The local media every year releases lists of games to watch for the upcoming season. It’s the thing to do when everyone is aching for the football season to start. Every year you’ll see “The War By The Shore” or “The Battle of Cleveland Avenue” on the list. The Lakeshore Lancers’ rivalry with the St. Joseph Bears goes way back and it is the premier game in my area no matter who’s playing. It might be the one local matchup that I’ve attended multiple times. When I started going hall of fame coaches Denny Dock and Ike Muhlenkamp were roaming the sidelines. Later Elliot Uzelac (I know Wikipedia is a terrible source but these things are hard to find) would guide the Bears to the playoffs before heading to Benton Harbor to work magic last year. It’s crazy to think I’ve talked to these amazing coaches and walked away with the same thought of how incredibly nice they were. I used to intentionally not find a partner at the old Southwest Michigan football camps so that I could warm up playing catch with coach Dock and get more instruction. He taught me several things about playing the role of quarterback that I feel were invaluable. Coach Muhlenkamp spoke at my high school several times and was really fun to talk to casually, the few times I got the opportunity. Lastly, I recently watched Coach Uzelac explain his memorable season at BH during a clinic. It is also where I can help shed some light on this year’s rivalry game. When Elliot Uzelac took the job at St. Joe it was impressed upon him to sort of groom the younger staff members maybe in hope that they could take over when he left. Mission accomplished, defensive coordinator Gandalf Church stepped in and everything has continued to flow just the same for the past several years. The mindset of playing good defense while controlling the game with a power run style is so ingrained in this program it’s really like Uzelac never left. If you don’t believe me watch last years game against Benton Harbor and you’ll see the same offense against the same defense. The teams were almost mirror images of each other except for the fact St. Joe played way better in that game. You can see the staple power play as discussed previously on this site but even better you can see a staple of Uzelac teams in the outside zone. The best way to visualize zone plays is to pretend all of the offense live linemen are on a train track. They all move the same direction and if anything gets on their track they block it. If the linemen can gain the defenders outside shoulder then he works to pin him inside, if not he continues to push out stretching the defense. Eventually the runningback finds his own hole. The outside zone is a staple run in the NFL but can be difficult for high school kids to run. It demands offensive linemen to be able to move laterally and some of the blocks that are required can be super difficult, so the Uzelac spin on this came a long time ago and ultimately helps the line take advantage of angles while still maintaining the overall integrity of the play. The wrinkle is called pin and pull. One lineman blocks down and the other pulls around easier blocks for both. This is a blocking scheme that can be used out of multiple formations. The one negative for St. Joe this year is their standout freshman running back from last year transferred to Benton Harbor. Darius Clayton didn’t look like any freshman I’ve ever seen and he was electric many times in somewhat limited action for the Bears. He was dominant in their first playoff game last year despite only carrying the ball ten times. I don’t doubt the Bears ability to run the ball, it will just lack some of the explosiveness without him back there.
The success of Bears football is through the ground game and playing solid defense. The D looks like a 4-4 a lot but it’s really a 4-3 with the safety walked down against heavier formations. You can really see the 4-3 aspects versus true spread formations and by the way they spill the ball carrier to the sidelines instead of being super contain conscious (although they have moments where the outside linebacker like spots keep contain really well in the 4-4). The big thing people will be looking at on this Bears D is University of Michigan commit defensive end Corey Malone Hatcher. Several recruiting sites have him listed as the fifth best college prospect in the state. According to scouts he should be the best individual player I will see all year. That alone makes the Bears team really intriguing to watch.
The Lakeshore Lancers are a bit of a different story and it’s hard for them not to be. Denny Dock is considered by most around these parts as an offensive guru. He ultimately ran a bit of everything on offense and the crowd in Stevensville grew accustomed to being dazzled by a new wrinkle every week. I know I loved being wowed as a kid by just how big that playbook must have been for his teams. When he stepped down in came his defensive coordinator to take the reigns and the games took on a more conservative approach. I went to Lakeshores playoff game against Coldwater in 2014 during Bryan Keim’s first season as head coach and it was interesting to say the least. The game was a great defensive struggle, power run game against power run game. Lakeshore controlled the game on the ground and used the power play (there it is again) to grit out first downs. The unique part I felt was the crowd’s reaction to it all. There seemed to be a lack of interest almost with the ground game and the fans were growing restless even with the lead. Perhaps it was just where I was sitting (Lakeshore playoff games usually draw a decent crowd) but the offensive style change wasn’t being well accepted from my perspective. Keim has done well against St. Joe in his two seasons, but he did lose a close one to Benton Harbor last year that generated some grumbles from the faithful. There isn’t much out there showing Lakeshores offense (so maybe changes have already been made since the last game I’ve watched) but you would have to think they are feeling positive about their team this year based solely on the return of junior quarterback Joel Brawley (that is if he’s still playing qb). He looked good as a sophomore and one would have to think his game will continue to develop. The team rests on the defense and the aggressive 4-3 style similar to what St. Joe is running and it’s on that side of the ball where this game is won or lost. Since Keim has been there they’ve held St. Joe to a high of twenty four points and the last few years to just a few scores. Points against for the Lancers is way down since he has been there and with videos like these it looks like it’ll continue (if you’re interested in the new thoughts on tackling the Lancers video is very hawk like).
Before the game I’m planning on heading to Silver Harbor Brewing Co. to try as many small plates as I can. They’ve got a pretty unique menu and I love trying new food! Good food before a good game, I don’t see how it can get any better.