Week 13 - Semifinals Part Two - The Cold Pressure Cooker

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This is the second part of my semifinals preview. The smaller schools have some big time players. When you have a player talented enough to be a playmaker in Division 1 and put him in the lower divisions, said player becomes even more dominate. The big schools drool over 4.4 speed, and putting that kind of speed against smaller, slower players can take a team over the top. There is nothing wrong with smaller and slower players; the teams have far less students to work with as far as the school is concerned but it makes them no less important. Football is the ultimate team sport and one great player can not be all 11 guys on the field. It will be interesting to see if any of these small schools turn to eight-man football that the MHSAA is exploring.

And on with the snow…I mean show!

Division 5

Standish-Sterling vs. Ovid-Elsie (Saturday November 22, 2pm at Midland High School)

The Panthers of Standish-Sterling High School are undefeated. They had a spectacular comeback victory over Gladstone this past week in Cheboygan. The first half was all Gladstone and the Panthers trailed 26 to zip at the break. Quarterback Austin Collier was not as mobile as before because he had a sprained ankle. Even though his ankle hurt, he went 21 of 31 for 259 yards and two touchdowns. When he did run around, he gained 81 yards on 16 carries. The Panthers out gained the Braves 280-1 in the fourth quarter and scored 21 points in the last five minutes of the game. On their last play of the game, they ran a fake field goal. Collier pitched to Trevor Trombley who scored on the eight yard fake with 1.9 seconds left to cap the comeback win, 40-33. Collier, Trombley, and Cole Walderzak led the offensive team. Like a true leader, Collier credited the offensive line for playing very well in the second half to give the offense time to work. If Standish allows what happened in the first half of their game to happen this week, they will be done. Ovid plays well on both sides of the ball and can chew up the clock with their running game.

We talked about Ovid this week. Their win over Freeland was a very nice win. It gave them their first regional championship in football. Chris Robinson is a tough running back who keeps his legs churning and can spin out of tackles. They run tight formations on offense, like the double wing, I-formation, and the inverted bone. This puts a lot of blockers at the point of attack. Jason Goosen can pass pretty well when they decide to put the ball in the air. Last week Goosen was five of 10 for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Cameron Hurst was his favorite target; he caught three passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. Running back Chris Robinson gained 277 yards on 22 carries and the shortest of his three touchdown runs was 46 yards. O-E is a running team first and foremost. They want to give the ball to Robinson and let him do his thing. If Standish isn’t a sure tackling team, they will be in for a long day. Coach Jerry Goosen will give the ball to Robinson as much as he can without overdoing it. He needs to play safety on defense as well as his running back position. If the Marauders can get Robinson some space, he will make plays. On defense, they need to be sure that they stop Standish a few times. The defense has been good at times and given up a lot of points at other times. Luckily, their lowest scoring game of the season was this past week’s 34 points. Obviously they can score and they will need to score a bunch to beat Standish-Sterling.

Muskegon Oakridge vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (Saturday November 22, 1pm at Battle Creek Central High School)

Oakridge is a great team. Historically, they have been in the playoffs 16 times in the past 19 seasons. They won the state title in 1997 and again in 2005. This season, they are the number one ranked team in Division 5. In their win over Hopkins, they utilized their special teams to take advantage of mistakes by the Vikings. First, there was a pooch kick to start the game that was recovered by Oakridge. After they scored with the short field, Hopkins had a bad snap on a punt which gave the Eagles a short field again. This time, quarterback and kicker Jamie Potts hit a 43 yard field goal. The sophomore Potts didn’t pass overly well, going four of nine for 49 yards. Running back Michael Shoop returned a punt for 89 yards and a score. He also led the team in rushing with 119 yards. This team can do it many ways. Their defense is solid, offense can score, and special teams can come up with big plays. When you have that combination, it’s tough to match. They will need all aspects of their game to come together if they want to be playing after Thanksgiving for a state title.

Jackson Lumen Christi is another team we talked about this week. They might have an ax to grind with Oakridge because the Titans lost to the Eagles in the 2005 state championship game. Running backs Nick Russler and Rafe Bellers will combine to form a formidable backfield for Jackson Lumen Christi. Coach Heb Brogan has been at it for a while and knows how to get the best from his players. They played very well; the Titans did not turn the ball over and they committed only one penalty. Quarterback Conor Sullivan has big game experience and he should hold up. They don’t ask him to throw a ton of passes and rely more on their running game to set up the passes.  Jackson Lumen Christi has a bunch of championships and have played at least one playoff game since 1997. Typically, they play three or four and sometimes five. In fact, they have played 10 playoff games since they lost to Oakridge in that 2005 Division 5 championship. All the Titans need to do is stick to their game plan. They need to execute on offense, set up the pass with the run, and tackle well on defense. Saturday is supposed to be party sunny and cold, but the Battle Creek forecast calls for snow from Wednesday night through Friday afternoon. It won’t make a huge difference though because they have a field turf playing surface.

Division 6

 

Montague vs. Saginaw Nouvel (Saturday November 22, 1pm at Alma College

Montague has a great program. They have won a lot of games in the past couple of seasons. Unfortunately, Nouvel has knocked them out of the playoffs in the semifinals the past two seasons and Inkster knocked them out the year before.  6’3” quarterback Cody Kater is healthy and looking for some revenge. Last week, Kater completed three of his eight passes for 101 yards. The eight times he ran the ball resulted in 100 yards…including a 61 yard touchdown run. Montague utilizes the spread offense to pull the defense to the sidelines and open up some holes. If Iron Mountain brought more defenders into the box, Anthony Root burned them. He caught a 43 yard touchdown pass and had 100 yards on his two receptions. Defensively, the Wildcats were led by Dustin DeHoff with 10 tackles. The defense played very well and didn’t allow Iron Mountain’s UP Offensive Player of the Year to beat them up. If the defense can shut down Nouvel’s potent passing and running, they will find themselves in the state title game.

Nouvel is a tough team to beat. They have won the past two Division 6 football titles. The coaching that goes on at Nouvel is very good and each player progresses during the season. For the Panthers, their leaders are seniors. These guys have played and won two state championships. Now it’s their turn to lead the team. Quarterback Ryan Henris completed 10 of his 16 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. Sam Herbert caught an 80 yard touchdown from Henris in the fourth quarter and ended up with five catches for 143 yards. The Panther defense shut down St. Charles’ single wing offense utilizing their front five to stop the run. Nouvel knows how to win. Year in, year out, they put together great seasons and make a run in the playoffs. The last time they had a losing season, excuse me, the ONLY time they’ve had a losing season in their 24 seasons was back in 1998. Nouvel has only missed the playoffs four times since the school opened in 1984. There is tradition of a winning football team at Nouvel. Coach Mike Boyd follows in the footsteps of his father, Smokey Boyd, who was the only coach to win 300 football games. This team knows how to get it done and is going to “bring it.”

Leslie vs. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (Saturday November 22, 1pm at Withington Stadium, Jackson)

The Blackhawks can run the ball. They have a trio of backs who sprint past most defenders. Last week, Trent Page rolled up a school record for yardage, gaining 333 yards on 20 carries and scoring three times. Quarterback Travis Crowe gained 97 yards and scored twice on his 16 runs. We can’t forget about Devyn Twombley who gained 63 yards on his 15 carries. Crow only completed one of his five passes, but it went for a score, and why pass when you can run all over a team? They ran their option offense very well and gave all the credit in the world to their offensive line. Now that they’ve been this far (made it to the semifinals last season and lost to Blissfield in the second overtime), they hope to take it one step further and play at Ford Field. These guys can run all over anyone. If Monroe St. Mary can not stop their rushing attack, they will be playing the Friday after Thanksgiving. We all know what’s going to happen in the game; Crowe will give the ball to Page, keep it himself, or give it to Twombley and do their best to run past the defense of Monroe St. Mary.

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central Falcons like to run the ball as well. I would guess that this game will move quickly, as both teams will try to get their running backs going and not rely on the passing game. It’s doubtful that this game will take three hours because of that fact. Last week, the Falcons slipped past Manchester. They were trailing 14-6 with about 5:30 left in the game. They were able to take advantage of a Manchester fumble at the two yard line when Nick Wilson fell on it. Chris LeBeau ran it in three plays later. When the two point conversion failed, they still trailed by two points. Next, they converted the onside kick and scored to take the lead. Michael Howey ran it in from six yards out. It wasn’t over though. Manchester got the ball and had nearly two minutes to operate. The defense played tough and Nathan Gonyea intercepted the ball to clinch the regional title. LeBeau had a nice game. He ran 132 yards on 35 carries and also completed the team’s only pass, a 29 yard completion to Christopher Giarmo. Monroe St. Mary is a good team. They have won a lot of games and been in state championships. They will need their defense to stop the run and not allow Leslie’s option to get going.

Division 7

Traverse City St. Francis vs. Ravenna (Saturday November 22, 1pm at Ferris State)

The Gladiators are another team written about in the past week. They can do it all; run the ball, pass efficiently, gang tackle on defense, and make plays with their special teams. It was their passing game that helped win the pre-district and district games. Then in their regional final game against West Iron County, they were able to run the ball to beat the Wykons. Senior running back Ryan Farley scored three different ways to help his team win the regional title. Now they are going to take on another traditional football hotbed in Ravenna. TCSF has won a ton of games, championships, been in the semifinals, finals, won, lost, played, and had their ups and downs. Fortunately, they’ve had more ups than downs. This team has made the playoffs 18 straight times and won four of the seven state championship games they’ve played. Max Bullough leads a tough defense from his linebacker position and plays some offense as well. He has received some great coaching from the staff and has already made up his mind and will attend Michigan State. His pedigree is second to none and the Gladiators need him. He will have to play lights out on defense so that the offense can stick to the run game.

For Ravenna, they had to show a little moxie to win their game. Grass Lake scored in their first two possessions and it looked dim to begin the game. Then Ravenna made some defensive adjustments and played much better. The Bulldogs were led by junior running back Jamohn Martin who had 211 yards and four touchdowns to go along with his two interceptions. Quarterback Ross Shavalier had a touchdown pass to Matt VanderWal also. The defense was opportunistic as they recovered two fumbles and intercepted the ball three times. Those five turnovers can be a killer this late in the season. Coach Dusty Fairfield was proud of the way his defense made some big stops by the goal line in the game and will need to get the best out of his players if they want to win. Ravenna needs to keep up the tough defense and stop the TCSF run game. They did give up 140 yards to Skyler Stoker, Grass Lake’s senior standout, so it is possible for the Gladiators to run on the Bulldogs. They are a young team without a ton of experience, but their baptism by fire has been working well as they are in their first semifinal since their 2003 state championship.

Reading vs. Ubly (Saturday November 22, 1pm at Howell High School)

The Reading Rangers are perfect this season. They put up a ton of points against most everyone so far. Their closest game was this past week against Decatur. The Rangers had a scare when Decatur rallied from a 20-6 third quarter deficit to tie the game. Reading’s power running game depends on Trent Morris and Trevor Ryan, two seniors. Also, junior Brian Rauth has helped by running efficiently spelling the two seniors. They did not attempt a pass this past week; instead they ran the ball on all 61 plays and gained 353 yards. Morris had 28 carries for 184 yards and two touchdowns. The other top running back was Rauth who carried 20 times for 102 yards and a score as well. Morris is also a standout on the defensive side of the ball. The field conditions were pretty poor; the combination of rain, snow, and all the play on the field really took its toll. Reading needs to run the ball. If they get down too far, it will be very difficult for them to rally because they don’t pass a whole lot. The Rangers will try to control the ball and time of possession, limiting Ubly and keeping their own defense fresh.

Ubly has played exceptionally well this season. They had never trailed in a game until the first quarter of the regional finals. Heck, the finals score was the closest anyone has come to beating Ubly and it was an 18 point win. Quarterback Jordan Kaufman converted two fourth downs in the first half and forced a fumble on kickoff coverage which really helped in the first half. One of the fourth down plays he converted ended up being a 27 yard touchdown pass to Mitchel Cleary who ran a slant out of the backfield. Royal Oak Shrine was concentrating so hard on their running game they forgot to cover the backs. Shrine was able to shut down the trapping game of Ubly, but then the Bearcats turned to some plays that looked the same, but were blocked differently. Kaufman helped his team score before the half and also broke a 66 yard touchdown run in the second half. Ubly will run and pass. They like to run their trap game and pass when they want. Kaufman has a nice touch and can hit his receiver in stride. If the Bearcats continue to roll like they have so far this season, a trip to Ford Field is in the cards.

 

Division 8

 

Crystal Falls Forest Park vs. Frankfort (Saturday November 22, 1pm at Superior Dome, Marquette)

It was a tough game for the Trojans. After taking an early 16-0 lead, St. Ignace fought back. They found themselves down and their best running back, Josh Siler, was out with injury. Siler didn’t make it out of the first quarter, but had 94 yards on seven carries and a touchdown. It was then time for Jim Wheeler to take over the running back duties. Wheeler had a fine day and ended with 184 yards on 30 carries. He also had a fumble recovery and the only interception of the game. Quarterback Bob Reid had 52 yards on 13 carries with one touchdown but did not attempt a pass.   This game proved to the Trojan players that even if they face adversity, they can still find a way to win. Siler’s injury was to his knee and he was seen walking around normally after the game. Coach Bill Santilli knows that this isn’t the most talented team he’s had, but they have great character and work hard. If they can get healthy quick, they might be able to win versus Frankfort. The defense has played well and on offense they have controlled the clocked with their running game.

Frankfort is happy with their position. They wanted to get far into the playoffs this season and that has happened. In their last game at Lockhart Field, Frankfort played very well and beat Bay City All Saints 33-7. Kyle Brouillet ran for 205 yards and two touchdowns to lead their rushing attack. Quarterback Wade Luxford ran for 77 yards and passed for 55. They can keep teams off balanced by attacking them on the ground and hitting them with the pass when least expected. The offensive line knows that the Panthers excel at running the ball and they love to run block. Frankfort pushed their way to victory and now has to head up north. The Panthers have been able to run over most everybody as is evident by their 11-1 record (the loss came against Marion to open the season which they avenged in the pre-district round). Most games haven’t been very close except the two Marion games. They will need their defense to come up big against the Trojans and slow down their running game. Frankfort isn’t very far from that Michigan shaped trophy and will have to get their storied football program past another fantastic program who are the defending champions.

Muskegon Catholic Central vs. Beal City (Saturday November 22, 1pm at Cedar Springs High School)

One week after blowing out Mendon, the defending state champions, the Crusaders are gearing up for another fight. This time, it’s another football powerhouse in Beal City. Quarterback Jared Johnson played very well; rushing 17 times for 111 yards and completing 66% of his passes (four of six) for two touchdowns. Johnson passed a touchdown to his cousin, Brian Johnson, who also had a game high nine tackles. No one has come closer to 14 points of MCC in any of their games (Allendale in their 14-0 win, October 3). The one that did was a school with 400 more students. On defense, they have other players besides Johnson. Adrian Baker makes plays from his defensive end position and his counterpart on the other side, Tim Hornak, turns that defensive line into a very tough unit. It was obvious that the defense was a strong point if you look at their 33-0 win last week. Now they need to parlay that game into another strong game in all three aspects to pull out a semifinal victory. They are the favorites going into the game and should be playing next weekend if they don’t let their heads get too big.

Beal City has won their past two regional championships. The Aggies utilized their power rushing attack to march right down to the end zone and put up 45 points on Deckerville. Quarterback Jared Theisen also tossed four touchdowns and had 196 passing yards to keep the Eagles honest. Beal City was plagued by penalties, 13 total, and it needs to be cleaned up because that many penalties will lose a game against most teams. They might have been able to pass against Deckerville, but MCC won’t stay in the same defense if Beal City chooses to pass the ball more. Nor will they play nine men in the box to stop the run. The offensive line for the Aggies needs to get good blocks on the Crusader defensive ends to open the running lanes. That will also open up the passing game if they force MCC to keep defenders in. On the defensive side of the ball, Beal City will have to contain QB Jared Johnson and stop their run game. If MCC can run, it will put a lot of pressure on BC’s defense and force a defensive change. Beal City has a huge mountain to climb this week, but it would make a championship game that much sweeter.