SEBEWAING — It’s been a while since the Reese/Unionville-Sebewaing Area football game has mattered equally to both teams.
Of course, bragging rights that come with a win at the annual “Sugar Bowl”, is more than enough to pump players up for the rivalry game. But this year there will be much more at stake.
Reese and USA each enter the game at 4-1 on the year. USA is 2-0 in league play, while Reese is 1-1, suffering a 26-20 loss to Laker in Week 3.
“The nice thing about this (the Greater Thumb West Conference) — it’s fun,” said USA coach Tyler Langs. “Each week means something because you have so many good teams and it’s always wide open.”
Both “Sugar Bowl” squads are having resurgent years. Reese went 1-8 the last two seasons, losing to USA 8-6 in 2014 and 42-0 last year. Before that, the Rockets had qualified for the playoffs in 14 of 16 years. From 2009 to 2013, the Rockets were 23-2 in league play, which included a 5-0 mark against the Patriots. In total, the Rockets had won eight in a row before their two-season slide.
USA, which qualified for the playoffs last year for the first time since 2010, hasn’t won a GTW title since 2005. But this year, the Patriots control their own destiny in the GTW.
“And I told the kids that too,” Langs said. “The next two weeks we have a one-loss team in the conference and an undefeated Laker team. You get to make the choice. You haven’t won a conference title in over 10 years. It’s simple — if you win, it’s a conference championship, if you lose, it’s not.
“It’s in our hands.”
There has been a lot of parity in the GTW this year. Cass City has one of the best teams in the league, but is 0-2 after losing by a combined eight points in back-to-back losses to USA (24-22 in Week 4) and Laker (26-20 last week). Laker is presently ranked No. 7 in Division 7.
“Cass City is 0-2 and is as good as anybody else, Reese lost to Laker but is within reach of winning this conference,” Langs said. “And we’re happy to be in the mix and be able to compete for a conference championship.”
After suffering back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in over two decades, the Rockets are back in contention for a league crown.
“We got better and I think everybody else in the league kind of leveled off,” said Reese coach Bob Bouvy. “Everybody in the Thumb’s been pretty good at some point in last couple of years, and the parity in the (GTW) is pretty good now.”
The Patriots have utilized an effective wishbone offense with three backs — Tanner Foley, Macklin Gettel and Joshua Lang — each of whom has come up with big plays at different points this season. In the win against Cass City, Foley scored a touchdown from one-yard out as the time clock struck all zeroes in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 22-all. He then ran in the two-point conversion to give the Patriots the win. Last week Lang rushed for 247 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-7 win at Bad Axe.
“They got a good team,” Bouvy said. “We have to stop the trap, and be able to run our option against them. We have to stop Foley and I guess they have to stop our two, three guys.”
The Rocket’s offense is fueled by the play of quarterback Jake Galsterer. The senior set the tone for the season in an opening week, 30-0 win over Caro in which he rushed for all four Reese touchdowns and intercepted two passes. Jacob Hartman has been the Rocket’s go-to back this year, while on defense, Mitchell Bender has been a force at middle linebacker.
Unionville and Sebewaing high schools consolidated before the 1972 school year, and Reese and USA have met on the gridiron every year since, making for one of the Thumb’s fiercest — and most competitive — rivalries.
“We always look forward to playing USA,” Bouvy said. “That’s our original rival from years ago.”
Langs echoed Bouvy’s opinion.
“It will be fun on Friday, that’s for sure,” he said.
In 47 meetings, Reese holds a 24-23 advantage.