Playoff Semifinals: These Teams Are All Winners In My Book!

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The games this week are huge. Some teams will get a chance to win a championship, and the others will wonder what “could have been.” At least it’s been unseasonably warm so they can get their practices in without the parkas and snow suits. Now let’s get into the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s football semifinal games.

Division 1

Detroit Catholic Central vs. Macomb Dakota (Saturday at Troy Athens 1pm)

These two teams are tough. Catholic Central dominated for quite some time winning six championships in ten years. Success hasn’t come as frequently as it had before they moved to Novi, but this team has really played well in the second half of the season and marched right through the playoffs to the semifinals. Consistency at the top, and by that I mean Coach Mach, has really helped this team; they know what is expected of them and the consequences they face if they don’t live up to their part of the deal.

Macomb Dakota has really put together a program. They have reached the semifinals for the fourth consecutive season and have already won a state championship in their short 11 year history. The Cougars haven’t lost a game since the end of September last year. Dakota is the ninth largest school in the state (Ann Arbor Pioneer is largest with just over 3,200 students) and even though they have more players to choose from, they play schools with the exact same advantage. The closest anyone has been to beating this team this season was a 29-22 win over Utica Eisenhower back in early September.

Troy vs. Livonia Stevenson (at Southfield Lathrup Saturday 1pm)

After getting past their cross town rivals last week, Stevenson will have to get up and going against a tough Troy team. This will be a good test for the defense. If they can come through with the type of game they against Franklin, they will be all set. I have to think that Troy will take better care of the football than Livonia Franklin did. The Spartans will continue to try and pass the ball so Troy had better be ready.

I highly doubt this game will end like last week. Another shutout would be insane. Troy has done very well in their first trip back to the playoffs in eight seasons. Not many people outside of the program could have thought they’d make it this far. If they can knock off Stevenson, they will be back in the state championship for the first time since they won the Class AA title in 1994.

Division 2

Lowell vs. Midland (Saturday at Lansing Everett 1pm)

Football powerhouse Lowell is in a situation they’ve seen before. They have a great program and they’ve won a few championships in the recent past. The Red Arrows come from a very tough Ottawa-Kent Conference White Division. They had to play a very good team, Caledonia, twice this year (they won both). Of the two losses they had this season, one was an out of conference game (Hudsonville, 7-28 Week Two) and one was in conference (East Grand Rapids, 14-24 Week Nine). I have a feeling that they’ll be ready but I’m sure Midland will be too.

After a long hiatus from the state semifinals (13 seasons), Midland High has made it back. There was an article in a Detroit newspaper stating that Midland is one of the top teams in Michigan not to have won a state title. The Chemic’s winning percentage is a very high 70.9%. Like I mentioned last week, their special teams, especially their kickers, are always very good. Conor Gagnon can boot it out of the back of the end zone if he wants to. Their coverage teams are above average as well. Three year starter at quarterback Andrew Maxwell is a has skills and Colter Robinson hits the holes FAST!

Rochester Adams vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (Saturday 1pm at Ferndale)

No one expects a team from the Detroit Public School league to win it all. They didn’t expect them to make it this far. It’s attitudes like this that make me believe that MLK will come in with a chip on its shoulder. It’s up to these players to take it to a tough team and take the game. They will have to play disciplined football and not turn the ball over because Adams is a very good football team.

Rochester Adams has beaten some high quality football teams this year, including two wins over Farmington Hills Harrison and wins over Brother Rice & Lake Orion. They have a very good chance to get back to the finals for the first time since they won the 2003 title. King won’t be a pushover though. Rochester’s defense will have to contain Donavan Dickerson and Darrin Williams. Detroit will try and pressure the quarterback with their defensive ends and some up the middle so it’s imperative that the line play well.

Division 3

East Grand Rapids vs. Saint Joseph (at Otsego on Saturday 1pm)

Two very good teams will butt heads in this game. East Grand Rapids has one loss on the season, a 20-21 loss to Caledonia. The Pioneers have a lot of experience in championships, having won seven state championships at the Class B/Division 3 levels. There is very little that they do wrong and know how to capitalize on mistakes. Last week’s game against Mount Pleasant showed that. EGR scores so many points that their kicker set a state career record for extra points.

St. Joe, like East Grand Rapids, will have to play well in every aspect of the game if they want to win. Both teams are physical on defense. The Bears proved last week that they can come from behind and win a game. Elliot Uzelac who coaches the Bears has coaches in the college ranks at Navy and Western Michigan so it’s safe to say he knows a lot about football. These two teams play a similar style of football…a punch-for-punch and see whose left standing kind of game. The team that makes the least mistakes and converts a few big plays will come out on top.

East Lansing vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (Saturday 1pm at South Lyon)

What a season for the East Lansing! The second season after going 0-9, East Lansing has rebounded to the state semifinals. They’ll have to ride the back of Issac Harper to the victory. If OLSM is able to shut him down, the Trojans will become predictable/one dimensional, making play calling easier for OLSM. Quarterback Cameron Bruce played well but he will be in for a long day if Harper is ineffective. Harper has been very effective, running for over 2000 yards this season alone. He is a tough guy to contain and a leader of the team.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s is another team that is very good. They’ve only had two losing seasons in 30 years. In that time, they’ve won four state titles and played very stiff competition. Not only that, the school has expanded quickly. When their won their title in 1977, they were Class C. Now they are a Class A school. The Eaglets are very well coaches and play hard nosed football. East Lansing will have to shut down the run, which OLSM does very well. The pass isn’t something they go to very often because of the success in the running game. The Trojans need to force the Eaglets to pass and knock them out of their ground game.

Division 4

Kingsford vs. Marine City (2pm Saturday at Gaylord)

It’s easy to say that in order for Kingsford to win, they have to shut down Marine City quarterback Brendon Kay. There is more to the team than one player though. They have a good running back in Joe Wesley and receiver Chad Allemon. Since 1999, they have only had one season in that they didn’t win 10 games and only one losing season since they went 3-6 back in 1982. They have a great program.

Avid readers know I like football from northern Michigan. Kingsford is a very good football team and definitely can run the ball. They’ll face a very tough team this week, and like every other football team, will have to play a very good game in all three aspects; offense, defense, and special teams if they want to win the game. The defense will have to shore up their pass defense because they got burnt last week against Coopersville.

Zeeland West vs. Detroit Country Day (Saturday 1pm at Olivet College)

What a battle in Division 4! Zeeland West rides their winning streak into the state semifinals for the second consecutive year and Country Day is riding their workhorse, Jonas Gray into the same game. Zeeland will have to contain Gray and impose their will on the Yellowjackets. It’s amazing to me that a school so new can be as good as they are at football. You have to credit the coaches for getting the players to play at a level this high this quickly. Their running back duo will make DCD look for the run first.

Country Day has a scheme built around running the ball as well. They have a few players that will move on to play at the next level. A close game against Detroit Crockett showed them that they can win the close ones. The win over Milan showed that they can beat up on a team as well. DCD will be confident going into the game, but so will Zeeland West. If Gray can break a few long ones, then the Yellowjackets have a very good chance at winning the game.

Division 5

Menominee vs. Grand Rapids West Catholic

This is one of only two matches between two 12-0 teams. Ken Hofer’s Maroons with their antiquated offense matches up with Dan Rohn’s team pretty well on paper. Both teams are tough. GRWC won four games by four points or less. They know how to win the close ones. Injuries hindered the team, but they overcame them and overcame an emotional death of player’s father (cancer). This has got to be a very close team. The Falcons have only had a few good seasons since 1990. GRWC is the furthest in the playoffs they’ve been since losing to Jackson Lumen Christi in the 1979 state finals.

Menominee has a tough defense. They are very physical and tackle pretty well. The Maroons are a run first pass second team, but most teams in the playoffs have been forcing them to pass…which they’ve done very well. Everyone that follows high school football knows about Ken Hofer’s single wing offense and how it’s so odd/old. It can be tough for the defense to key in on things if you’re not sure who the ball will be snapped to. Their 26 game winning streak is the longest currently and they have wins over top teams in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Jackson Lumen Christi vs. Madison Heights Madison

I feel like a broken record. Jackson Lumen Christi has played in big games at the end of the season. They have the state championship trophies to prove it. The Titans are a great football team and have a nice record. None of that matters at this point in the season, though. If Jackson doesn’t come out ready to go, they will lose. They have good players at the skill positions, but if these players don’t make plays and make mistakes instead, it will cost them.

Madison Heights Madison made it to the big game last season. They were beat up, like everyone else, by Menominee. Everyone playing at this point is very good. Deandre Johnson has to make plays and not just pretend its backyard football. I doubt that the Titans will allow a fake punt to go 54 yards like MHM got last week. This is a very good match up of two very tough teams. Even one mistake can cost a team the game.

Division 6

Montague vs. Saginaw Nouvel (at Alma College, Saturday 1pm)

How they keep doing it, I don’t know. Nouvel has rolled into the semifinals for a fourth time in five seasons. This past year they lost 25 to graduation but still came back strong. I will give them the fact that they are very resilient and even tough losses haven’t stopped them. It has must be great coaching by Mike Boyd and his staff that keeps this program going year after year. The two losses Nouvel has this season were against Traverse City St. Francis (who is still playing) and Muskegon Catholic Central (who lost this past week).

Montague rolls in with a 9-3 record. They have overcome some serious distractions at the end of the regular season to make it to the semifinals. If they can get off to a fast start again this week against Nouvel, they will have a great chance to be playing at Ford Field next weekend. This is the third consecutive trip to the semifinals for the Montague Wildcats. The Wildcats will try to run over Saginaw Nouvel with their potent running attack.

Leslie vs. Blissfield (1pm Saturday at Hillsdale College)

After beating a very tough team like Kalamazoo Christian, I have to wonder if they will be overconfident or emotionally exhausted. It takes a lot to win a game like they won, with the score being so close and the threat of losing the lead at any moment. I like the fact that the underdog won the game and hope they prove me wrong; I’d love to see them win it all for the underdogs. No one outside of their locker room thought they could win. Prove me wrong boys! Win this game and make it Ford Field!

Blissfield beat up a good Harper Woods team last week. They were an underdog as well in the game but were able to persevere and pull out an impressive 35-16 win. The team is focused, their community is behind them, and they’re ready to play. No Blissfield team has ever made it this far. They’ve never made it past the second round. Historically, they haven’t been very good. This year is different; they are a very good football team with a very good chance at making it to the big dance next week.

Division 7

Traverse City St. Francis vs. Harbor Beach (At Grayling 1pm Saturday)

When it comes to small school powerhouses, you have to mention Traverse City St. Francis. Four state championships and a winning percentage of .762 will get you mentioned. They’ve really been on a roll since the loss to Suttons Bay opening night. No one has scored more than eight points on them in the playoffs. Three of the four teams were shut out.

Harbor Beach hopes to keep their wonderful season moving forward. The Chief of Police will escort the team bus out of town on their way to Grayling. The community loves all the winning that their team is doing. What little town doesn’t rally around their football team? It’s a big task for the Pirates to put away another team like TCSF. Last week, they showed that they can make big plays when they are really needed…like in the last five seconds of a football game. Can they pull out another one this week over the Gladiators? We’ll know Saturday night.

Mendon vs. Sand Creek (1pm Saturday at Vicksburg)

The Aggies of Sand Creek have a very tall task. They will play one of the top teams in Michigan, Mendon. Last week’s game against Grass Lake was a win against last year’s Division 7 runner up. Sand Creek is led by their defense, which has played very well in the playoffs so far. That probably comes from utilizing both a five man front and a four man front, giving two completely different looks. The team has only given up 133 points the whole season.

When you talk about Mendon, you have to put them up there with the top teams. Every time they step on the field, they have an excellent chance to win. Last season was a disappointment, going 3-6 for their worst record since going 4-5 in 1985. They played and beat Muskegon Catholic Central 7-6 last week. This is the third time they’ve played Sand Creek in the playoffs and hold the edge, two games to zero. Last time, they beat the Aggies 14-8 in 1991 to make it into the state championship game.

Division 8

Crystal Falls Forest Park vs. Beal City (Saturday at the Superior Dome, noon)

One of the top teams in the UP is Crystal Falls Forest Park. They’ve won two state championships and have made it a total of six championship games. The last time they won it all was before I was born, back in 1976. The Trojans have a fantastic program and know how to win big games. They played in the last three state championship games but haven’t won it. Will they make it four straight championship games?

Beal City is another one of these great small school programs. In order to get to this point, they had to beat some pretty good football teams. Not only did they win, they beat them by at least 17 points. The Aggies would love to move past CFFP and make it back to the big one that they last won in 1994. They’ve made it back twice since, but haven’t brought that trophy back. This game between two teams that have “been there, done that,” will be a battle to the end. My feelings are that it will be decided by 4 points or less.

Fulton-Middleton vs. Climax-Scotts

The battle of the “dash” schools is a very interesting one. F-M beat a great team last week in Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes by a 22 point margin. The last close game they had was the first week of the playoffs when they beat Fowler 15-12. So far, they’ve beaten last year’s state champion New Lothrop and Waterford. Not exactly an easy road to Ford Field. Now they take on a very good Climax-Scotts team. They have the size over C-S though and some pretty good skill players to help them try and get to Ford Field.

The Climax-Scotts Panthers won’t back down. They are 56-3 since 2003. This season, they’ve outscored their opponents 524-75. Defense is one thing that C-S has going for them and they need to play one of the best defensive games this season if they plan on being in Detroit next weekend other than as a spectator. The Panthers know how to win and don’t lose very often. If each player does his assignment, it will be a very close game. This is the other game between two 12-0 teams.