Clare County Review & Marion Press Sports

Pioneers to bring high experience to the field this season

Photo by Lee Thompson for MLive

Kaitlyn Campbell

Nine seconds was the difference between advancing in the playoffs and the end of the Clare football season last year.
A touchdown pass by Jayden Arthur at the end of regulation sent them into overtime in the Division 6 playoff matchup against Standish-Sterling.
But at the 3-yard line, Standish-Sterling went for a 2-point conversion in overtime. After a nine-second scrum, they forced the Pioneers out of the playoffs with a final score of 30-29.
“Going into that game, nobody really expected us to have a chance,” Clare coach Steven Spranger told MLive. “We were coming off a couple of duds in Week 8 and Week 9 where we didn’t play our best ball, but we did in that game. Obviously, a nine second, 3-yard play is something that is going to stay with you.”
Those nine seconds have been on the minds of Spranger and 22 returning players.
Clare has nine defensive and eight offensive starters returning for this season. Leading the returnees are two-way linemen Jake Punches and Miles Haggart and running back/linebacker Westyn Bryant, who are all going into their fourth season on the varsity team. They are also joined by Ryan Rodenbo and Carter Smedley, who will be having their third season on the varsity campaign as slot receivers and defensive backs for the Pioneers.
Arthur will be returning behind center along with receiver Ryan Louch and Chase Randall, all of which make an impact on both sides of the ball.
There is a lot of varsity experience coming back to the field for the 2023 season.
“In my mind, there’s really no way anyone can prepare for varsity football without getting out there and doing it,” Spranger said. “Having that experience in our back pocket will help, but the guys we play are in the same boat.”
The Pioneers will once again be opening their season on August 25 at home against Freeland, which has won the last six matchups between the two teams. Defending state champion Gladwin is also on the docket for a matchup in Week 4, and other teams on the schedule include Sanford Meridian and Shepherd.
“We’ve had a lot of success over the years, so we’re not going to change things just to change things,” Spranger, who is in his second year after taking over for 34-year coach Kelly Luplow, said. “We reflected as a staff at what we did well and what we could change. The kids have embraced a lot of the small changes we’ve made, but we’re going to do the same things we’ve done in the past.”
And what they’ve been doing is winning.
The Pioneers have made it to the playoffs for seven straight seasons as well as 15 of the last 17 years. They’ve also won 19 conference championships, four district titles, two regional crowns, and a state runner-up finish in 2009. The last time they had a losing season was all the way back in 2005 when Spranger was still an underclassman at Clare.
“Experience is something we can lean on, especially early in the season as the young guys get up to speed,” he said. “And we’ve got a great schedule. We have six home games, and we’re only making trips to Beaverton and Harrison in our conference, which aren’t far. Then we’re chartering a trip up to Petoskey for the end of the regular season. Hopefully by then we’re playing for playoff positioning.”

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