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RIVALS SERIES: ‘Daddy’s home’ — Ludington gets Dad’s Club trophy back with emphatic win over rival Manistee

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, September 14, 2019, 2:43 pm

MANISTEE — With one simple phrase, Ludington junior linebacker Jake Plamondon jokingly summed up what everyone on the Orioles’ sideline was thinking, after posing for a postgame group picture near midfield of rival Manistee’s Chippewa Field. 

“Daddy’s home.” 

A 45-14 road win Friday night, allowed the Orioles to emphatically put to rest the Chippewas’ recent ownership of the series, and reclaim temporary ownership of the rivalry’s traveling prize, the Dad’s Club trophy.

“Oh, it’s really nice. I wanted it bad. As you can tell, our whole team wanted it bad. We wanted it more than them, and we ended up with it,” said Ludington senior Riley Calhoun, a first-year starter at quarterback who accounted for 428 yards of offense and six touchdowns in the biggest game of his life. “I mean, I’ve dreamed about this my whole life, and I finally made it come true — first time playing quarterback against Manistee. It was special.”

The Chippewas (2-1) had won the last two in the 124-year-old series, four of the last five, and seven of the last 10. Friday’s win allowed the Orioles (3-0) to extend their lead in the all-time series — which is the fourth-oldest in the state, dating back to 1895 — to 69-62-11. 

“We all came into this thinking, ‘This will prove if we’re a real team, or not,’” said senior Parker LaCombe. “I would say we imposed our will, and that was the goal tonight. I would say we’re ecstatic about the win — it’s always a great feeling to beat a longtime rival.”

The trophy made its way back to Ludington on the ‘back way’ between the two towns, riding the bus with the Orioles players, some of whom had never had a chance to see it in person as high schoolers. 

“Everybody’s going to hold it twice, maybe three times, four or five photos. It’s going to be all over the internet,” said senior Drew Arce, part of a Ludington domination in all three phases of the game, as the Orioles had nearly everything go to plan. “It’s something I can’t explain. I don’t have words for it.”

Ludington’s opportunistic defense forced six turnovers — two fumbles and four interceptions — and the offense took advantage, turning those miscues directly into 17 points. 

“Definitely flipped the switch on the game. Coach always says, as individuals, we’re beatable,  but as a team, we’re hard to beat,” said LaCombe of the defense’s ‘dog mentality,’ something the squad embraced. “I mean, going out there, playing like a dog, that’s what it’s really all about.”

Ludington jumped out to a 7-0 lead, then turned a fumble recovery into a 48-yard touchdown bomb from Calhoun to Skyler Gerber, making it 14-0. 

Every time Manistee seemed poised to get back in the game, the Orioles stopped them cold. 

“Yeah, every time they got some momentum, our defense stood up. I think we forced six turnovers on the night — that’s huge. They were never able to get into a flow, offensively, because our defense kept taking them out of them, through big mistakes, big plays,” said Ludington coach Charlie Gunsell, who’d predicted turnovers would be the deciding factor between two evenly-matched offenses, but was waiting for his defense to take a step forward, embracing the ‘dog mentality.’ “They were. And we’re hard on our defensive kids. Our defensive staff is very critical, and every little thing matters. They’re pushed and they’re made uncomfortable throughout the week, so they can have this type of performance. That’s as physical as we’ve played defensively in a couple of years. And we’ve had some very good teams defensively — we were good last year, defensively, at the end. That group was flying around the field tonight about as well as I’ve seen a group fly.”

Early in the second quarter, Arce tipped away a jump ball, and Gerber caught the carom. Eleven plays later, the Orioles turned that into a 21-yard Arce field goal, and a 17-0 lead. 

“When I turned around, and saw Drew trying to intercept it himself, and tipped it back, I had a moment of like perfect pause in the world,” Gerber said, “and I was like ‘I NEED to catch this, and I NEED to get it back in the house.’”

Manistee answered with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Keelan Eskridge to Fletcher Carpenter, cutting Ludington’s lead to 17-7, but the Orioles answered on their next play from scrimmage, as Calhoun threw an 81-yard bomb to Arce to make it 24-7 after the extra point.

“That was huge because I didn’t really want to go into the locker-room up by 10 points. We’d hardly ran the play all year, and it worked,” Calhoun said.

“That gave us the most confidence in the game,” Arce agreed.

“Those guys have been doing that for a long time. That was huge. They came down scored, made it 17-7 at the time, then to come back first play and hit a route — we’ve called that route one time this year, and that was it; hit that big post over the top — again, just makes you feel comfortable, because Manistee can strike, and they can strike quick. They’ve got kids, they’ve got athletes, and with what they do, they can put you in a bind in a hurry. 

I was just proud of our kids and their effort and execution. It was important to my kids tonight, and they really executed,” Gunsell said. “We haven’t mentioned the offensive line: Riley Calhoun goes 14-for-15 for 253, and wasn’t touched in the pocket all night. They gave him a lot of opportunities to throw, and he didn’t miss. I think he’s completing like 91 percent of his passes this year, so he’s special. … He’s responsible for six touchdowns — that’s a pretty good night. He just competes. He’s not the biggest, he’s not the fastest, but you’ll find nobody that competes like him. I’m happy for him that he was able to have a night like that on this stage. That’s special.”

Calhoun ran in touchdowns of 7, 56 and 7 yards, as part of his 175 yards on the ground, and threw touchdown passes of 48, 81 and 20 yards. Arce caught five of Calhoun’s passes, for 155 yards and two scores, adding an interception, six extra points, a 21-yard field goal, and a near conversion of a fourth-and-11 when he caught his own punt after it was blocked by the Chippewas in the waning minutes of the game.

Ludington eventually expanded its lead to 38-7 in the third quarter, but answered even after Manistee scored on a 1-yard dive by Landen Powers, then recovered the onside kick. On the next offensive play, Jacob Irelan picked off a pass, and the Orioles turned it into another Calhoun rushing touchdown.

“Yeah, I felt like we were fighting the field the whole day. Sometimes you get the old adage that the field is flipped, if you will. Felt like that was the case. We couldn’t string together — we’re a tempo-based offense, and we really couldn’t get a good tempo going at times, couldn’t get the necessary stops that we wanted. And they executed, you’ve gotta give them credit. In a game like this, there’s a not a lot of mystery to what they’re going to do, there’s not a lot of mystery to what we can do … but they executed. And four out of the last five years, we executed better than they did, and tonight, they did. I give them credit,” Manistee coach Troy Bytwork said. 

“Momentum-based things like that are hard to fight with words. I mean, I can say it all I want, but some of those things like that, it is relatively deflating to a 41-year-old coach, and especially to a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kid. But they fought, but it was just one of those circumstances where — there wasn’t a play, or a drive that made the difference, it was a collection of things that they did better tonight.”

The Orioles are set up well for a run at a Lakes-8 title, with two of their three remaining conference games at home — including next week’s game against Muskegon Catholic Central. The only road game the Orioles have left on the schedule is Oct. 4, at Muskegon Orchard View, and they’ll wrap up the regular season at home on Oct. 25, against their other traveling trophy rival, Scottville Mason County Central. 

Manistee has two more home games — including next week against Muskegon Heights Academy — before ending the season with three straight road games.

“You come out of that third game, and you’re 2-1, you’re not dead in the water,” Bytwork said. “I told the kids that, but there’s 19 out of 22 new starters … so I stressed to them on the field after the game, it doesn’t take much to look at the team across from us: We beat them (in 2018), and they made a nice run, and almost won a playoff game. Opportunities still about, but you gotta let it fester, you gotta let it hurt, but then you come back. We’ll find out a little about ourselves on Monday.”