Week Twelve - Regional Championship - So Close You Can Smell It

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Closer and closer we inch. That Michigan shaped trophy is almost within reach for some teams. They are laboring in the cold weather of a Michigan November to try and fulfill the ultimate boyhood dream; playing and winning a championship game. With only three games between them and that championship ring, they will continue to work hard and push through the aches and pains of 11 games so far this season. For teams that make the finals, a 14 game season is more than college football teams play. Can you imagine working that hard and playing for so long to fall inches short? It happens every year. Now let us turn to the Regional Finals for the 2008 season.

Detroit – Division 1

Detroit Southeastern at Dearborn Fordson (Friday November 14, 7pm)

Southeastern is the only team from the Detroit Public School League left in the playoffs. Last week, they smoked Detroit Cass Tech 40-0. They were led by Will Sturges, a running back, who ended up having to play some quarterback when Edward Thomas messed up his shoulder (separated shoulder). He had a heck of a day. Sturges threw two touchdown passes (and went seven of eight for 140 yards), ran for two TDs (six rushes for 33 yards), caught five balls for 51 yards, and returned a fumble 26 yards for a touchdown. That’s a mighty fine day for a high schooler! He said that he is willing to play quarterback if Thomas can not go. Coach Donshell English will have his team fired up and ready to go against an undefeated Fordson team.

As for the Dearborn Fordson Tractors, they didn’t have nearly the game that Southeastern had. For most of the game, they were shut down by Detroit Cody. Junior safety Justin Diggs gave the team a huge boost with a 99 yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter. Hassan Berry recovered a fumble at the Cody 10 early in the fourth quarter and it led to a 25 yard field goal by Jad Al-Zein. Later in the fourth, they had their best possession of the game on which they started at their 44 and scored on a 38 yard touchdown run by Abe Mroue. Cody had one last chance though; they drove to the Fordson one yard line, but were called for a delay of game penalty. After that, the defense held up and forced a turnover on downs. The defense for the Tractors did not play well last week. They will need to improve if they want to stay undefeated and beat a good Southeastern team.

West – Division 2

Lowell vs. Muskegon (Saturday November 15, 1pm at Grand Haven High School)

The clash of two west side titans will play out Saturday afternoon. Lowell has rolled past everyone this year in route to their Ottawa-Kent White Division championship. Led by quarterback Kyle Nichol, they rolled past Caledonia last week by a score of 35-7. Receiver Torston Boss played, even though he had the flu. Boss ended the game with five receptions for 57 yards. Nichol ran for three touchdowns and 168 on 28 totes while completing seven of his 14 passes for 76 yards. The other star of the game was Austin Graham. He carried the ball 21 times for 160 yards and scored twice as well. The Red Arrows are playing very well and it will be tough to beat them. They’ve played Muskegon four times in the past and lost all four times. The game was switched from Muskegon to Grand Haven because Grand Haven can accommodate more fans and ticket demand has been very high.

For the Big Reds, this season is a bit of a surprise to some. Most didn’t expect them to play this well and make it this far. They’ve been proving everyone wrong. Muskegon won the O-K Red Division by beating Rockford a few weeks back. Now, they are playing for the Regional Championship. I’ve talked before about their veer option offense and how well quarterback Elan Banks executes it. Last week, Banks completed five of his seven passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. 47 of those yards came on the first play of the game in which he hit Dominique Banks for a score. Running back Jason Hannett had 120 yards on 18 carries to lead the Big Reds. In last week’s 12-6 victory over Hudsonville, the defense stepped up in the soggy conditions of Hackley Stadium. It will be a tough game this week and a win would put them in the state semifinals for the third time in five seasons. Muskegon has always been one of the top football programs in the state. They will need to play very well to beat a very good Lowell squad.

Mid Michigan – Division 5

Ovid-Elsie at Freeland (Friday November 14, 7pm)

These two teams met not too long ago. Just over a month ago, they played Freeland and lost which knocked them out of the race for the Tri Valley Conference Central Division championship. The Marauders are led by junior running back Chris Robinson. The six foot 200 pound running back has run for 2,200 yards and 32 touchdowns this season. In their first meeting, Robinson fumbled by the goal line just before halftime and it really disheartened the Marauders. Last week against Portland, he scored four touchdowns and ran for 229 on 20 carries. Robinson credits the offensive line for opening holes all season. Ovid-Elsie coach Jerry Goosen agreed with Robinson’s sentiment. Both teams are good and Ovid is hoping that Freeland makes some mistakes that they can take advantage of.

The Falcons of Freeland are a running squad as well. Their main running attack consists of senior Alix Fisher (1,506 yards and 20 TDs) and sophomore Justin Pettenger (1,296 yards and 14 touchdowns). Throw in quarterback Joe Ruhlman and Gideon Paetz, and you have a heck of a rushing attack. Last time these two played, Freeland put up 55 points. In their 42-6 blowout of Essexville Garber last week, Fisher had 134 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and Pettenger had 123 and two touchdowns on eight runs. Paetz had 92 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. Joe Ruhman threw a 53 yard touchdown pass as well. The Falcon defense held a good Essexville Garber running back in Andrew Aho 102 yards on 21 carries (47 came on one play, a long touchdown run in the fourth quarter).

North – Division 7

Iron River West Iron County vs. Traverse City St. Francis (Friday November 14, 7pm at the Yooper Dome, Marquette)

The Wykons have played very well this season. In fact, they haven’t had 10 wins since they lost to Orchard Lake St. Mary in the 1977 Class C state championship. They’ve made the playoffs the past five seasons, but hadn’t gotten out of the first round, thanks mostly to Iron Mountain. This year, Iron Mountain jumped up to Division 6 while the Wykons stayed in 7. They almost lost last week against Manistique though. The offense couldn’t get much going, but the defense came through in the clutch. Trailing with about two minutes left, Coach Mike Berutti used all his time outs to get the ball back with 1:30 left. First, they had a nice run by DJ Herbert to get to the 25 yard line. Then, BJ Scalcucci tossed a 25 yard touchdown pass to Adam Hibbard to take the lead with just over a minute to play. The defense came out tough and stopped the Emeralds and took over on downs to win the game.

St. Francis is a powerhouse in Michigan. They’ve been in four state championship games in the past eight seasons and won of three of them. This past week, the defense forgot to show up as they gave up 472 passing yards and 48 points to Merrill. Luckily, their offense did put 70 up on the score board. The Gladiators ran for 429 yards and only passed three times, scoring on two of them. MSU commit Max Bullough intercepted a pass and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown. TCSF coach Greg Vaughan was very happy that his team didn’t need to punt until the fourth quarter.  Ryan Farley ran for 201 yards on 16 carries and scored four times. Joe Kerridge ran 10 times for 161 yards. Ben Swan was injured so these two players stepped up in his absence. With all the experience that these players have, they know what the situation is and how to go about achieving their goal of playing in another state championship game. They need to execute their game plan to get past the Wykons, but are the favorites to win the Division 7 championship.

Capital Area – Division 5

Almont vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (Friday November 14, 7:30pm at Withington Stadium, Jackson)

Almont has had a nice season. They won the Blue Water Area Conference this season. With the win over Livonia Clarenceville, they won their first ever District championship. It was just the kind of game you’d want; a game that came down to a fourth and goal for Livonia with 15 seconds to play. Steven Cassidy knocked the ball out of the receiver’s hands in the end zone to seal the victory. Coach Jerry Ferman was very happy with his team’s effort. Running back Steve McClure gained 116 on 13 attempts and scored three times. Quarterback Neal Zott had a nifty pass play to end the first half, zig zaging around the defenders and finding an open Garrett Savage for a touchdown pass.  Zott was a Division 5 all-state offensive end last season. When they have the ball, they like to keep everything bunched up and use some misdirection to make the defense play honest. They will need all the misdirection they can get to beat Lumen Christi

I talked about one powerhouse, Traverse City St. Francis. Another of the powerhouse teams is Jackson Lumen Christi. They’ve played in nine state championship games and won seven of those. This team knows how to win football games and does it on a regular basis. With a .785 winning percentage, they are third on the list of top teams, with only Farmington Hills Harrison and Adrian Lenawee Christian ahead of them (that team has only played one game ever, and won). Last week they drubbed Onsted 42-7. They out gained Onsted by a margin of 351-49 on the offensive side of the ball. The only score for Onsted came on an 85 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Quarterback Conor Sullivan has championship game experience from last season and can get it done. Coach Herb Borgan is a fantastic coach and puts together excellent game plans. He passed the ball more in this game, which is something that the Titans don’t typically do. The game will be played at the beautiful Dungy Field (honoring the Dungy family, including Indy coach Tony Dungy) at Withington Stadium, which was resurfaced with field turf this past summer.

Extra Special Coverage – Division 8

Mendon at Muskegon Catholic Central (Saturday November 15, 1pm)

I though about skipping the Lowell vs. Muskegon game to include this one, but I figured I could just write about both. These two tams are very very good. Both have won multiple state championships. MCC has been in 10 state championship games and won seven of them. Last week the beat Climax-Scotts 27-6. Coach Mike Holmes made sure they didn’t celebrate too long before they turned their attention to this week’s game. Senior back Rodney Anderson racked up 193 yards and scored three times on 20 carries. The defense played very well, recording three turnovers. Defense is one thing that the Crusaders excel at this season. Brian Johnson picked off two passes for the Crusaders. Quarterback Jared Johnson only passed twice in the game, completing one for 17 yards. He can run the ball well and has to be accounted for on every play. Now they have to be ready to go against a very tough opponent.

Mendon has a ton of hardware. In their 11 appearances in the championship game, they have won 10 times. The only loss was a 15-12 loss to St. Ignace back in 1983. The workhorse for the Hornets is junior Jordan Higgins. He has 165 carries for 1,290 yards and 18 scores before he hit the playoffs. John Schwartz has coached nine of the school’s 10 championship teams in his 20 years. He likes that his defense will hit hard and keep the opponents out of the end zone. They will run the ball like crazy, pass when they need to, and give the Muskegon Catholic Central Crusaders the toughest game they’ve played this year.