Quite a turnaround

Huskies return to playoffs in first eight man season

News File Photo Atlanta quarterback Austin Corbin, right, looks for an open teammate during a game against Grand Traverse Academy earlier this season. Corbin and the Huskies finished with a 5-4 record this season and will be making their first playoff appearance in four years.

ATLANTA–When the members of the Atlanta football team met for the start of practice in August, it marked the start of a new era for the program.

But as the Huskies began their first season of eight-man football, they did so with two goals in mind: work hard and just play football.

Several months later, the meshing of those goals has the Huskies back in the playoffs.

Atlanta will play its first playoff game in four years tonight when it travels to Pickford for a Division 2 eight-man playoff game. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

That the Huskies are back in the playoffs in their first year of eight-man football speaks to a higher level of competitiveness in Atlanta and a confidence that’s been building with each week.

“The season has been better for us than the last few years. Switching to eight-man was a big change, but we’ve adapted well,” Atlanta senior quarterback Austin Corbin said. “It’s a big step in the right direction. After losing 75-0 in these big losses, it’s nice to be on top five times of out nine times this year. It’s nice to have that feeling of, ‘We’re going to go out there and win.’ Nothing can change that.”

In 2013, Atlanta rebounded from an 0-3 start to earn an at-large playoff berth in Division 8. That season marked a high point for the Huskies, who had narrowly missed the postseason in year before.

Over the next three years, the Huskies went 1-24 and were winless in 2015 and 2016, struggling to remain competitive against their rivals in the North Star League as their enrollment continued to fall.

Late last year, the Huskies held a vote among players to decide whether or not to move to eight-man and the players 9-5 in favor of the move.

The move was met with enthusiasm and it created competition among Atlanta’s players vying for positions on either side of the ball.

“Now have older lineman, upperclassmen and that helps a lot with the blocking scheme. We’re got senior and junior running backs that hit the holes hard. Our receiving corps has been outstanding,” Corbin said. “I’m very happy with how things have been going.”

The Huskies got a chance to prove themselves on a more level playing field right away. After a win by forfeit in their season opener, the Huskies rolled past Fife Lake Forest Area in week two. Over the next seven weeks, the Huskies flourished, despite being one of the five smallest schools in the state to play eight-man football. The offense moves well, averages 28.4 points per game and the leveled playing field has allowed the Huskies playmakers to stand out.

Corbin completed more than 50 percent of his passes for 962 yards and 10 touchdowns in Atlanta’s first eight games. Reece Wood (80 carries, 562 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Dallas Robertson (47 carries, 315 yards, 4 touchdowns) have provided a steady presence in the backfield and Wood (26 catches, 505 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Kody Reeves (26 catches, 234 yards, 4 touchdowns) have been steady receivers.

“You get everybody together, work hard, make the changes that need to be changed and play like we have been,” Corbin said. “Once you get out there and play it’s not much different. Even in the first game, it felt like normal.”

The Huskies have stepped up under pressure lately, winning their last two regular season games to qualify for the playoffs. They’re hoping that win-now mentality pays off tonight against the top-ranked Panthers (9-0).

“I definitely think it does. Even though we’re going against No. 1, we have had the pressure to win the last couple weeks and even the last three weeks,” Atlanta coach Troy Cheedie said. “We lost to Central Lake, but we kind of hit a stride there and started putting up better offensive numbers.”

Pickford has risen in the polls in recent weeks thanks to tenacious play on both ends of the ball. The Panthers, who lost to state champion Powers North Central, average 58 points a game behind a host of speedy playmakers.

Running backs John Lamothe (683 yards, 13 touchdowns), Matthew Bush (629 yards, eight touchdowns), Joseph Boike (523 yards, eight touchdowns) all have led Pickford’s offense in the backfield and Warner Lane and Jacob Storey added a combined 20 touchdowns. At quarterback, Jonah Bailey has proven capable, completing 30-of-43 passes for 795 passes for 12 touchdowns. Nicholas Edington has been Bailey’s favorite target, catching 16 balls for 568 yards and nine touchdowns.

“They have a lot of weapons, I’d say four or five guys that run the ball, a quarterback that seems to have pretty good judgement,” Cheedie said. “I think it’s going to be (decided) up front. If we can stop the run, we’ll have a good shot at sticking with them. They are definitely a good football team, but the guys are excited and looking forward to the challenge.”

Atlanta’s success this season has done a lot to boost the morale of the team and fans around the community have taken notice. The enthusiasm building around the program has Cheedie hopeful the Huskies can become a consistently winning program.

“It’s bringing the community together. We haven’t really seen the results of it yet, but really the word’s getting out that it’s coming together,” Cheedie said. “I think next year and in the years to come you’re going to see better football teams coming out of Atlanta and more support from the community too.”