BIG RAPIDS — There was a Greenville reunion of sorts in Big Rapids on Saturday afternoon.
Combined, the Ferris State Bulldogs and Northern Michigan Wildcats football teams featured four former Greenville Yellow Jackets. In addition to the players, plenty of family and friends made the trip to catch the regular season finale between the GLIAC rivals.
For the Bulldogs, 2011 graduates Justin Zimmer and Sean O’Brien were in uniform, while 2013 graduate Greg Krusniak stood the sideline as a redshirt freshman. For the Wildcats, 2011 graduate Zane Weaver suited up in the forest green and old gold.
It’s probably a rare occurrence to have four players from the same school together at once. It’s even rarer when two battle head-to-head on the field. That’s what happened several plays as Zimmer (starting defensive end) and Weaver (starting left tackle) took to the field.
“That was pretty fun. It’s not something you get to do every day,” Zimmer said. “I had heard earlier in the year he was rotating in and out, so the first thing I did this week was text him to see if he was starting. He said he was and I was pretty excited.”
Weaver, a junior, said he had to remember Zimmer, a redshirt sophomore, was an opponent.
“It’s a little different. When you look across the line it’s all hatred for the other team,” Weaver said. “I played with Justin for four plus years. You still have the connection from high school, you don’t hate him, but it’s different and you have to know he is on the other team.”
Northern Michigan started the game with a 100-yard kickoff return by Christian Jessie. The Wildcats led 10-7 after the first quarter, but couldn’t muster much offense and scoring the rest of the game.
“I thought we played real well on defense,” Zimmer said. “We came out there after their first seven points (opening kickoff return for a touchdown) and didn’t allow much at all after that.”
Northern Michigan is a young team, which includes a freshman (Shaye Brown) starting at quarterback.
“We have a lot to overcome. We have a lot of young guys on the team and a lot of new guys,” Weaver said. “I think it’s about getting to know your new family. We are doing things piece by piece. We are getting to know each other and how to work together.”
Ferris State outscored Northern Michigan 28-0 after the first quarter deficit. The Wildcats (3-7, 3-7) battled late with two touchdowns to make the final score 35-22 in favor of the Bulldogs (8-3, 8-2).
“We had a good year and technically it’s not over. If we get some help, we could make the playoffs,” Zimmer said. “I’m looking forward to the rest of this year, if we do, if not the years to come.”
The Bulldogs were not one of 24 teams selected to the Division 2 football playoffs. A loss to Hillsdale cost the Bulldogs a spot in the field. Grand Valley State and Saginaw Valley State both made the playoffs from the GLIAC and will meet in the first round on Saturday.
While the match ups between teams wasn’t even on the field, the matchup between former teammates was.
Zimmer finished with four assisted tackles, while Weaver did not allow a sack, something he hasn’t done all season long.
“I think I played pretty well. I didn’t necessarily have a lot of stats, but I think overall I played pretty well,” Zimmer said.
“Today wasn’t one of my better games,” Weaver said. “Especially, going against Justin (Zimmer). He gave me a run for the money a lot today. Even though it wasn’t one of my better games, I thought I did well.”
Late in the first half, Weaver did manage to put a hard block on Zimmer. Zimmer burst off the line past Weaver. Brown rolled back to his left to avoid the pressure and as Zimmer followed, Weaver turned and drilled Zimmer on a block.
“He got the crackback (block). As soon I got hit I looked up and saw his face,” Zimmer said with a laugh. “I would have been fine if it was anyone else but him. I did not want it to be him, but it was.”
“It was just the wrong place at the wrong time for him,” Weaver said of the block. “He came inside and beat me. I happened to turn around the right way and he was the first one there.”
Zimmer, Weaver and O’Brien (redshirt sophomore) helped the Yellow Jackets to a 9-2 record in 2010 and a first round playoff win over Kenowa Hills.
Also, on the Ferris State team is former Central Montcalm Hornet Tyler James, son of Hornets head football coach Marty James. James is a a redshirt freshman.