Northern Michigan Game of the Week: Big North Showdown

With less than seven miles separating them, the matchup between Traverse City West and Traverse City Central is a marquee game for both schools each year. But this year’s crosstown rivalry game looks to be epic.  With both schools entering this weekend’s game with undefeated conference records (and their best starts in years), an estimated 10,000 fans are expected at Thirlby Field this Friday night.

For TC Central, success starts up front with their two big tackles, Tyler Gildersleeve and Mitch Brien. At 6-7, 280, Gildersleeve is one of the top tackles in Northern Michigan. He will be paving the way for the two TJ’s – speedster T.J.  Schwannecke and dynamic dual-threat quarterback T.J. Schepperly.  Schepperly is the key to Central’s offense with his ability to make great plays with his legs and through the air.  His number one intangible is leadership, which has served the Trojans well.

The Trojans have a very stingy defense with a strong front seven. They feed off of the experience and leadership of tackles Jordan Lutze and David Chauvette, along with linebackers Nick Bonaccini and Nate Pupel. The sleeper of the group is junior defensive end Mitchell Wynkoop. At 6-3, 220, he’s been able to get to the quarterback all season. He doesn’t have a household name yet, but opposing quarterbacks are quite familiar with him.

The Titans will counter Central’s stout D with great speed on offense.   West has a stable of good backs led by Geordan Carter and Griffin Forrester.  They will also benefit from the return of freshman fullback Grant Ellison, who missed last week due to injury. But the bigger story on offense this season has been the emergence of senior quarterback Donny Cizek.  Cizek is a quick and shifty quarterback who is completing nearly 70% of his passes.  His top target is Tyler Johnson, a smooth-running wide receiver with good hands.  Paving the way up front is junior Connor Hayes, a future Division I guard.

On Defense for the TC West Titans, everything starts with middle linebacker Derrick Diver. Diver is the catalyst with his sideline-to-sideline playmaking ability. The Titans defense, as a whole, may be a bit overshadowed by the high-powered offense, but this group is talented.  Coming off a strong defensive game over Cadillac last week, keep your eyes on Storm Eagle, Matt Lowe, and Dustin Tucker to make their presence felt against the Trojans.

With so much talent on each sideline, it’s sure to be a great game.  Beyond the game, however, is a deeper significance that seeks to unite a community rather than divide.  This game marks the first-annual T.C. Patriot Game, which will honor military heroes from Northern Michigan who have lost their lives while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  With all of the emotion, honor, and pride, Friday’s rivalry game is sure to be one for the ages.


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