Two weeks ago, the Atlanta football team was riding high with a 3-2 record and its eye on a playoff spot.
Unfortunately, the postseason won't be an option for the Huskies this season after it was discovered earlier this week that Atlanta had an ineligible player on its roster who had played since the beginning of the year. As a result, the Huskies will forfeit wins over Central Lake, Mio and Hale, dropping them to 0-5 with three games remaining.
Atlanta coach Troy Cheedie was given the news Wednesday by Atlanta athletic director Mike Eising and lamented the loss of the three wins.
"It's tough for the seniors, for me and for the community," Cheedie said.
Eising, who became athletic director after the school year had already begun, called the situation very unfortunate and said he came across the error while checking to make sure things were in order since the postseason starts later this month.
"I'm not making excuses, something got missed while I was checking," Eising said. "Once you find someone who's not an eligible player, being an MHSAA member, you have to follow the rules."
Eising has already called the three schools to notify them of the situation and will also send them letters.
For the Huskies, it means their senior class, which includes quarterback Garrett Badgero, running back Jason Ferguson and linebacker Brock Baum, won't have the chance to experience playoff football in a year when the Huskies had one of their strongest teams in several years and realistic expectations of making the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
Entering this week, Atlanta was also atop the North Star League standings and a win this week would've given the Huskies a good shot at winning their first league title since 1995.
Cheedie said that despite some initial disappointment, players' spirits have picked up and the focus has shifted to finishing out the year on a good note. Atlanta will get its first chance to do that tonight at Hillman.
"They were a little slow at the start of practice yesterday, but they have a positive outlook and once they got going, they were ok," Cheedie said. "It's tough for them to forget, but they have something to prove the last three games of the season."
The Huskies aren't the only local team to have an issue with eligibility in recent years. Hillman had to forfeit it's first two games of the 2010 season, both wins, but won six of its next seven games to make the playoffs.
Despite the slightly diminished stakes of tonight's game, Hillman coach Bill Koenig called this year's Atlanta team the best one he's seen in his years as the Tigers' coach and knows it will still be a tough game.
"We watched them in Mio and they looked like one of the better running teams we've seen," Koenig said. "They have a good quarterback, running backs and their receivers are good too."
Hillman enters tonight's game with a depleted backfield and will be relying on Michael Klein to punch holes in Atlanta's defense. The Tigers' passing game has improved in recent weeks and with Hillman short on running backs, sophomore quarterback Ty Jones will need to move the Tigers down the field through the air.
Jones had three touchdown passes last week and Koenig said his quarterback has gotten a lot more patient under center.
"The passing game has gotten better and the receivers have gotten better. Ty Jones is more patient looking for receivers," Koenig said.
With a young team, Koenig said it will be important for Hillman to limit its mistakes and turnovers, noting that the Tigers had none last week against Rogers City.
"We have to play hard, physical mistake-free football," Koenig said.
Having had an extra week to rest up and get over bumps and bruises, the Huskies will try to stay focused on scoring a win over their county rival. Cheedie said the team has worked on blocking and has introduced some new plays that could help open up the offense.
Though Koenig and Cheedie both know how big a playmaker Badgero is-he's accounted for nearly 1,500 yards of offense this season-Cheedie is also hoping to use his running game and running backs Ferguson and Josh Barrett, who have combined for over 600 yards.
"With the spread offense we can run the ball and it helps open up passing lanes," Cheedie said.