Oct. 14—Mott-Regent/New England's (3-1, 4-4) regional performance this season earned them a spot in the first round of the Class B 9-man football playoffs. It will be a challenging start, going up against region 5 side Napoleon/Gackle-Streeter (2-2, 6-2). The game will be in New England this Saturday at 1 p.m.
The enduring development produced from this season for the Wildfire has been in the making for several years. Head coach Nate Zachmann is in his sixth year leading the team and offers remarks of this group's tenacity throughout the seasons.
"For me it is so rewarding as a coach. The last two or three years we haven't been in the playoffs and the kids have played hard," Zachmann said. "To finally have that breakthrough is an amazing feeling."
The Wildfire finished second in region 6 and are set to battle with the lowest seed in region 5. As the higher seed, the Wildfire earned their chance to host a playoff game for the first time since 2015. The two sides played each in the season opener in Mott with a 44-24 result favoring Napoleon/G-S.
Coach Zachmann regards the results of their previous encounter as insignificant, saying both teams have developed over the season and he is eager for the opportunity to face them again.
"We are not the same team right now as where we were on August 20th and really neither is Napoleon and this one true test to see where we are at as a team," Zachmann said. "It's not very often you play your first game and possibly be playing your last game against the same team. I am very excited to see where we are at."
Mott-Regent/New England are battling with a recent injury to their starting quarterback Cole Manolovitz, who was forced to be taken out in their game against Hettinger-Scranton on Oct. 1. With the injury still fresh, it is uncertain if the junior will be able to suit up for the playoffs.
"He's climbing his way back. It's kind of day-to-day right now. We are limiting his reps and focusing on getting him healthy," Zachmann said. "As of today, I'm not sure if he is going to go in or not. It will probably be a game-time decision with his injury."
Zachmann hopes to have Manolovitz back in time to have his experience and football IQ on the field, but is prepared to make adjustments and play the game with the cards they are dealt.
With or without Manolovitz, their successful drives will likely be led on the ground by their star player, senior running back Nathan Kaufman. Throughout the season, Kaufman has filled multiple positions on both sides of the ball. He has spent time at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
He has 1,292 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, 500 yards and seven touchdowns through the air, and 173 receiving yards with two touchdowns.
Defensively he has tallied 39 tackles with 17 assists and two interceptions.
As a good coach often does, Zachmann divides the achievements amongst his players and also recognizes the strength and contribution of their offensive line.
"Nathan's biggest role on this team is his leadership. He leads by example," Zachmann said. "Nathan knows that all of his success comes from Layne Kovar, Josh Ernst, Jack Manolovits, Alex Doe, Zack Jalbert and Jaren Rafferty blocking for him upfront. Having a 'team first' mentality is what is really helping."
The outcome of the match will determine whether or not the Wildfire will move forward to the second round in the playoffs, where they would face region champions, New Salem-Almont. Teams that took their regions all received a bye week from the first rounds.
"The key to the game for us is establishing the run. If we can do that and slow down their pass game, we will be in a good position," Zachmann said. "Some of our best defense is going to be having the ball and keeping the ball away from them because they are so explosive."
Before the Wildfire step onto the field this Saturday, Zachmann already praises his team for not just achieving a playoff spot, something they haven't done since 2017, but how they did it collectively as a group.
"All the time and energy you have put into a team, into players, into individuals and to have those players pour that back to you in playing as hard as they can ... there is no better feeling," Zachmann said. "Knowing that your players trust you and then to see that success come onto the field, that to me has been the most rewarding. The trust and that we are a family and that just continues week to week and it just gets better and better."