Three weeks into the football season, things looked bleak for the Atlanta football team.
The Huskies were 0-3 and a playoff spot seemed like little more than a pipe dream.
Fast forward seven weeks and the Huskies look drastically different. Atlanta put the pedal down and finished the season on a 5-1 tear which earned the Huskies their first winning season since 2002 and their first playoff berth since 1997.
News File Photo
Atlanta’s Jake Chambers (3) is tackled by a Baldwin player during a game earlier this season at Atlanta High School. Atlanta plays at JoBurg tonight in its first playoff game in 16 years.
Atlanta will play at Johannesburg-Lewiston tonight at 7 p.m. in a Division 8 predistrict game and the Huskies will take the field with something to prove.
"I think the guys are looking to show them we can win," Atlanta coach Troy Cheedie said.
The Huskies entered the season with a chip on their shoulder having been forced to forfeit several games which knocked them out of the 2012 playoff picture and initially struggled out of the gate. They were shutout by Alcona in the season opener and followed with losses to Central Lake and Mio.
Atlanta (5-4) at JoBurg (7-2)
7 p.m., tonight J-L HS
Notes: The Cardinals won the last meeting between the two schools 28-26 on Aug. 24, 2012.This is the first playoff matchup of the two schoolsAtlanta is making its 9th playoff appearance the Cardinals are making their 16th Atlanta is 1-8 in the playoffs all-time, the Cardinals are 7-15This is Atlanta's first playoff appearance since 1997 and first winning season since 2002
"At that point, we were pretty down, but we started working on coming together as a team more," Cheedie said. "The seniors stepped up and some of the younger guys stepped up as well and we learned how to come together."
After spending several weeks moving players around, the Huskies finally found a balance on offense. Junior quarterback Seth Teets grew more comfortable under center and finished the regular season with more than 1,300 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. Jake Chambers, the area's leading receiver in 2012, became a frequent target of Teets and caught 31 passes for 553 yards and 10 scores. Taylor Juergens and Jay Webster bolstered the receiving corps as well, combining for almost 700 yards.
With a rejuvenated attitude, the Huskies won their next three games, including a 40-14 win over Hillman on homecoming night and earned two more wins after a loss to Baldwin in Week 7. The Huskies' run earned them a second-place finish behind Mio in the North Star League's North Star Division.
JoBurg is no stranger to playoff expectations, but first-year coach Joe Smokevitch admits he didn't know what to expect after the Cardinals graduated 14 players, including several playmakers.
"We've exceeded expectations. Graduating 14 kids and with the turnover on the coaching staff, 5-4 would've been great," Smokevitch said.
Instead, the Cardinals have been a surprise team this season, going 7-2 with a squad that has just four seniors and features several underclassmen in the backfield. JoBurg has usually been the smallest team on the field in every game it's played, but that hasn't stopped the Cardinals from winning games, including their last six in a row.
With playmakers like Mitch Hardy, Alex Payne and Dillon Kibby, the Cardinals reached the regional final last season and lost to Beal City.
This season, senior Dillon Cushman leads a stacked backfield that includes juniors Jac Brandt and Andrew Gross and sophomores Ethan May, Nick May and Logan Huff.
"We had some tough kids to replace, but we've come back with a more balanced offense," Smokevitch said. "We've been the smallest team when we've played, but we're a wing-T team and we're going to continue to run the wing-T."
The two schools are more than familiar with each other having played in the regular season every year since 1971. This year marked the first time the two teams didn't play due to Atlanta's schedule commitments with the expansion of the North Star League.
Atlanta hasn't beaten the Cardinals since 1992.
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.