Hartland Football Looks to Upset Perennial Powerhouse Holt
Higher-ranked Holt Rams hold home-field advantage, but opposing coach respects Hartland Eagles.
It's not quite David vs. Goliath, but the Hartland Eagles are considered the underdog in Friday's first-round high school playoff game against the Holt Rams.
After defeating Ypsilanti Lincoln 37-13 last week, the Eagles secured a spot in the state playoffs, capping a successful regular season that surprised many prognosticators following last year's disappointing 4-5 record. But now Hartland will play a traditional state power on its home field at 7 p.m. behind the high school, 5885 Holt Road in Holt.
Al Slamer, head coach of the Rams, said his team won't take the Eagles lightly. Hartland finished the regular season 6-3.
"All you have to do is watch film and you will respect how good this Hartland squad is," he said in an e-mail. "They have the potential for a long tournament run.
"We see a strong and very well-coached team. They are a multiple-attack offensive squad who has both a strong passing and two pronged running attack from both the quarterback and running back. Their defense is athletic and physical."
Holt — which also finished 6-3 by defeating Ann Arbor Pioneer 38-14 last week — has the home-field advantage based on a more rugged schedule. It will be the first meeting in school history between the two teams.
The victor will face the winner of Brighton vs. Howell, which is also Friday, at Brighton High School.
In recent years, Holt has been especially tough to beat at home. Since the 2006 season, the Rams have gone 24-5 on their own turf and 43-12 overall. Holt has a made it to the playoffs three times during that time span, making it as far as the state semifinals, where the Rams lost 31-0 to eventual state champion Novi Detroit Catholic Central.
"Tradition instills confidence and expectations for our players," Slamer said. "We have 11 returning starters from last year's semifinalist squad. This experience has helped in tough games we have had to win in the fourth quarter."
In comparison, Hartland recent past has been more mixed. The team has gone 25-23 since 2006, making the playoffs in 2008 where the Eagles lost in the regional finals to Rockford 24-8.
Hartland's challenge in this game will likely emerge from Holt's potent ground game led by quarterback Jake Gallimore and running back Curtis Nick. Gallimore is a dual-threat to run and pass while Nick has rushed the ball more than 200 times for more than 1,300 yards with 14 touchdowns. He averages 6 1/2 yards per rush and 146 yards per game.
Hartland will be looking to starting quarterback Dan Richmond and running back Chad Hunt to step up and have a big game. Richmond hurt his ankle against Ypsilanti Lincoln.
After turning his ankle in the second quarter he briefly left the game but returned in the third quarter. However, Richmond was noticeably limping and sat out the fourth quarter with the Eagles in control.
Richmond has compiled 990 yards, nine touchdowns and nine interceptions this year. Richmond has also rushed 95 times for more than 440 yards with an additional three touchdowns on the ground. Hunt, the starting running back, has compiled more than 1,250 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground.
The Eagles are also being lead by Ryan Conway, leading receiver with 12 catches for more 300 yards and 12 touchdowns. The defense is led up front by Aaron Matthyssen, Brent Kinsey and Jordan Martin, all team leaders in sacks and tackles for losses. Trey Connor paves the way for the defense by racking up 7 1/2 tackles per game.
Slamer said his team's game plan will be to play sound defense and stick to the fundamentals.
"We will do our best to play sound fundamental defense trying to stop the big play, forcing them into long drives," Slamer said. "First-down defense will be of critical importance to us. With Hartland having two excellent runners, it forces you into assignment football, where everyone must do their job consistently."