Oct. 28—CHARLEVOIX — That was a long time coming.
Charlevoix earned a long-awaited victory over Traverse City St. Francis, 31-7, in Friday's Division 7 playoff football game at Kipke Field in Charlevoix.
After the Rayders lost the season-opener in overtime to the Gladiators, this set up as a revenge game for Charlevoix. That dish was served cold, wet and muddy as the game was played in temperatures in the low 50s, with frequent rain and an hour-long lightning delay to boot.
"As soon as we lost to them, our coaches came up to us and were like, 'We're going to play them again,'" said junior running back Logan Wadkins, who broke two long touchdown runs. "We were hoping for it. We had the circle on the calendar. We were hoping it was them, and it was."
Charlevoix hadn't beaten St. Francis for more than 20 years. The last Rayders win in the series came in 2001.
In Week One, the Gladiators won 41-40 in overtime, also at Kipke but in much better weather conditions. The Glads stopped Charlevoix's two-point conversion attempt in OT to seal the win.
"It really hurt to lose that first game, but it was kind of a blessing for us," Charlevoix head coach Don Jess said. "It really helped us get focused and fix a lot of things. The hard work the last nine weeks showed tonight."
Wadkins ran seven times for 117 yards and two TDs, breaking scoring runs of 62 and 44 yards.
The Rayders ran for 341 yards in sloppy conditions as rain turned Kipke Field into a mudslide.
"Hunter (Lemerand) deserves a lot of credit, snapping the ball in these conditions," Jess said of his junior center. "We thought we might have to go under center, which we normally don't do. But we were able to just stick to our normal offensive sets and snap the ball. We didn't fumble the ball all night, which is saying a lot in these conditions."
Charlevoix stopped TCSF's first drive, despite two encroachment penalties. Logan Wadkins took the Rayders' very first play — after a third flag — 62 yards to pay dirt. Henry Herzog ran in the conversion for an 8-0 lead.
Hudson Vollmer intercepted a pass and Nate Claflin recovered a fumble to end two other Gladiator first-half drives.
The head referee threw a flag with 4:06 left in the opening half with the Rayders at second-and-goal at the Glads' 9-yard line. Charlevoix fans booed, thinking it was a ninth penalty already on the Rayders, but he was stopping the game after seeing lightning in the distance at 7:43 p.m. Several other lightning strikes over the next half hour delayed the game further.
There was a loud cheer from the small cadre of people still in the stadium when it was announced at 8:32 p.m. that play would resume in about nine minutes as the PA played AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" while waiting for the game to resume.
The delay was long enough that the NFHS game stream stopped broadcasting the game.
Coming out of the weather delay, quarterback Brady Jess ran in the second play from 6 yards out and Ryan Pearl's extra point made it 15-0.
After a St. Francis three-and-out, Jess hit Owen Waha for a 54-yard TD pass, immediately following a Troy Nickel-to-Wadkins hook-and-ladder play for a first down.
"It feels so good," Brady Jess said. "We've worked so hard in the offseason for this. Our first game, that wasn't us; but today, we really came out and played."
Wadkins added a 44-yard TD run 3:44 into the second half after an abbreviated four-minute halftime to help compensate for the weather delay. That score put Charlevoix up 28-0.
"When he gets in the open field, no one's catching up," Brady Jess said. "I thought that (Cam) Sellers might catch up because he's really fast, but he couldn't catch Logan."
It's the first time since 2013 that St. Francis lost in the opening round of the playoffs.
"Credit to Charlevoix," Gladiators head coach Josh Sellers said. "They came out, executed their game plan. We didn't."
Senior offensive lineman Ben Stallman returned for the first time this season following knee surgery and played in the Gladiators' final drive, which also produced their only score — a Tyler Sheeran 1-yard touchdown run and Sam Wildfong's extra point with 2:19 remaining.
"Hats off to Coach Jess and the way he worked the clock," Sellers said. "I have a lot of respect that he handled it that way because they could have kept running the score up and he didn't do that."
The Rayders opted for a Pearl 20-yard field goal with 11:01 remaining instead of going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 3, which would have put Charlevoix at the 35-point mercy rule and started a running clock.
"They beat us our first week," Wadkins said. "We've been looking forward to playing them again since Week One. They're a great team. And we're just lucky that we beat them this time."
Henry Herzog ran for 51 yards and Landon Swanson 78 for the Rayders. Swanson added seven tackles on defense and Herzog six. Joshua Schultz caused two fumbles, with Pearl recovering one and Claflin the other.
The Gladiators held a 24-4-1 series advantage.
St. Francis won a 44-32 district championship showdown in their last postseason meeting in 2020. Prior to this season's Week One, they hadn't played in the regular season since 2013, the year before the Lake Michigan Conference became part of the Northern Michigan Football Conference.
Since 1990, the Rayders and Glads played every year through 2013, with Charlevoix winning only twice, posting back-to-back victories in 2000 and 2001 by 34-33 and 30-6 margins, respectively.
The 31-7 decision also ties the 2001 win as the largest margin of victory in Charlevoix's favor.
The spans before and after those consecutive wins saw the Rayders go 0-10 before and 0-12 afterward in regular-season matchups. They were held under 10 points in 10 of the 12 most recent regular-season meetings, including four shutouts.
"I don't think we've beaten them in like 20 years, so it's really exciting," Brady Jess said. "We're going to celebrate. Dance party in the locker room."
The Rayders advance to play the winner of Saturday's game between Benzie Central and Menominee.
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