CHEBOYGAN — Sometimes it’s not always the best team that goes on a deep run in the state playoffs.
Sometimes, your team just has to be clicking at the very right time.
In the fall of 1991, the Cheboygan varsity football team was coming off a 19-13 loss against Escanaba — their first defeat of the season.
With bitter rival St. Ignace coming to Western Avenue Field the following week, it wasn't getting any easier for the Chiefs.
With the Chiefs in a dogfight going into halftime, head coach Jack Coon and his players heard just what they needed to gets things heading in the right direction.
"The one point of the season where we really kind of ignited was the St. Ignace game," remembered Coon, who was in his fourth season. "Charlie Otlewski was the coach at St. Ignace at the time. He was a former Cheboygan guy, he had the Saints riled up and ready to go, and they came to Western Avenue field, and we found ourselves tied at halftime or behind.
"We could hear them in the locker room at halftime just whooping it up. I remember the look in our guys’ eyes after they could hear the team just celebrating the first half against us, and that really ignited us. We came out in the second half, took control and beat them, so that kind of ignited us through the rest of the season."
Not only did the chatter from the Saints’ locker room motivate the Chiefs for the rest of that game — a game they went on to win convincingly — it turned out to be the moment that defined a season where the Chiefs went on a memorable run to the Pontiac Silverdome to play in the MHSAA Class BB state championship game.
Despite a 30-28 loss to Gladstone in a thrilling regular season finale that put them at 7-2 overall, the Chiefs still earned a spot in the state playoffs.
And when you just get in, there’s always a chance.
"We lost the last game of the year in a close game in Gladstone, but they didn’t get down, they didn’t get their heads down and go into the playoffs going, ’Oh, man, we’re 7-2, we’re not that good.’ It was the opposite. We responded well, and one domino fell after another, and before you knew it, we were playing for the state championship."
While the Chiefs were not a dominant defensive team, you could say the exact opposite on the offensive side of the ball.
Led by bruising senior fullback Shannon Scarbrough, the Chiefs were an extremely potent offense that could score on just about anybody.
"We didn’t play as good of defense as (Cheboygan teams of the past), but we were able to put up points," Coon said.
Joining Scarbrough on Cheboygan’s offense was another physical player in running back Jeremy Beauchamp, as well as quarterback Ty Tryban.
Playing both sides of the ball was Steve Konicki, who was a dominant inside linebacker and a solid offensive lineman. The Chiefs also had another great linebacker in Rob Savenkoff, while Denny Proctor helped out both as a defensive back and receiver.
Although the defense struggled in the loss to Gladstone, they saved arguably their best game of the season for the first game of the playoffs, when they shut out Flint Powers Catholic in a 17-0 victory. During the game, the Chiefs intercepted Flint Powers three times to help earn the hard-fought win.
Perhaps the most dramatic game of the entire season came the following week in the regional final against an outstanding team from Fruitport.
In what was an epic battle, the Chiefs used a 20-yard field goal from Jason Trahan to give them a thrilling 24-21 double-overtime victory, earning them their second consecutive regional title and sending them back to the state semifinals.
After losing 35-13 to Dorwagiac Union in the 1990 semis, it was time for the Chiefs to impose their dominance and make history.
On what was an extremely cold November day, the Chiefs took on a Three Rivers team that came into the semifinal with a perfect 11-0 record.
But on this day — in front of a great legion of Cheboygan supporters — the Chiefs weren’t about to be denied after coming this far again.
Instead, the Chiefs — led by monster performances from Scarbrough (245 yards, three touchdowns) and Beauchamp (190 yards, touchdown) — had arguably their best offensive performance of the season, thumping Three Rivers in a 35-26 victory.
The game plan proved to be one of sheer brilliance from the Cheboygan staff.
"Coach (Tim) McGowan came up with the idea that we would line up in an I-formation before the snap and break out of it in the last second, and it really confused Three Rivers," Coon explained. "As simple as it was to our solution, it confused them, and it was a really big part of our success."
The Chiefs had made it — and the moments before it happened were indescribable.
"I think we were up by 15 points with maybe under 15 seconds to score, they (Three Rivers) scored. We had scored with two minutes to go to make it a 15-point spread, and they scored late in the game. It didn’t make a difference, but once the clock showed zeroes, it was very gratifying and rewarding," Coon recalled. "You look back behind you as your kids are celebrating, you look back behind you and look up in the stands and you see your community up there celebrating along with the kids, and the idea that you were able to give something to your community that was so exciting, that made your community members proud to wear the colors and proud to say they’re from Cheboygan and proud of what we represented. That’s very gratifying.
"Those are what the accomplishments are all about. It’s nice to get wins and trophies and stuff like that, but to see your community behind you all celebrating and enjoying, it was just one giant community, whether you were on the field or in the stands. It was great to be apart of that."
With a win as memorable as beating Three Rivers, the Chiefs were right where they wanted to be.
However, there was one big problem.
They had to face mighty Farmington Hills Harrison in the championship game.
And unfortunately, that’s where the great run came to an end for the Chiefs, who were beaten 34-7 by the Hawks inside the Pontiac Silverdome.
The loss was a tough end to one of the greater postseason runs in Cheboygan sports history.
Coon still remembers the moments, the fans, the players, just about everything about the great ‘91 season.
And he won’t forget that season — or the impact it had on the Cheboygan community —anytime soon.
"We weren’t very well-rounded, we weren’t all that deep, we were a little shallow, but what made us really special in ‘91 was a certain relentlessness," Coon said. "One of the important things you’ll remember is you remember the feelings in the hallway inside the school, inside the building itself. When you have a good football season going at the beginning of the school year, it really ignites and spreads throughout your student body. It’s the kids walking down the hall, wearing the jersey that are just so excited, the whole student body is into it. That was one of the neat things I remember about that year. When you get off to a great start in football season in the fall, that’s what it did, because everybody just got back from summer, they’re all coming back and reuniting here.
"Having success on Friday nights permeates throughout your building. It’s fun to have that school community behind you."