November 12, 2012 at 11:40 am

Tom Markowski

Lake Orion stays afloat with routine in state football playoffs

After beating Macomb Dakota last week, thanks in part to players like Brandon Clements (right), Lake Orion is rolling to a showdown with Detroit Cass Tech in a Division 1 semifinal game. (Bryan Mitchell/Special to The Detroit News)

Lake Orion -- The scene inside Lake Orion High School on Saturday morning was a bit odd. Numerous football players were in the swimming pool recovering from the previous night's game, as holiday music played loudly in the background.

"When you're listening to Christmas music and still playing football, that's a good thing," coach Chris Bell said.

The Saturday swim sessions are a ritual at Lake Orion.

Not only does it sooth sore bodies, it's a welcome break from the stress of what has been a long season for teams advancing in the playoffs.

Lake Orion (11-1) is one of 32 teams statewide to reach Week 13 after its 51-35 victory over Macomb Dakota (10-2). Bell and his staff have been through this before, having won the Division 1 title two years ago and reaching the final in 2008.

Saturday, Lake Orion will face defending state champion Detroit Cass Tech (10-2) in a semifinal at Troy Athens at 1 p.m. Two years ago, Lake Orion held on to defeat Cass Tech, 24-21.

Not lost in Lake Orion's playoff run is the importance of playing at home.

Bell said there's no doubt that playing at home, having his players go through the same routine each Friday, played a role in the success of the last three weeks.

"(Dakota) made some mistakes," he said. "They had bad snaps, bad throws and some drop passes. They're young. I equate that with the long drive they had. We've been through it.

"(Playing at home) allows you to start fast."

Lake Orion scored on its first five possessions and led 31-7 at halftime.

Representing Downriver

Few who follow high school football understand just how much time coaches spend on preparation, and the stress it often creates. Frayed relationships, time spent away from families and setbacks on and off the field are some of the byproducts. Coaching staffs must create a bond, while individuals must be thick-skinned and accept criticisms for the system to work properly.

At Wyandotte Roosevelt, the coaches' interaction throughout the years is a big reason why it advanced past the regionals for the first time since 2001. Wyandotte (11-1) defeated Oak Park, 10-6, and will play defending champion Birmingham Brother Rice (10-2) in a Division 2 semifinal at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gibraltar Carlson.

"Two of my coaches, Shawn Stewart and Jason Carpenter, have been with me for my 12 years (as head coach)," Ron Adams said. "We're like the three amigos. The kids feed off the closeness of our staff. Most don't know what it takes. It just doesn't start in August. We got beat badly by Detroit King (33-0) last year (in the regionals). We started weight-lifting and conditioning soon after."

Wyandotte, which has given up just 20 points in three playoff games, trailed most of Friday's game. Kevin Matejko 's 31-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Sowards with 1:37 left was the winning score.

It sealed the program's first 11-win season.

"It's something that'll sink in down the road," Adams said.

The Downriver League formed in 2009, and Wyandotte is the first team to win a regional title.

Power returns

At one time, Grand Rapids South Christian, under coach Bob Blacquiere — who retired in 2009 after 27 seasons and a 210-74 record — was a powerhouse in the middle classes on the state's west side, as it reached the Class C final in 1984, a Class B semifinal in 1985, the Class B final in 1986 and the Division 4 final in 1999. And in 2002, the school won its first and only state title, defeating Riverview, 42-13, in Division 4.

On Friday, South Christian (9-3) defeated Three Rivers, 38-14, to reach the semifinals (Division 4) for the first time since 2004.

This wasn't what most predicted when the playoffs began. South Christian was 6-3 in the regular season and it was another Grand Rapids private school, Catholic Central, that was expected to be the team to beat. But C.C. (10-1) was upset by Comstock Park, 19-7, in a district final.

South Christian trailed Three Rivers (8-4), 7-6, then scored 32 straight to take full command.

South Christian is led by sophomore quarterback Jon Wassink , who completed 17 of 24 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for another.

What isn't a surprise, however, is Grand Rapids West Catholic's appearance in a semifinal. In 2007, it lost to the eventual state champion, Menominee, in a Division 5 semifinal, 40-21. Three years later, it won the title with a 42-26 victory over Olivet, and last year it lost to Lansing Catholic Central in a semifinal, 42-35.

West Catholic (9-3) defeated Newaygo, 21-7, this past Friday and will play Menominee (11-1) in a Division 5 semifinal at the Superior Dome in Marquette on Saturday.

Forget West Catholic's three losses. One was to South Christian; the others were to Brebeuf (Ind.) Jesuit (7-2) and Hudsonville Unity Christian, which made the Division 4 playoffs.

Upset city

Flint Beecher won 17 games during a 12-season stretch (1995-2006) and never won a district title until this year. But on Friday, Beecher (8-4) shocked defending state champion Saginaw Nouvel (11-1), 19-15, and will play Detroit Loyola (12-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday in a Division 7 semifinal at Fenton.

For many of those who coach at public schools, Beecher's victory over a parochial school and perennial power was not just another upset. Many public school coaches have the opinion that parochial schools have an unfair advantage, and when a public school is victorious it takes on a sort of David-and-Goliath theme.

"I got a lot of calls before and after the game," Beecher coach Courtney Hawkins said. "I won't say where those calls came from. In the end, we just made one more play than they did. I have 25 players and they had a lot more. I didn't stop to count, but they had to have 50 or 60. The 25 I have are strong kids. Our defense, as a whole, played well. I can't single out any one player. They were beat up on the bus ride home. That's OK. I had plenty of ice packs."

Offensively, receiver Eric Cooper made the most outstanding, and most important, play of the game. Beecher trailed, 15-13, when Cooper leaped over a defender, caught the ball, and then ran to complete a 44-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left in the third quarter.

"I thought it was going to be intercepted," Hawkins said. "He reached over and took it off (the defender's) helmet."

Much success

Five teams from the Detroit Catholic League have advanced to the semifinals, and a sixth nearly got there.

Brother Rice, Catholic Central, Loyola and Orchard Lake St. Mary's had little difficulty getting past their regional opponents.

Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard did have a bit of trouble with River Rouge (16-6) in Division 5.

Waterford Lakes lost to Harbor Beach, 17-10, in Division 8.

For Loyola and Richard, this will be their first semifinal appearance.

Making a run

Another defending state champion lost Friday, as Portland rebounded from a 21-14 halftime deficit to defeat Flint Powers Catholic (11-1), 45-28, in a Division 5 regional final.

Portland (11-1) advances to its first semifinal against Richard at 1 p.m. Saturday at Howell.

Quarterback Tanner Allison threw for 146 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for another, for Portland.

If one looks past Portland's lack of playoff history, perhaps this wasn't that big of an upset. On Oct. 12, Portland whipped DeWitt, 37-7.

DeWitt (10-2) advanced to the Division 3 semifinals with a 29-27 victory over St. Johns.

Getting beached

Harbor Beach scored fewer than 42 points just twice this season, and six times it scored 50 or more.

On Saturday, it led Waterford Lakes, 10-0, at halftime. Coach Troy Schelke leaned on his defense to pull out a 17-10 victory in a Division 8 regional final.

"Our defensive line shut down their run," Schelke said. "It was probably a good thing, playing a close game. I don't think we're going to blow out our next opponent."

That's probably accurate. Next for Harbor Beach (11-1) is Muskegon Catholic Central (9-3).

State championship scoreboard: C.C. 8, Harbor Beach 0.

Tricky, tricky

On the second play of its second possession against Walled Lake Western on Friday, Brother Rice ran a reverse.

The play covered 50 yards and gave Brother Rice a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line. Rice would later score on Brian Walker 's 2-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.

Delano Madison ran the reverse, his first carry of the season. Coach Al Fracassa brought Madison, a sophomore, up from the junior varsity for the playoffs.

"He looked pretty fast to me, so I thought, why not use him?" Fracassa said.

tom.markowski@detnews.com

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