Dan Derrer knows the highs and lows of coaching high school sports.
He’s been at the helm of the Mancelona football team for 16 years. During that span, the Ironmen had back-to-back undefeated seasons, a few with a handful of wins, and a winless 2017 campaign.
Now, the Ironmen are 5-0 for the first time since 2012 and facing the biggest game of their season.
Tonight they’re hosting conference rival Boyne City, also undefeated in the Northern Michigan Football League Leaders division. A win puts Mancelona in the driver seat with a trip to Charlevoix and a hosting of Glen Lake left to round out the regular season.
A potential conference title, postseason qualification and a drive toward a state championship have been on the team’s list of goals since the summer. The Ironmen are coming off a 3-5 2020 finish.
“I’ve had some really, really good teams,” Derrer said. “I’ve had some teams that weren’t as talented and didn’t win as much.
“Every season is different … you never know.”
Winning and losing seasons, Derrer said the Ironmen always have given it their all.
“We’ve always taken the approach one game at a time, one practice at a time and try to get better every day,” he said. “Those years when you don’t win a lot takes a toll on the kids and the coaching staff.
“When the kids go out and play hard and they give you all they got, that is really all you can ask for,” he continued. “It’s definitely fun when you win — even those other teams – they gave you everything they had, and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Ironmen kept unbeaten this year with a 14-8 win in their last outing over Kalkaska. Jason Naumcheff connected with Oumar Sy on the game’s final play to earn the victory.
Seniors Justin and Adam Ackler and Mason Crandall have put together a handful off multi-touchdown games this year to lead the Ironmen. Naumcheff, a junior quarterback, is throwing regularly for touchdowns. The Ackler brothers, Naumcheff and Crandall also average around double-digit tackles per game to lead the stingy defense.
The Ironmen are bolstered by retuning linemen Jake Watson, Jason Kihn, Kacy Pinney, Trace Miller, Kaleb Myszak and Justin Johnston and starting defenders Aaron Anderson and Landon McCorry.
“We were pretty excited about what we had coming back, and these guys work hard,” Derrer said. “So far, so good.”
The Ironmen also are coming off a bye week. The break was expected to help the team get through injuries and better prepare for the big game with Boyne.
“We’ve been banged up,” Derrer acknowledged. “We’re trying to get guys healthy so hopefully we can be at full strength going into the Boyne game.”
Improved line play has helped the Ironmen this fall, Derrer points out. It has followed the addition of assistant coach Ralph Munger. He’s been focused on the trenches. Munger’s arrival follows Taylor Borst stepping in as the defensive backs and strength and conditioning coach in 2018.
Munger, one of the most successful high school football coaches in Michigan history, retired after the 2019 season with 335 victories at Rockford and Frankenmuth and three Division 1 championships with the Rams. His Rockford and Frankenmuth teams produced six undefeated regular seasons.
Borst and Derrer met Munger as the 2020 season started. They hit it off right away. Munger represents another one of the highs in Derrer’s coaching career.
“He’s a very knowledgeable guy, and he’s awesome to have around,” Derrer said. “He’s been a huge help to us.
“He’s done a great job working with our lines,” Derrer continued. “It’s been unbelievable – we’re very fortunate.”
The Mancelona coaching staff chose to end a practice early in August to go to Rockford. They all attended a rededication ceremony of the Rockford football stadium. The stadium’s name was officially changed in January from the Ted Carlson Memorial Stadium to the Carlson-Munger Stadium to honor two men whose contributions exemplify "Ram Pride."
Today Munger is grateful he’s had a chance to work the Mancelona student-athletes. They’re in the midst of playoff contention and a battle for a conference championship.
They’ll enjoy hometown support too.
“Two of our last three (games) are at home, and they’re all going to be big games,” Derrer said. “All those games are going to be critical for conference and playoffs.
“We’ll have our hands full, but hopefully we’re up for the challenge.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Mancelona’s Adam Ackler (2) carries the ball during an opening-day win over LeRoy Pine River. (Middle) Ironmen coach Dan Derrer consults with quarterback Jason Naumcheff (12). (Below) Longtime Rockford coach Ralph Munger, here with Jason Kihn (54), joined the Mancelona staff this fall. (Photos by Miles Postema.)
DETROIT – Isaiah Marshall took a second Sunday night to think about the interception he’d just thrown that led to Belleville taking a late lead in the Division 1 Football Final.
But just a second.
When Marshall and his Southfield Arts & Technology teammates took the field down four points with 4 minutes, 47 seconds remaining at Ford Field, the interception wasn’t on his mind. Neither was the raucous Belleville crowd that had awoken on the home side of the stadium.
He wasn’t thinking about stopping a three-peat or snapping a 38-game Belleville win streak. He wasn’t thinking about the talk he’d heard during the week leading up to the game, that his team was on its way to getting blown out like so many of those previous 38 opponents.
All Marshall was focused on was doing his job.
“As soon as I threw the pick, I knew what I had to do differently,” Marshall said. “I just wasn’t thinking about that last play. As soon as I threw the pick, I just thought about it on the bench, then as soon as I came out, it wasn’t on my mind at all. I just knew I had to go down the field and score.”
Like he had all night, Marshall came through when the Warriors needed him most, leading his team on a 69-yard scoring drive, finishing the final 11 with his legs for the go-ahead score in Southfield A&T’s 36-32 victory against Belleville.
His defense finished the rest, as Dorian Freeman intercepted a pass during the final seconds, sealing the first Finals title for Southfield.
“It’s special,” A&T coach Aaron Marshall said. “It’s special for the community. It’s a long time coming. All week I’ve been getting calls from guys I’ve never met just congratulating the boys on making it. We had never even made it to the championship game, let alone won one. It’s real big for the community. I’m really proud.”
To do it, the Warriors needed to overcome the team that has dominated Division 1 for the past three seasons in Belleville (13-1). The Tigers had won the past two Division 1 Finals, and hadn’t dropped a game since Sept. 10, 2021.
They entered Sunday having outscored opponents this fall by an average of 49-7. They also featured the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2025 in quarterback Bryce Underwood.
But Sunday, none of that mattered to Marshall and the Warriors (13-1). Well, except maybe the last part.
“Just a little bit,” Marshall said when asked if he was out to prove he was the state’s top quarterback. “I do think I’m the best player in the state. Me proving that tonight, and showing what I can do on the big stage shows that, I think.”
He finished the night completing 20 of 31 passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns, as well as two interceptions. He also rushed for 134 yards and the go-ahead score, as well as the two-point conversion that put his team up four.
“He came out there and played like I thought he was going to play,” said Belleville star linebacker and running back Jeremiah Beasley, who has committed to Michigan. “He’s a real tough player. Since we were little, he’s always been tough. He came out there and played with all his heart, and they came out on top.”
Underwood certainly had his moments, finishing 11 for 24 for 164 yards and a touchdown to go along with one interception. He also had five rushes for 39 yards.
And A&T was certainly cognizant of what Underwood could do, especially when he got the ball back with 47 seconds to play and a chance to take the lead. But by playing coverage, they didn’t allow the Tigers to push the ball down the field, and eventually pressure from senior defensive tackle Reggie Gardner forced the throw that Freeman intercepted to clinch the game.
“My coaches just told me to spy the quarterback, and whatever he did, I would go,” Freeman said. “Then it was just right in my zone.”
A&T led for most of the game, getting a pair of rushing touchdowns from Mathias Davis during the first half, the second score giving them a 12-7 lead.
After a 31-yard field goal from Belleville’s Brayden Lane made the score 12-10, Marshall engineered an 80-yard drive over the final three minutes of the second quarter to give his team a 10-point lead at the half. He accounted for 79 of the 80 yards with either his legs or his arm, finishing it off with a 13-yard TD pass to Tashi Braceful with 13 seconds remaining in the half. Braceful finished the night with 10 catches for 152 yards.
The Warriors nearly added to that halftime lead, as well, recovering a squib kick at the Belleville 43. Marshall hit Tyjuan Esper for a 38-yard gain on the next play, but he was tackled as the first-half clock expired.
Early in the third quarter, Marshall and the Warriors did stretch their lead when he threw a 19-yard TD pass to Xavi Bowman on a 4th-and-14. DaMario Quarles’ conversion run put them up 28-10 with 3:39 to play in the third quarter.
Of course, Belleville didn’t go away.
The Tigers responded immediately with a 45-yard TD pass from Underwood to Jalen Johnson. And after stopping Marshall on a 4th-and-2 run near midfield, they needed just three plays and 30 seconds to pull within three points of the lead as Beasley scored on a 15-yard run.
On the next A&T possession, Marquis Peoples put Belleville right back in business with an interception that he returned to the 35-yard line. Beasley again cashed in three plays later, with a 22-yard TD run that gave Belleville a 33-27 lead with 4:47 remaining.
Beasley finished the night with 106 yards and the two touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s a senior ball player; he did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Belleville coach Calvin Norman said of Beasley. “He came through in the clutch. When he ran the ball, he did his thing. I have nothing but love for the young man.”
Belleville cornerback Adrian Walker made one of the more remarkable plays of the weekend late in the first quarter, intercepting a Marshall pass deep in A&T territory.
Walker got both hands on the pass, deflecting it up and toward himself as he was spinning up the field. The ball went over his head and Walker reached behind his back to make the catch at the A&T 26.
Four plays later, Belleville was on the board with a 16-yard Colbey Reed touchdown run, and the Tigers led 7-6.
PHOTOS (Top) Southfield A&T quarterback Isaiah Marshall stretches for the game-winning touchdown during Sunday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Warriors ended the night by raising their first championship trophy. (Below) Belleville’s Adrian Walker (2) makes a stunning behind-the-back interception. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)