MCBAIN — The football calendar says its Week 2 of the playoffs.
For McBain, the playoffs started in Week 4 of the regular season.
Just four games in, the Ramblers stood at 1-3 and the post-season looked like a distant dream.
Fast-forward a couple of months and McBain is playing for a district title.
The Ramblers turned things around and have gone 6-1 since a Week 4 loss to Lake City.
McBain looks to keep that roll going when it faces Traverse City St. Francis in a Division 7 district title game at 1 p.m. today at Thirlby Field.
The Ramblers (6-4 overall) advanced with a 14-12 win over Oscoda while the Gladiators (7-3) moved on with a 42-28 win over Houghton Lake.
McBain coach Pat Maloney kept the non-conference schedule a little on the tough side as the Ramblers opened with Kingsley in Week 1 and finished with Clare in Week 9. The Stags are unbeaten while the Pioneers were knocked out last week by an upstart Harrison team.
“We knew our out-of-conference schedule was tough but prepared us for playoff football,‘ Maloney said. “We have been in playoff mode since Week 4. Our players have fought to stay in games and also know that being down does not mean being out.
“We don’t want to have teams be up by 12 points on us but we know that we can still come back from that type of deficit.‘
McBain trailed Oscoda 12-0 in its pre-district contest last week but then shut out the Owls after that.
Oscoda was driving on its final series but the Ramblers made a couple of big plays late to seal the victory.
“Our defense played really well after the first two scores,‘ Maloney said. “We held them to under 100 yards after those first two series.
“We lost two games early in the season when we were up (Houghton Lake and Lake City) and in the last two minutes, our defense gave up scores. This time, they held strong.‘
With the defensive slips seemingly fixed, it comes down to not making mistakes. The Ramblers’ struggled in the last couple of years have been directly tied to turnovers and penalties.
Maloney knows his team can’t do that against St. Francis. It’s all about fundamental football.
“We’ve got to hang our hats on defense and running the football,‘ he said. “We spend a lot of time on defense to make sure our guys are in the right spot at the right times.
“We have to limit St. Francis’ opportunities and then successfully run the football to score points. With weather a possible concern (today) we have to control the football, hold on to it and block well.‘
St. Francis and McBain share two common opponents in Kingsley and Houghton Lake. The Stags beat the Glads 26-7 in Week 5 while the Ramblers lost to Kingsley 36-6 in Week 1.
Houghton Lake also beat McBain 8-6 in Week 3.
Maloney said St. Francis will give a couple of different looks offensively, going from Wing-T to straight-T to a little bit of spread.
It’s the Glads’ blocking up front that allows that.
“They are fundamentally strong and block and tackle well,‘ he said. “They are not the biggest team but close to the fastest. They’ve got a well-executed run offense that opens up passing plays to beat you deep on play-action.‘
Today’s winner advances to a regional championship game Nov. 15 against Iron Mountain (10-0) or Charlevoix (7-3).