In Play with Tom Markowski

Algonac wins first region title, faces defending champion West Catholic in D5 semifinals

Football   | Tom Markowski

Algonac wins first region title, faces defending champion West Catholic in D5 semifinals

Algonac – Scan the state semifinal pairings and you’ll find the usual suspects, those teams that have been down this road before such as Detroit Cass Tech, Detroit Catholic Central, Jackson Lumen Christi, Lowell, Muskegon, Muskegon Catholic Central and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s to name a few.

Then there’s Algonac. Yes, Algonac, a program that won one playoff game before it lost to River Rouge in a Division 5 region final last season.

Poor Algonac. The reward the Muskrats (11-1) receive for defeating Ida, 37-22, last Friday to capture the school’s first region title, is to play the three-time defending state champion Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-2) in a Division 5 semifinal on Saturday at Battle Creek Harper Creek at 1 p.m.

Scott Barnhart is in his fifth season as the head coach at Algonac and it’s obvious to him, and others, that his team has been presented with quite a challenge.

And that’s just fine with him. When Barnhart took over the program in 2012 there were plenty of challenges. Competing in the Blue Water Area Conference, affectionately known as the B-WAC, Algonac was most often the doormat, every team’s favorite homecoming game opponent. From 2008-11 Algonac won seven games.

Not anymore. Barnhart brought in a new offense (single back veer) and, with it, a new attitude. Barnhart encouraged the coaches at the lower levels to implement this same offense so that once the players entered high school they would be familiar with it.

“We took our hits when I first got here (Algonac was 2-7 in 2012),” he said. “We feel the community bought into us. We go by coach and character. Going into year four we thought we’d be competitive. The numbers are real good at all three levels. When I got here the numbers on the varsity were in the 20s. Now they’re in the high 30s. We had 36 throughout the season and we’ve brought up a few more for the playoffs.”

This is an experienced team that’s used to winning. That’s never happened before at Algonac. Six starters returned on both sides but there’s one, who was not a full-time starter last season, that’s been instrumental in the Muskrats turning the corner.

Brendan Piper started the 2015 season at quarterback against Marine City but he never made it to the second half. To run the veer effectively a coach must have the utmost confidence in his quarterback.

“He had trouble hanging onto the ball,” Barnhart said. “So we switched A.J. Garshott from running back to quarterback.”

The move had one immediate affect and another that took a while longer. Algonac defeated Marine City that night, 19-18, ending a 15-game losing streak to the Mariners. Algonac started 7-0 before losing to Richmond, 15-14. Algonac shutout its first two playoff opponents before losing to River Rouge, 51-25.

Entering this season Piper was determined to limit his mistakes and run the offense like he knew he could.

“He came in with a chip on his shoulder,” Barnhart said.

Garshott was not a typical quarterback. He ran hard and used his strength to make positive yardage but he wasn't a fast runner. Brendan runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and is capable s turning a short gain into a long one. Last week against Ida Piper had touchdown runs of 69 and 65 yards and led the Muskrats with 149 yards on 18 carries.

Defensively Algonac has given up just 128 points. The Muskrats played well defensively last season and gave up 146 in 12 games.

The Muskrats average 155 pounds across the defensive line and rely on the trio of linebackers, which includes Dylan Jack, Brandon Spencer and Luke Stephenson to make most of the tackles when teams run the ball.