Ski Valley stretch, non-conference clashes will challenge Pellston football

Running back Garrett Cameron is back as a senior for the Pellston Hornets, who travel to Forest Area for their season opener on Friday, Aug. 26.
Running back Garrett Cameron is back as a senior for the Pellston Hornets, who travel to Forest Area for their season opener on Friday, Aug. 26.

To say Jack Carter has done a solid job as Pellston’s head football coach would be a giant understatement.

After several decades of struggles and losing, the Hornets hired Carter to lead the varsity program in 2018. Since then, everything's gone really, really well.

As Carter enters his fifth year in charge of the Hornets, he’s hoping to maintain momentum and continue to raise the bar, but it certainly won’t be easy against a difficult schedule that features Ski Valley rivals and some tough non-conference opponents.

As the Hornets aim to make the postseason for a fourth consecutive year, let’s take a look at the key games for the Hornets in the 2022 campaign.

Must See: At Onaway (Friday, Oct. 14)  

Oh, man, this was a battle last season.

What was looking like an easy homecoming triumph for the Hornets got extremely serious when the resilient Cardinals staged a ferocious rally, overcoming a 22-point fourth quarter deficit and tying the game late in regulation.

But right when they needed it, the Hornets got a big play when Kenny Crawford connected with Ethan Landon, who scored on a six-yard touchdown reception to help give the home team a hard-fought 50-44 victory in what was an absolute thriller.

Thankfully for the Hornets, they’ll return their playmaking quarterback in Crawford, but the Cardinals will counter with Hudson Decker and Brendon Brewbaker, a duo who helped lead the way in Onaway’s comeback attempt.

It’s always entertaining when area rivals collide. With both looking to challenge for a Ski Valley title, this could be a key win for whichever team pulls it out.

Either way, I expect another barnburner between what should be two exciting squads.

Rivalry Matchup: At Gaylord St. Mary (Friday, Sept. 30)  

This could easily go to Inland Lakes or Onaway, but with what I’ve seen between the Hornets and Snowbirds in recent years, I’m starting to think this is turning into a nice little rivalry between the two squads.

Pellston quarterback Kenny Crawford listens to offensive coordinator Chris Schlappi during a football game against Onaway last season.
Pellston quarterback Kenny Crawford listens to offensive coordinator Chris Schlappi during a football game against Onaway last season.

Back in 2019, the Hornets had one of their greatest seasons ever, going 8-2 overall, but it all ended bitterly when the Snowbirds blew them out at Pellston in the first round of the playoffs.

One year later in 2020, the Hornets exacted their revenge on the Snowbirds in a huge way, earning a hard-fought 34-28 victory in Gaylord. The win was so huge for the Hornets, who went on to share the Ski Valley title with the Onaway Cardinals.

Then came last fall, which saw the Hornets deliver a 34-8 thrashing of the Snowbirds at Sam McClutchey Field in Pellston. This triumph put the Hornets at 6-0 at the time and the win played a huge role in them reaching the playoffs for a third straight year.

With both teams returning their quarterbacks in 2022, this matchup could be another fun battle between two teams who have gotten the better of each other in recent years.

Who knows, maybe it’ll play a role in who wins the Ski Valley.

Toughest Opponent: vs. Inland Lakes (Friday, Oct. 7)  

This was a really ugly night for the Hornets last fall. Other than the playoff defeat to eventual 8-Man Division 2 state champion Powers North Central, this was the poorest the Hornets played all season long.

From the very beginning, the Hornets weren’t quite able to match the intensity of the Bulldogs, who eventually put the game out of reach as early as the second quarter thanks to big plays. The Hornets’ offense, which had been stellar going into the Week 7 showdown of unbeatens, was completely shut down by the Bulldogs, who were relentless from start to finish.

The last two times these teams faced have been big-time clashes, but it’s the Bulldogs who have steamrolled the Hornets. The Hornets will have a chance to stun the Bulldogs, and they'll get a chance to do so on their home field.

Of course, a fast start will be pivotal for the Hornets, who have struggled with the speed and physicality of the Bulldogs in the previous two matchups.

If the Hornets can find a way to break through against the Bulldogs this fall, you could make a great argument that it would be the biggest win of the Jack Carter era up until this point.

Dangerous Opponent: at Mesick (Friday, Sept. 23)  

There’s plenty of quality opponents on Pellston’s schedule this fall, and this non-conference clash in Week 5 could be one of the toughest.

The Hornets will face a team they’ve never played before when they clash with the Mesick Bulldogs, a program that’s reached the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.

These matchups are never easy, especially when you’re playing on the road, which the Hornets will have to do this fall. In games like this, you’ll obviously need to make big plays, and the Hornets should be able to do that.

If the Hornets can prevail, let’s just say the two-plus hour ride back to Pellston will be a happy one, especially if the team has four or five wins by then.

A tough matchup for the Hornets, but one that will probably help them down the road if they're able to win.

Not Overlooking Anyone: vs. Central Lake (Friday, Sept. 16) 

Before the Hornets travel to Mesick, they’ll host a feisty Central Lake squad that gave them fits in last season’s matchup at Central Lake.

While they held on for a 44-40 victory, this was one of the hardest games for the Hornets, who were able to stay unbeaten on the season.

I’m not totally sure what the Trojans will field this season, but I am sure they’ll have somewhat of a decent and dynamic offense, just like they had last fall. If that’s the case, the Hornets could be in for another tight battle with a Ski Valley rival. If the Hornets prevail, just rack it up as another quality win.

The Hornets might have been overlooking the Trojans a little bit going into last fall’s matchup, but after the narrow escape, it’s safe to say they’ll be completely focused when this Week 4 matchup occurs. Also, if the Hornets win, there’s a solid chance they’ll be 3-0 in Ski Valley play after four weeks.

Complete 2022 Pellston (7-3 last season) Football Schedule

Friday, Aug. 26 at Forest Area (0-9)

Thursday, Sept. 1 at Onekama (1-6)

Friday, Sept. 9 vs. Bellaire (2-7)  

Friday, Sept. 16 vs. Central Lake (4-5)  

Friday, Sept. 23 at Mesick (5-5)

Friday, Sept. 30 at Gaylord St. Mary (5-5)

Friday, Oct. 7 vs. Inland Lakes (10-1)  

Friday, Oct. 14 at Onaway (2-7)

Friday, Oct. 21 vs. Rapid River (3-6)  


This article originally appeared on Cheboygan Daily Tribune: Ski Valley stretch, non-conference clashes will challenge Pellston football