Asked about his preparation for tonight’s football playoff game with Howell, Lakeland coach Joe Woodruff chuckles.
“We thought about playing football in a forest, to simulate the size of their offensive linemen,” he joked. “They’re so much bigger and more physical than a lot of teams out there. It kind of is what it is.”
Woodruff, who lives in Howell, is familiar with both the Highlanders and first-year coach Brian Lewis, whose Plymouth team eliminated Lakeland in last year’s playoffs.
Lakeland and Howell meet tonight in a district semifinal game that will be broadcast on The Livingston Post beginning at 6:50 p.m. Click here for the link.
“Coach Lewis does a great job of coaching, and that obvious with everything that’s been going on,” Woodruff said. “He’ll have those kids prepared.”
The Eagles should be prepared as well, coming off their first unbeaten regular season since 1982, led by quarterback Tate Farquhar, linebacker Michael Sherrill and running back Shane Ells.
“They’re very well-coached,” Lewis said. “They do a great job with their offense. They;re very sound defensively. They don’t make mistakes. So we’re going to have to play a very clean game on our end to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Woodruff says his team’s success this season wasn’t a surprise.
“It’s a talented group of kids,” he said. “They haven’t lost a whole lot of games at Lakeland. We’ve been playing together as a team and been playing pretty intense football.”
The Highlanders beat the Eagles last week despite having their rushing attack stymied by a Hartland defense that keyed on the run, especially running back August Johanningsmeier.
“We have to take what the defense give us,” Lewis said. “Last week, they had nine men in the box, and it’s hard to run against that. So it will depend on what the defense is doing, and we can adjust our offense to try and have success with what they’re doing.”
Meanwhile, Howell’s size concerns Woodruff.
“Their tailback (Johanningsmeier) is 6-4, 205,” he said. “Their tackle (Grant Porter) is really good, and they have two tight ends who are bigger than our offensive linemen. They’re big. We know that. We also know they’re playing good football right now and I figure it’s probably going to be the best team we play all year.”
Tonight’s game will be played in warmer conditions than last week, but to both coaches the best thing is that they’re still playing.
“Our mantra has been to make the most of every game, because back in August it didn’t seem like (playing) was going to be possible. Now we’re here, and you don’t know if your season ends in the game or by something outside our control. We’re just very grateful we’ll be able to play.”
Lewis, in his first year at Howell, is enjoying both his team’s success and its growth as a team.
“Our kids have done a great job in being resilient,” he said. “Everything we’ve thrown at them, they’ve taken in. It’s fun to go to practice now. You’re able to talk to the about specific techniques, not just teaching schemes. … We’re just happy to have another day together, and how football allows us to be together. That’s really where our focus is, and on what we’ve got to do.”