No. 1 Pennfield team in E-10 era ... 2003

You go to the Friday night football game at Panther Stadium and you see some of your old high school football teammates from Pennfield. And then, maybe you see a couple of guys from a few years before, or a few years after.

And then the talk begins.

Which class had the best football team?

Who had the best season?

That’s what we are here to figure out – the All-Time No. 1 team in the E-10 era at Pennfield.

We have had the E-10 rankings at the Enquirer for 15 years now. The E-10 is a weekly ranking we do on our Prep Gameday page at the Enquirer, listing the top 10 high school football teams each week, regardless of class.

To mark the ’15-year anniversary’ we are going to have special All-Time E-10 rankings throughout the football season. Each week, we will rank the top 10 football teams over the past 15 years for the city and local teams in the Enquirer coverage area.

The era we are talking about is 1997 up to last season – 2011. A small sample size – but we do this for two reasons. That’s basically how long I have been here, so I can back up these All-Time rankings. And it goes with our theme of 15 years of E-10.

This week we are tackling the teams from Pennfield.

Top Team

As has been the case a couple times during the series, there are a couple teams that have a legitimate argument for the No. 1 spot in the Pennfield All-Time E-10 rankings.

And that’s not even counting the group from 1991 that won a state championship at Pennfield that are saying, ‘what about us.’ (Well, as it was explained above, we are only talking about teams from the E-10 era – 1997-2011).

Overall, Pennfield has four teams during the era that only lost one game – all of which had undefeated regular seasons.

But two teams stand out from that group as they both won 11 games, during the 2011 and the 2003 season.

But our pick for the top spot is the group from 2003.

The 2003 team came agonizingly close to knocking off the Panthers’ longtime rivals in Jackson Lumen Christi and advancing to the state semifinals.

For the third time in four seasons, Pennfield faced Lumen Christi in the playoffs. But in 2003, this Panther team was in the middle of a dream season and earned the right to host Lumen Christi this time around – giving the Battle Creek boys a shot at finally knocking off their nemesis.

But it wasn’t to be as Pennfield lost 27-21 in the regional final, but the game was as close as any in the series and some might argue that the state championship game that year was played at Pennfield High School that night. Lumen Christi went on to roll the rest of the way and won the state title with a one-sided 23-0 win over Muskegon Oakridge in the finals.

The 2003 Pennfield team deserved better and finished 11-1 with a final ranking of No. 5 in the Associated Press Division 5 poll – making it our pick at No. 1.

The Panthers were loaded all over the field, but of course won with the ground game and the wing-T offense behind an offensive line that featured one of the top linemen in the history of the school in Apollo Braganini – a 6-foot-4, 290-pounder who played in the Michigan High School All-Star Game and later competed at Grand Valley State University.

A stable of skill players in the offensive backfield shared the carries, including Tom May, Craig Wohlscheid and Ian Dandenault.

And the defense was led by one of the top linebackers in the E-10 era in Tyler Curtis, who along with Braganini was an honorable mention All-State selection that year.

Close Call

As was said above, a few more Pennfield teams had a shot at the No. 1 spot in the All-Time E-10 poll.

The Panthers had five teams in the E-10 era with 10 or more wins.

But the best of that group is the other squad which could easily be complaining right now about not being No. 1, and you don’t have to go back too far to remember the names.

The 2011 team, at No. 2 on our list, matched the 2003 team by going 11-1 and advancing to the regional finals. Last year’s Panthers were also up there in the final AP standings, finishing the regular season at No. 3 in Division 4.

With the all-time leader in passing yards in Nic Acton leading the way, this Pennfield team was diverse in its offense and broke the 400-point mark on the season. But the Panthers were just as strong on defense, allowing only 108 points over 12 games for an average of nine points a game.

The 2011 team also lost an agonizingly close game in the regional, 18-13 to Grosse Ile. But Grosse Ile didn’t end up being as strong in the long run as it lost in the very next round, 45-6.

The 2002 team comes in at No. 3 in the E-10 rankings as it finished at No. 4 in the state rankings while going 10-1 on the season with yet another Kalamazoo Valley Association title. That group had many of the same players that would end up playing on the No. 1-ranked 2003 team and lost to a tough Muskegon Oakridge team in the second round.

Coming in at No. 4 is the 2004 squad that went 10-1 and was the highest scoring team during the E-10 era with 425 points on the year. That Panther team continued a frustrating run of losses to Lumen Christi, falling to the Titans in the second round, 34-17.

Best of the Rest

Considering every Pennfield team but one during the E-10 era made the playoffs, there isn’t a big difference among the teams in the middle and the bottom of these rankings.

Coming in at No. 5 is the last 10-win team of the era as the 2001 squad went 10-2 with a KVA title. An early-season loss to Plainwell kept this team from an undefeated regular season.

At Pennfield, it’s all about winning championships as the Panthers are perennial contenders in the KVA. The next two teams both finished as KVA champs with the 2009 team sitting at No. 6 in our poll going 8-2 with a league title and the 2000 team coming in at No. 7 with an 8-3 record and a league title.

The 1999 team may have showed the most grit among the squads on this list and earns a spot at No. 8 in the poll as the Panthers opened the year with two straight losses, but didn’t crumble and won eight straight before falling in the second round to a good Constantine team.

Filling out the Pennfield E-10 are a couple of teams that put up nice win totals, but came up just a bit short in the league race. The 2010 team lost early to Constantine, which ended up deciding the KVA, and went 9-2 to come in at No. 9 in the poll.

The 2008 team deserves a spot and comes in at No. 10 as it went 7-3 and lost a heart-breaker to Marshall in the first round.

Fan Vote

The fans agree with our E-10 rankings as the 2003 team finished with the most votes in our online poll, followed by the 2011 team.

Next Week

Next up for the All-Time E-10 poll is St. Philip. Get online and vote for which Tiger squad over the E-10 era is the best of the bunch.

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