By Jason Wesseldyk
MARTIN—Like father, like son.
Thirty-five years after Tracey Hildebrand helped lead the Martin football team to the 1987 state championship, his son JR has helped lead the Clippers back to the promised land.
The younger Hildebrand racked up 304 total yards and had a hand in five touchdowns as Martin cruised past Brown City 42-8 in an 8-Player Division 1 state semifinal game on Saturday, Nov. 12.
The win put the Clippers (102) in the state championship game against Merrill (12-0), which outlasted Munising 22-20 in the other semifinal. Kickoff is slated for 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Superior Dome in Marquette.
“This is exciting,” Martin coach Brad Blauvelt said. “It’s been 35 years since we’ve had this opportunity and we want to seize the moment and take it in as much as possible.”
The ties to this year’s team and the 1987 squad go beyond the Hildebrand connection.
For example, Randy Hunt was a running back on the ’87 squad and now serves as linebacker coach. And the 1987 team featured twins Jeff and Todd Curry in prominent roles, while this year’s version features the Robinson twins—Jackson and Bryce—as anchors of the defensive line.
“It’s amazing how many parallels you can find,” Blauvelt said. “And many members of the 1987 team have reached out to donate to the trip. It’s special. We are living a part of a historical event for our tightly knit community.
“This is a special time for our program and we have an opportunity that many will never have. We’ve talked about this for many years and to see it come to fruition has been amazing. We have a special group of kids.”
JR Hildebrand is one of those special kids.
In addition to rushing for 210 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries, Hildebrand also went 6-of-10 passing for 94 yards and a 25-yard TD strike to Karter Ribble. Hildebrand’s scoring runs covered 1, 17, 40 and 75 yards.
Ribble added 40 yards on nine carries, while Sam Jager rushed two times, including a 14-yard touchdown.
Defensively, Gavin Meyers led the way with nine tackles, followed by Hildebrand with six. Brown City managed just four first downs for the game.
“JR played very well on offense, and Gavin Meyers and the Robinson twins played very well on defense,” Blauvelt said. “I thought our defense played very well as a whole, actually. I was very proud of their performance. We need them to step up this week as well.”
This game was the rematch of a Week 5 matchup in Brown City that saw the Clippers prevail 49-7.
“The difference in this game was preparing our team to play against a team that we already beat handily,” Blauvelt said. “Coupled with the distraction of a trip to Marquette being a real possibility, keeping focused was a task. But we did a relatively good job.”
The Clippers also did a good job of not having a letdown following a big win over Adrian Lenawee Christian the week before. ALC had ended Martin’s season each of the past two years, so beating them was a big goal for the Clippers.
“As a coaching staff, we tried to make it known that Brown City wanted revenge, that they wanted to show the first time was a fluke,” Blauvelt said. “That made them an extremely dangerous team to play.”
Martin took charge of the game early, going up 14-0 after one quarter. By halftime, the lead stood at 21-0.
“We have done an excellent job of starting fast this entire year,” Blauvelt said. “It’s been the biggest difference between this year and last.
“But even with that early lead, we didn’t feel comfortable until 21-0, really. Their ‘O’ can grind on you and we had to stay focused on the task at hand.”