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Road warriors: Norway, North Central travel for playoff matchups

PICKFORD — For fans of 8-player football, Saturday might feel like Christmas come early with a pair of local teams hitting the road and battling to advance in the MHSAA playoffs.

The Norway Knights (8-2) travel to the eastern side of the U.P. to take on powerhouse Pickford (9-1) in a Division 1, Regional 1 quarterfinal at noon, while Division 2 defending champion North Central (8-2) continues its push for a fourth consecutive Division 2 title against host Lake Linden-Hubbell (7-3) at 12:30 p.m. at Warner Field.

Both playoff contests are rematches of regular-season clashes.

The host Panthers topped Norway 40-18 on the Knight’s home turf at Ronberg Field on Oct. 6.

At the time, Norway was on a five-game winning streak. Though, the Knights had suffered a loss even in victory the week before, when senior wideout Wyatt Spade suffered a severe knee injury and was lost for the season in the team’s 68-15 rout of Ontonagon on Sept. 29.

But, the Knights bounced back to beat Great Lakes Eight Conference-West rivals North Central and Stephenson in back-to-back games to claim their first conference championship since switching to 8-player football in 2021.

“Kids are excited,” said Norway coach Scott Popp of today’s playoff clash. “They want the rematch.

“There was a lot doubt the week we played them due to the fact that was the first week without Wyatt. Kids have seen they can fill in and play in the vacant spot. That was the first week some of the kids played in the position and they been playing there since and doing a pretty good job adjusting,” the coach added.

One player who has stepped up is senior Alex Ortman, the Knight’s new No. 1 wide receiver with Spade out. Ortman accounted for six touchdowns in Norway’s 56-48 victory over Newberry last Friday.

To beat Pickford, however, the Knights will also need to eliminate mistakes, such as costly penalties that have taken points off the scoreboard.

“We had some things go wrong (against Pickford), had four TDs called back,” Popp added. “So you take away the little mistakes, it’s a game that goes our way.

“Kids are pumped and wanna keep the train rolling.”

North Central and Lake Linden-Hubbell are also familiar foes, with both the Jets and Lakes competing in the Great Lakes Eight Conference-West. And, the Regional 2 playoff matchup might provide North Central with a measure of revenge.

The Lakes snapped the Jets’ state record 41-game winning streak by beating the Jets 28-25 in Powers on Sept. 22.

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