Week 14 - State Finals - The Big Time

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It’s FINALLY here! We’ve been waiting since the day after last year’s championship games to see who would win the next football titles. East Grand Rapids, Detroit Country Day, Traverse City St. Francis, and Crystal Falls Forest Park all return to Ford Field again to play in the title game. Only East Grand Rapids and Crystal Falls Forest Park will defend their state titles. While Inkster is only traveling 21 miles over to Ford Field, Crystal Falls has 514 miles (an eight hour trip) to go AND they play the first game of the championships. Maybe that is why Coach Santilli was running up and down the sidelines when it was apparent that his team would win saying, “Turkey downstate, baby!”

I also wanted to say that I will be at the state finals, posting updates when each game finishes. If you have questions about what’s going on during the games, I will also be hanging around the Phalanx. For those of you who remember the coverage from the last state finals, it will be the same.

Division 1

Rockford vs. Lake Orion (Saturday 1pm)

Rockford has rolled past everyone (except Muskegon) this season. They have a nice combination of running the ball, passing the ball, and great special teams play. Quarterback Tim McGee manages a game well and has multiple weapons at his disposal. Coach Ralph Munger knows he has some mistakes to clean up from the last game and will make sure his Rams are ready to go. One of the unsung heroes from this season is kicker Paul Mudgett. He has kicked some important field goals to put points on the board after the offense drives deep into enemy territory. Not only is the kicking game good, their return teams have played well also. Last week, senior Drew Maroe returned a punt 59 yards that helped set up the first touchdown for Rockford. Up front, both offensive and defensive lines play tough and controlled the line of scrimmage. That allowed the running backs to pick their holes and get positive yards.

For the Dragons of Lake Orion, it will be an uphill battle. They lost to Rockford in the first game of the season, but haven’t lost since. Their defense played well in the win over Fordson and they have done enough to win the other games (7-0 over Utica Eisenhower, 24-13 over Detroit Catholic Central, 38-31 over Canton, and last week’s 38-0 over Dearborn Fordson). With Branden Oakes, Marques Stevenson, and Dan Ney, they will attempt to run. Sean Charette should continue to play quarterback and has done very well considering his lack of experience. They will need him to play big when he does pass the ball (which he will have to do some of) to keep the run open. With the strength that Rockford has up front, their offensive line will need to play the best game of the season in order to keep their quarterback off his back and running backs off the turf.

Division 2

Muskegon vs. Warren DeLaSalle (Friday 1pm)

The Big Reds have exceeded expectations and pushed through into the state finals. Quarterback Elan Banks has the option offense humming along for Coach Tony Annese. Dominique Maybanks had a huge game last week and will be counted on again this time. Jason Hannett has played big in games for the Big Reds during the playoffs and will be counted on again this week. He carried 17 times for 128 yards against Davison. Muskegon needs to keep control of the ball and not turn it over. A big problem in their come from behind win over Davison is that they turned the ball over six times, four of which were converted to points by the Cardinals. This game will be a rematch of the 2006 Division 2 championship which Muskegon pulled out at the last second.

DeLaSalle has been steamrolling over everyone. Their defense has played lights out and no one has scored very much on them. A total of 26 points have been given up while their offense has scored 138. That’s quite a differential. It is important for them to get healthy as John Martinez was injured early in the game last week. Tim Zabawa stepped up and played well, catching two for 41 yards and running seven times for 58 yards. The quarterback Josh Sinagoga was upset for getting Martinez injured with his pass, but he ended up playing well; he completed 10 of his 19 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Coach Paul Verska has his troops ready to go and will remember what happened the last time these two played in the state championship game.

Division 3

East Grand Rapids vs. Inkster (Saturday 7:30pm)

The Pioneers of East Grand Rapids are in a position they’ve been in before. They will be shooting for their ninth state championship in this their 10th state championship game. If they win, it will be their third consecutive Division 3 title. The win would also tie them with Detroit Catholic Central for third place on the list of most state championships. It would be remiss if I didn’t mention EGR’s running back Joe Glendening. He tore everyone up this season and has helped his team reach the title game again. The past three games have all had running clocks at some point of the second half because of the huge leads that East Grand Rapids has held. Coach Peter Stuursma’s team has only lost one game this season; the last game against Lowell. That was also the only team to score more than 21 points against them. Heck, EGR only scored 21 points or less twice, once in their 21-7 win over Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills and in their 12-35 loss to Lowell.

Inkster is back. After they had to forfeit all but their last game of the season in 2007, they returned to where they were in 2006: back in the state finals. This time, they won’t be playing Saginaw Nouvel in Division 6, the Vikings are Division 3 with nearly double the students (seven short of doubling the enrollment) of 2006. It’s no wonder that Inkster has had such a turnaround. Coach Greg Carter was the head man at the now closed Detroit St. Martin dePorres, the school with the most state titles (12). Cameron Gordon is starting to get looks from college coaches and quarterback Devin Gardner has played exceptionally well so far.

Division 4

Holland Christian vs. Detroit Country Day (Friday 7:30pm)

First, I’d like to give kudos to the Holland Christian Maroons who made the state championship game in only their sixth season fielding a football team. Their spread offense had done well for them as they are 13-0. Leading the offense is quarterback AJ Westendorp. He has the team averaging 46 point per game. Helping him out is one of his tough linemen, Jordan DeJonge. That line helped the Maroons outrush Grand Rapids Catholic Central 187-7 last week. They like to run the ball from the spread and can get it done on special teams. This all around effort is what propels teams into this point of the season. On defense, they will get after you and execute.

For Detroit Country Day, it all starts with the defense. They haven’t allowed many points so far in the playoffs. 13 points to be exact. It’s tough to win when you can’t get any points on the board. Their defense can put up points as well. Running back O’Neil Swanson has been able to dominate the opposing defenses and score. The Yellow Jacket special team squads have helped in their wins also. Once this team gets into a rhythm, it’s hard to stop them. Most of the players have been in this situation before because of last year’s playoff run. Now they just need to put it all together and stop the Holland Christian offense. This game could easily turn into a shootout because both teams score a lot.

Division 5

Ovid-Elsie vs. Muskegon Oakridge (Saturday 4:30)

When we look at Ovid, we have to first look at junior running back Chris Robinson. He has tremendous speed and nice size. Over the course of the season, he has run the ball a mile and a half (2,727 yards on the season equals 1.54 miles). If he can get another 163 yards, he will tie the single season rushing record for the state of Michigan. Quarterback Jason Goosen can utilize his running back as a decoy to throw the ball. When you are as good as Robinson is defenders will key on you. Nick Madden, the other running back, can beat you also. This one-two punch keeps defenses on their heels and the clock rolling along. The Marauder defense played very well in their win over Standish-Sterling last week in Midland. It hasn’t been that way all season though; they have given up yards and given up points to most teams.

Muskegon Oakridge likes to run the ball as well. Just like O-E, they have a number of talented running backs. Matt Eacker (Division 5/6 player of the year) and Michael Shoop get most of the recognition, but Luke Cole is a good back as well. He had the big day last weekend which helped his team make the state finals for a fifth time. Coach Jack Schugars knows how to coach in big games. He coached his team to a title back in 2005. His offensive line has dominated all season and he hopes that continues. If a back can’t get any blocking, said back will not be running very long. Quarterback Jamie Potts is a sophomore but has played very well all season. He’s also the kicker. Both of these teams will try to run right past each other and it might come down to who has the ball last.

Division 6

Montague vs. Leslie (Friday 4:30)

The Wildcats had a wild weekend. They battle tough with Nouvel and ended up stopping a two point conversion in overtime to reach the title game. Montague has been pretty good all season and only lost one game and that was to another state finalist in Muskegon Oakridge. Cody Kater has quarterbacked this team throughout the season and now has them at the brink of what they were dreaming of; a Michigan shaped trophy. He was heavily relied upon last week as the Wildcats did much more passing than running. Kater finished 19 of 31 for 324 yards and five touchdowns in a huge game for Montague. They were able to get past their east state rivals and make it to Detroit like two other teams from the Muskegon area. Now they have to play tough defense and shut down the running attack of Leslie.

Like Montague, Leslie was able to avenge the loss in the semifinals last season and punch their ticket to Ford Field. Trent Page is part of the three headed running back monster for the Blackhawks. He also made the All-State team as a linebacker. Quarterback Travis Crowe leads this option attack with Page and Devyn Twombley. They can amass a ton of rushing yards and do some damage with their passing attack as well. The offensive line has kept Crowe clean in the playoffs. On defense, Leslie has been able to finish games and keep people out of the end zone. They will need their defense to play tough on Friday though. If the offensive line can get their backs free, they will be able to score. It will be a tough game though.

Division 7

Traverse City St. Francis vs. Ubly (Saturday 10am)

The Gladiators are a perennial powerhouse. For the past 19 or so years, they have been in the playoffs and won four state titles. They have a great coaching staff and they develop the skills of the players as well as grooming them into quality young men. TCSF can score in many ways but loves to run the ball. Quarterback Corey Williams was able to find his receivers to score touchdowns. The Gladiators will air it out if they need to, but prefer to just pound it inside and outside. Coach Greg Vaughan left the Division III college ranks to take the job at TCSF and now has his team in the title game. On defense, Max Bullough, and all-state linebacker, crunches opposing backs and makes them think twice about coming his way. TCSF gave up 48 points in one game, but scored 70. They will need the defense to come up big against an offense who can score in bunches.

Ubly makes the state title game for the first time. Last time they were able to make it this far, they lost to St. Francis in the semifinals back in 2002. Now they have made it over that hump and look to win the title. Quarterback Jordan Kaufman knows how to orchestrate the spread offense they run and can find his receivers. The Bearcats also like to run the ball from this formation and can do it well. This offense puts up a ton of points (32 was their low scoring game of the season against Royal Oak Shrine). It is imperative that they put up a bunch of points in this game. They have only been down once all season and it didn’t last long. If they can stop the Gladiator offense, then their own offense will take care of the rest.

Division 8

Crystal Falls Forest Park vs. Muskegon Catholic Central (Friday 10am)

Last year’s state champions eked by through the playoffs and found ways to win. They had two very close games; last week they beat Frankfort 8-6 and in their District final they beat Lake Linden 6-0. Quarterbacked by Bob Reid, this team has overachieved. He has passed the ball well when the weather cooperated. Reid is also a running threat. Their main workhorse is running back Josh Siler. Even though Siler has been injured a few times, he keeps coming back and leading his team. When he does go out, Jim Wheeler has filled in and the team has not missed a beat. Those close games will help give the Trojans confidence. They need to come up big on defense and stop the rushing attack of MCC.

The Crusaders of Muskegon Catholic Central have beaten everyone this season. Amongst those who have fallen is Division 4 finalist Detroit Country Day. Defending state champion Mendon fell to them a few weeks ago. Their defense, led by All-State linebacker and four year starter Brian Johnson, has played extremely well. The best any opponent has done against them is 20 points, most recently by Beal City. Those points were put on the board when the game was essentially over and the backups were in. Quarterback Jared Johnson scored three times last week, Steve Mitchell scored twice, and Rodney Anderson picked up a touchdown as well. Offensively, this team has a lot of firepower. Defensively, they can shut most people down. They have been many people’s favorite to win Division 8 most of the season. Now they have to put it all together and beat the defending state champions.