Head coach of the Wildfire Nate Zachmann said that this first round playoff match would be a true test to their development of the season, having lost to the Imperials in their season opener 44-24. He and the large group of spectators saw just how far the Mott-Regent/New England co-op had come, vanquishing Napoleon/Gackle-Streeter from the playoffs 66-42 Saturday afternoon.

“I am just so proud of our guys … I can’t be more proud of their toughness, or their grittiness and their effort,” Zachmann said. “When you have a group of men that will run through a brick wall for you there is no better feeling.”

The Imperials tried to respond to the home side's strong running game with their impressive aerial attacks, but a lack of discipline and perhaps some misfortune would stop their drives too many times for them to rally. The field was littered with flags from calls on both sides. The Wildfire had eight penalties for 59 yards, while Napoleon/G-S had 14 for 134 yards.

Mott-Regent-New England set the tone early in the game, with running back Nathan Kaufman running for a 55-yard touchdown on the second play of their first drive.

Kaufman would grab another running touchdown of 20 yards, followed by senior quarterback Cole Manolovits finding tight end Zackary Jalbert in the end zone to widen the margin 22-0.

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“It's a lot of work, but it's a lot easier when you have a good upfront line … I couldn't do anything that I do without them,” Kaufman said. “Coach said, ‘Just keep digging deep.” This could have potentially been my last game, but I wasn't gonna let that happen.”

The Wildfire take a sizable lead with credit going to their blockers  against the Imperials Saturday afternoon in New England. (Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press)
The Wildfire take a sizable lead with credit going to their blockers against the Imperials Saturday afternoon in New England. (Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press)

The Imperials would start to build traction in the second quarter, getting on the scoreboard with back-to-back touchdowns before the closing of the first half. One of which was a 63-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Trenton Erbele to senior wide receiver Trevor Moss.

They would also start the second half on the right foot, gaining another touchdown in the first two minutes of the third quarter. With the score 22-20, Napoleon/G-S looked to settle in and take the lead.

Trevor Moos receives a short pass  against the Wildfire Saturday afternoon in New England. (Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press)
Trevor Moos receives a short pass against the Wildfire Saturday afternoon in New England. (Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press)

“You are gonna give up some big plays in the spread, you have to cover a lot of field with nine guys so it happens, but it is part of our guys having a ‘next play mentality,’” Zachmann said. “We gave up some big plays, but that didn't fold us over.”

With less than five minutes left in the third quarter, the score was 30-26 when Manolovits would get twisted up on a tackle, forcing him to come out of the game momentarily. Kaufman and the offense didn't allow Manolovits’ absence to slow them down, with Sophomore running back Jaren Rafferty finding his way into the end zone.

“Cole is a competitor. He would literally have to have a broken leg not to be on the field,” said Zachmann.

Manolovits added to the coaches statement.

Cole Manolovits had 48 passing yards and a touchdown passing  against the Imperials Saturday afternoon in New England. (Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press)
Cole Manolovits had 48 passing yards and a touchdown passing against the Imperials Saturday afternoon in New England. (Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press)

“It could have been my last game here with Nathan and Zack, us seniors and I didnt want to be out for it.”

Shortly after on the Imperials’ drive, Wildfire freshman linebacker Rhett Miller made an interception and Kaufman scored another touchdown run to make 44-26 with 2:48 left in the third.

Napoleon/G-S responded early in the fourth quarter with a 20 yard passing touchdown and a two-point conversion pass to decrease the deficit 44-34.

However, Kaufman continued to show his stamina and speed with another long run to put them on the Imperials’ 17 yard line, followed with a touchdown run.

“We were trying to run the ball and trying to control the time of possession, but we just popped some big plays, so we didn't quite control the clock like I wanted to,” Zachmann said. “We did towards the end of the game and had some big plays on defense from some guys who stepped up to stop their momentum.”

The Wildfire defense brings down wide receiver Jaxcen Glatt against the Imperials Saturday afternoon in New England. (Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press)
The Wildfire defense brings down wide receiver Jaxcen Glatt against the Imperials Saturday afternoon in New England. (Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press)

Napoleon/G-S had one more scoring drive left in them, coming from a long pass of 74 yards to Moss, making it 50-42 with less than nine minutes in the game. In total, Erbele had 479 passing yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Wildfire got two more touchdowns for a comfortable lead and then worked on consuming the remaining time on the clock. With the ball in their possession at the one minute mark, Manolovits would kneel for two plays to end the game and start the celebration.

“It's special, the first time being in the playoffs for me and us seniors … My dad and my uncle played on this field when they were in high school so it's pretty special to play on the same field as them,” Kaufman said. “First two games we have had here in five years we put up a win each time, so we continued the tradition from when they were really good back in that day.”

They will now be facing an even greater opponent in the playoffs next week with region 5 champions New Salem-Almont. Zachmann and his team will certainly enjoy today’s win, but are also in sync with one another going back to work to prepare for their next opponent.

“First off, just enjoy this for about 24 hours and then it is getting ready for New Salem,” Zachmann said. “If you want to advance to the playoffs, eventually you are going to play New Salem. They are the juggernaut … They got size, they got speed, they got athleticism, they are well coached, they got it all. So we got to see where we can take advantage of things and just take this momentum and give it our best shot we can.”

SCORING

NGS - 0 12 16 16 42

MRNE - 22 0 22 22 66

First Quarter

MRNE - Nathan Kaufman 55 yard run (two-point conversion failed), 6-0

MRNE - Kaufman 20 yard run (two-point conversion successful), 14-0

MRNE - Zackary Lalbert 30 yard pass from Cole Manolovits (two-point conversion successful), 22-0

Second Quarter

NGS - Trevor Moss 63 yard pass from Trenton Erbele (two-point conversion failed), 22-6

NGS - Erbele 1 yard run (two-point conversion failed), 22-12

Third Quarter

NGS - Erbele 48 yard run (two-point conversion successful), 22-20

MRNE - Kaufman 11 yard run (two-point conversion successful), 30-20

NGS - Moss 39 yard pass from Erbele (two-point conversion failed), 30-26

MRNE - Rafferty 2 yard run 36-26 (two-point conversion successful), 38-26

MRNE - Kaufman 1 yard run (two-point conversion failed), 44-26

Fourth Quarter

NGS - Jaxcen Glatt 5 yard pass from Erbele (two-point conversion successful), 36-34

MRNE - Kaufman 3 yard run (two-point conversion failed) 50-34

NGS - Moss 52 yard pass from Erbele (two-point conversion successful), 50-42

MRNE - Kaufman 1 yard run (two-point conversion successful), 58-42

MRNE - Kaufman 74 yard run (two-point conversion successful), 66-42