ever had, bar none” Garshott said. "I don't know what else to say."

Shane Asselin, who highlighted the rushing attack with 115 yards last Friday, emphasized the surreal nature of the team’s hot streak and the importance of the season to the Algonac community.

“It’s an overwhelming feeling, I can’t even describe it,” he said. “Knowing what we’ve done, coming back from a 1-8 season last year and to already get into the playoffs with three weeks still left in the regular season means so much to the city of Algonac, it’s magical.”

Joe McKee is the team’s top rusher, however Algonac employs multiple-back sets and has given touches to at least four running backs in each game this season. A pair of senior captains, Mason Ruhlman and Tom Goldenbogen, anchor the offensive line.

Barnhart was hesitant to point out one specific team leader, instead complimenting everybody.

“We’ve got leaders all over the field, all up and down our roster,” he said. “These are the kind of kids you don’t need to remind of what’s at stake, they’re naturally motivated, they want to do the right thing, play the right way and pass it on to the younger guys coming up.”