Mike Webber celebrates with Damon Webb after scoring a late touchdown in Detroit Cass Tech’s 34-27 victory in a Division 1 semifinal. (Mark Bialek/Special to Detroit News)
Troy -- Minutes after Detroit Cass Tech (11-2) defeated Lake Orion, 34-27, on Saturday, the players who contributed so much to Cass Tech's 49-13 Division 1 final victory over Detroit Catholic Central last season said all the right things about C.C. and the rematch that will take place at 1 p.m. this Saturday at Ford Field.
Senior receiver/defensive back Jourdan Lewis, whose 30-yard touchdown reception in the first minute of the fourth quarter snapped a 21-21 tie, did his best to keep what is sure to be a much talked-about rematch in perspective before making a strong statement.
"It's just another game," Lewis said. "They're going to come down the middle on you until you break. That's their game plan. Thing is, I don't think they'll do it."
Sophomore quarterback Jayru Campbell, who tied a state-final record by tossing five touchdown passes last season, played his best game of this season against Lake Orion, completing 10 of 13 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for another.
"We thought Lake Orion would defend the run," he said. "It feels good to contribute to the win. We have a great offensive line and we have a lot of weapons. It's special to play C.C. again. I know they'll give us their best game."
One player who missed last year's title game was one of Saturday's top performers. Sophomore running back Mike Webber rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries against Lake Orion. He might be asked to carry more of the load against C.C. (9-4). Cass Tech runs a one-back set and Webber shares time equally with junior Gary Hosey. Hosey had seven carries for 25 yards before suffering an ankle injury late in the third quarter. He did not return.
Webber suffered a (right) knee injury last season and didn't play at Ford Field.
"I tore (the MCL)," he said. "I sat on the sidelines and watched. It hurt (not being able to play). It'll be great to play at Ford Field. Hopefully it'll be the same result."
As pleased as Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield was with his team's 34-21 victory over Caledonia, Muskegon's three turnovers and the big pass plays his defense allowed did not sit well with him.
Fairfield said his team must play a more complete game if it expects to defeat Birmingham Brother Rice (11-2) in Friday's 1 p.m. final.
Muskegon (12-1) led 21-0 early in the third quarter when it dropped its guard and Caledonia made it a game.
"We gave up a big pass play and a fourth-and-15 and that led to their first score," Fairfield said. "Then we fumbled and now it's 21-14. We score and then on a fourth-and-1 we blitz and they run a wheel rout and score to make it 27-21.
"Those turnovers cost us. We had one where our back just dropped the ball. Nobody hit him. We can't do that next week. The best part was we played with character. We never got too emotional. We never got too down on ourselves. Our fans aren't comfortable winning close game but our kids are. We got to Ford Field. Yes. That's what we wanted. Even if we play Alabama, we don't care."
Even before the playoff pairings were announced on Oct. 21 a potential Grand Rapids Christian-Orchard Lake St. Mary's state final matchup had most looking past the early playoff rounds.
The two teams didn't disappoint. Christian (12-1) hasn't been tested as it defeated Fruitport, 45-6, in the opener and won each of its next three games by 24 points, including Saturday's 52-28 victory over DeWitt. The closest playoff game St. Mary's (11-2) played was against Detroit East English Village Prep (42-24) in a regional final.
The teams are quite different offensively, however. Christian is led by receiver Drake Harris, who had seven receptions for 216 yards and three touchdowns against DeWitt, all in the first half. St. Mary's is not unlike most teams in the Detroit Catholic League. It likes to run the ball between the tackles. It has an experienced offensive line (four seniors), and two senior running backs (Grant Niemiec and Parker McInnis) to do just that. The two teamed for 274 yards rushing on Saturday.
The teams in this division took similar roads to the final. Detroit Country Day (11-2) started slowly and has won nine straight. Grand Rapids South Christian (10-3) was forced to win its final two regular-season games to clinch a playoff spot.
South Christian has allowed just 44 points in the playoffs with its closest game coming on Saturday (21-7) against Comstock Park.
Once Country Day got past Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, 14-12, in a district final it hit its stride, outscoring its last two opponents, 85-14. Country Day coach Dan MacLean said after the close call at N.D. Prep that teams often need a fortunate bounce along the way to reach the final.
Country Day played outstanding defense on Saturday, limiting Saginaw Swan Valley to 106 yards in its 38-0 victory.
Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-3) is at its best when the game seems lost.
Saturday's 20-17 victory over Menominee is the latest comeback for coach Dan Rohn's young team. Travis Russell's 15-yard touchdown pass to David Kuzma with 58 seconds left sent West Catholic into the final against Portland (12-1).
West Catholic starts four seniors on offense and four on defense.
"This is the third time these two hooked up for a game-winning touchdown," Rohn said. "They stick to the scheme. In weeks 8 and 9 when we needed to win those games just to get in the playoffs, we were down by two scores in the fourth quarter. Before the touchdown pass, (receivers coach) Joe Bockheim up in the booth said we were 15 yards from going to Ford Field."
West Catholic trailed 14-0 early in the second quarter.
The teams combined for 749 yards, 599 passing.
Portland (12-1) will make its first final appearance. West Catholic, which began the season 1-3, won its only title in 2010.
The Cass Tech-C.C. final isn't the only rematch. Constantine (11-2) and Ithaca (13-0) will play for the title, a year after Ithaca won its second consecutive title with a 42-14 victory.
Constantine played short-handed in last year's final and was short-handed Saturday but still ground out a 36-14 victory over Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central.
Following a suspension, sophomore Justin Hall got his first start at running back and responded with 245 yards rushing and one touchdown on 21 carries.
Senior quarterback Tommy Reed, who suffered a broken ankle in last year's semifinal, rushed for 68 yards and two touchdowns against SMCC.
"We're excited about making a return trip," coach Shawn Griffith said. "Having seen (Ithaca) before, it helps. Last year, we were a little awestruck."
Ishpeming competed in the first state finals in 1975 and defeated Hudson, 38-22, for the Class C championship. Ishpeming lost in the finals to Hudson two years ago and now will face the most dominating team, to this point, in this division after slipping past last year's finalist, Pewamo-Westphalia, 8-7, on Saturday.
Ishpeming (12-1) will play Detroit Loyola (13-0) for the title at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Loyola has had little trouble defeating any of its opponents this season. Flint Beecher (54-6) was its latest victim on Saturday.
In Week 7 Waterford Lakes came within 10 points (28-18). Loyola's 36-13 victory over Royal Oak Shrine in the first round was its closest game of the playoffs.
In what might have been the most exciting semifinal, Harbor Beach relinquished a 26-0 lead, then came back to upset Muskegon Catholic Central, 32-27.
Harbor Beach (12-1), which lost in its only other state final, to Muskegon C.C. in '91, will be the underdog again when it plays Beal City (13-0) at 10 a.m. Friday.
"It was an emotional roller-coaster," Harbor Beach coach Troy Schelke said. "We led 26-0 with one second left in the half and they scored to make it 26-7. I didn't think we'd pull it out there for a minute. It would have been easy to quit. It's so hard to get it back; the momentum swung so wildly. Our defense made two goal-line stands in the second half. They played well all game."
Eli Kraft's 18-yard touchdown pass to Travis Essenmacher gave Harbor Beach a 32-27 lead with 5:18 remaining. Brandon Oswald then sacked Nick Holt on a fourth-and-6 to end C.C.'s final possession.