BELDING — In a sense, the playoffs start a week early for the Belding Redskins.
With a 5-3 record entering tonight’s regular season finale at home, the Redskins need a victory to guarantee a spot in the 256-team field of the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) football playoffs. Six wins is needed for guaranteed inclusion, while a handful of teams in each division make the playoffs with 5-4 records.
“This is what we compete for and put all that time in for,” Belding coach Joe Schwander said. “To be in this position we are grateful and humbled by it. We look forward to competing on Friday.”
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for the Redskins. They are four years removed from a 0-9 season and went 2-7 a year ago, the first year as coach for Schwander.
Schwander, a former Rockford and Hope College quarterback, says two years in his system is the key to this year’s success.
“We started a lot of juniors last year. They know what we are doing more so know,” Schwander said. “We had a three game stretch where we think the outcomes could have been different the more times you play those games. We feel like we are at a point where we can compete with anybody.”
Belding started the season a perfect 4-0 and were ranked in the Associated Press prep football poll in Division 4. Then, as Schwander mentioned above, a three game stretch of losses took place. All three losses were to quality teams.
First was a 30-7 loss to state ranked Comstock Park (8-0), in which the game was closer than the final score indicated. State ranked Allendale (7-1, only loss to Comstock Park) defeated the Redskins next 32-26, which was followed by a 31-24 loss to Hopkins (6-2).
All three losses were to playoff teams and the final two losses, the Redskins had the ball when the game ended and had a chance to take the lead or at least tie the game.
Belding rebounded last week with a 35-14 road win against Sparta.
“It’s been a good week. The kids are excited we are playing for a playoff spot,” Schwander said. “We are focused, been working and trying to get better.”
Tonight’s opponent is the Wyoming Wolves. Despite being 0-8, the Wolves have lost four games by less than a touchdown, including last week’s 21-14 loss to Comstock Park.
“They are winless, but they lost some close games,” Schwander said. “When I watch film they looked better than last year and they were 5-4. They are good and have two really talented slot players. They have two quarterbacks and run a ton of different formations, motions and plays. They are physical and tough to prepare for.”
Belding is looking for its first trip to the playoffs since 2007. That year, the Redskins went 7-2 in the regular season and defeated Williamston 23-21 in the first round of the playoffs. Belding’s season ended with a 28-17 loss to Alma.
“We are excited about the opportunity and the challenge,” Schwander said. “It will be good for our team either way. Good for the program either way.”
As for a pre game pep talk, Schwander said he will say what he always says.
“A lot of the same. The biggest thing is just play you’re best game,” Schwander said. “These guys have trained so hard for so long. The only thing I ask for is when the game is over, they know without a doubt they left everything on the field.”
Kickoff tonight is at 7 p.m.
The MHSAA football selection show is Sunday at 7 p.m. The entire 256-team playoff field will be announced on Fox Sports Detroit.