There has been a friendly difference of opinion within the walls of Bedford High School this week.
Longtime athletic director Bill Regnier has called the Kicking Mules' 28-21 football upset of visiting Ann Arbor Pioneer last Friday thebiggest win in Bedford's football history.
Pioneer was 4-0 and ranked No. 6 in the Michigan's Division 1 state poll, and had beaten the Mules nine straight times since Bedford joined the Southeastern Conference in 2000.
A signature win for sure, but second-year Mules coach Jeff Wood respectfully begs to differ with Regnier. He insists Bedford's biggest win was a 7-0 victory over Whitmer in 1990, when Regnier was coach. That triumph gave the Mules a Great Lakes League title and sent them to what remains the only playoff appearance in school history.
Neither this dispute, nor the mutual respect, will likely change.
But Regnier, Wood and the football team are all hoping that another future game this season might become the school's biggest win ever.
For Wood, the next opportunity comes tomorrow when the Mules (4-1) travel to DearbornEdsel Ford (4-1) for a nonconference matchup.
That's when he will see how well his players got the message this week to keep the foot on the accelerator, regardless of the euphoria that followed the upset of Pioneer that gave the Mules a 4-0 record in the SEC's Red Division.
Tyler Romijn, a running back, also plays defense and is second on the team with 45 tackles.
“We've turned the corner on a few things,” Wood said. “This game kind of put us on the map in different polls and rankings, but we don't really care to look at that. We care about watching ourselves, and making sure that we're ready to play every Friday night.
“These kids are more focused than they've ever been, and they're extremely hungry. They have a little motivation to play the first week [of playoffs] at home. They really want to do that. But the first goals are winning the SEC title and just making the playoffs.”
Two more wins in its final four games would give Bedford its second playoff berth. One more SEC win — either Oct. 9 against Monroe or Oct. 16 against Tecumseh (both home games) — would bring at least a division title share.
The Mules' finale will be a nonconference game at Monroe Jefferson.
In past years, winning league crowns or reaching the playoffs may have been considered lofty goals, especially at a school with just 12 winning seasons in 54 years since 1955. Five of those were with modest 5-4 marks.
But, this season, with a more confident attitude in place, these objectives seem to be within reach.
“I wasn't shocked,” Wood said of the Pioneer oneer game. “I felt confident that we could beat them. We told our kids to ‘Just hang on and stay with them, and you'll get them at the end because you're going to wear them down.'
Bedford's Troy Przybylek makes a diving catch against Ann Arbor Pioneer. The Mules won 28-21 to push their record to 4-1 overall, 4-0 in the Southeastern Conference Red Division.
“That's exactly what we did. We had two drives that were 50 yards long to tie it and to win it, and it was a feeling of accomplishment walking off the field and your whole game plan worked.”
At the heart of the Mules' success so far has been a senior group led by two-way starters Mason Cole, a 6-4, 260-pound center/defensive tackle, Zach Messer, a speedy 5-8, 165-pound slotback/safety, and T.J. Romijn, a hard-hitting 5-10, 165-pound slotback/linebacker.
Cole, who has 25 tackles and is the undisputed leader on the offensive line, has received recruiting interest from Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan and Akron.
“It's a lot better than it was in the past years,” Cole said of the current football vibe at Bedford. “We would barley get anyone to the games, and now the stands are full and everyone's excited for us.
“We discovered the offense we run works really well against the teams we see. If we just run it right we'll get plenty of points on the board. We play with a lot more confidence because we know we can be successful.”
Messer transferred to Central Catholic in the City League after being selected as Bedford's most outstanding athlete on the football team as a sophomore in 2007. Last season he helped Central to a 10-0 regular-season finish and fourth straight CL title as a defensive back.
Coach Jeff Wood, right, is in his second season with Bedford.
“The hard part about leaving [Bedford] was that I had played with the majority of these kids since I was in third grade,” Messer said. “A lot of them were my best and closest friends. So, that was tough, but it was choice I made so we stuck with it.
“This is awesome being back. We're all real close, and coach Wood preaches that the team is a family. Everyone out here has a real special bond. Playing with everybody again is awesome. I couldn't enjoy myself more.”
This season Messer is the Mules' primary all-around playmaker. He has 500 yards on 48 rushes (10.4 average), four receptions for 115 yards (28.8), plus 214 yards on nine returns of punts or kickoffs. He has scored nine total touchdowns, and contributed 43 tackles and three interceptions on defense.
“Beating Pioneer was phenomenal,” Messer said. “One of the coolest things was, after that ball hit the ground on their last attempt to complete a pass, I turned around to see our entire team rush the field and saw people just pour out from the stands.
“That was one of the best sports feelings that I've ever had. It was such a big win because it meant so much to the team and so much to the community as a whole.”
Romijn is second on the team with 46 tackles.
“We're just playing hard and showing the community that we're good,” said Romijn, who placed sixth in the state wrestling tournament at 152 pounds as a junior. “We're just proving it to everybody now, and trying to get everybody out there to support us an give them a good game.”
Romijn said extra motivation carried over from last season, when the Mules lost 34-28 in overtime at Chelsea in the season finale. A win would have given Bedford a share of the Red Division title, and a playoff berth.
“Last year was really a heartbreaker at the end,” Romijn said. “We really wanted to get to the playoffs, but it didn't happen. That just gave us that much more desire to work for it this year. We want to prove to the community that we can make it to the playoffs. But we're trying not to be too cocky, because we've still got games to play.”
“After we lost [to Chelsea] last year, our kids were already hungry on Dec. 1,” Wood said. “They wanted to get in the weight room right away and get going. They knew something special was happening, and a lot of kids wanted to be a part of it.”
Junior quarterback Jared Kujawa has directed the majority of the snaps in Bedford's run-dominated “flexbone'' veer offense. He has carried a team-high 81 times for 391 yards and scored nine TDs to go with 235 passing yards and three TDs. He also has 25 tackles on defense as a DB.
Steve Rowland leads the defense with 49 tackles, and David Digby has added 36 stops.
Contact Steve Junga at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6461.
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