November 26, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Tom Markowski

Cass Tech football will continue to be state powerhouse

Detroit -- Don't look for Detroit Cass Tech to fall from its lofty perch any time soon.

Cass Tech became the third team in Division 1 to win back-to-back titles in the last 10 years when it defeated Detroit Catholic Central 36-21 on Saturday at Ford Field.

Coach Thomas Wilcher has built a foundation at the downtown school. His staff, notably offensive coordinator Dave Malecki, is efficient and stable. The amount of talent flowing into the school is constant. If you want to pick a favorite for next season's title, it must be Cass Tech.

It's not easy staying on top. Macomb Dakota won back-to-back Division 1 titles in 2006 and '07 and hasn't been back to the final since. Ask Dakota coach Mike Giannone. It's difficult to maintain that level of excellence.

C.C. won three straight (2001-03) then won the title again in '10 before losing in the title game the last two seasons.

C.C. has maintained its high level. Now it's Cass Tech's turn to prove it can do the same.

There's no reason to believe Cass Tech won't carry the mantle.

Talent is one reason Cass Tech will remain a power. Another is coaching stability. Malecki and line coach Paul Cochran came from Melvindale three years ago and Cass Tech reached the semifinals. The next two years Cass Tech won state titles. It's not quite that simple but those are the facts. Coach Thomas Wilcher was wise enough to delegate assignments and take much of the pressure and responsibilities away from him. This allowed Wilcher to manage the team more effectively.

"It just fits," Malecki said. "It's controlled chaos. There has always been talent at Cass Tech. It's coming into place."

Star shines

Junior receiver Drake Harris and Grand Rapids Christian made their first appearance at Ford Field on Saturday night and no one who witnessed Christian's 40-37 overtime victory over defending champion Orchard Lake St. Mary's will soon forget Harris' remarkable catches, the records he set nor the humbleness he displayed in postgame interviews.

Harris had eight receptions for a finals-record 243 yards and one touchdown. His 2,016 receiving yards this season set a state record. Harris is the 12th player in the nation to pass the 2,000-yard mark.

"They told me about the record," Harris said. "The big thing is the state championship. I was just able to make big plays. One of my coaches said big players make big plays. I've had games like this before this season but this was for the state championship."

Four times Harris out-jumped two defenders to come down with the ball. Twice on the final drive in regulation he made an acrobatic catch on fourth down to keep the drive going.

Let's not allow time to distort the facts.

Christian's victory was the first final to require overtime since 2007 when, again, St. Mary's lost to East Grand Rapids 46-39 in five overtimes. Remember that game was tied 14-14 after regulation. It was 7-7 at halftime. The game was close but wasn't what one would call exciting, until the overtimes. And then it was. The game was moving at a good pace until the overtime periods and ended at 11 p.m.

Last Saturday's game was entertaining from beginning (Harris' three receptions for 145 yards in the first quarter) to end. Even though it took four fewer overtimes to complete, and ended at 10:54 p.m. The teams combined for a state-final record 1,033 yards. St. Mary's set a finals record gaining 579 yards. This game was well-played as Christian turned the ball over once; St. Mary's did not have a turnover.

Fracassa opens it up

Birmingham Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa turned 80 on Nov. 13. He doesn't move as fast as he once did, doesn't throw the tight spirals he used to and some say he's grown conservative in his play-calling.

Don't try to convince the Muskegon football community of the latter.

Twice Fracassa called a trick play (the second was offensive coordinator Dave Sofran 's idea) in the final 3:29 and both went for touchdowns as Brother Rice won a wild 35-28 Division 2 final over Muskegon on Friday.

The first was what Fracassa called his flea-flicker. Running back Brian Walker took a handoff and pitched back to quarterback Alex Malzone who threw a 77-yard touchdown pass to Corey Lacanaria to give Brother Rice a 28-21 lead. After Muskegon tied the game at 28-28, Fracassa went with Sofran's suggestion to have Delano Madison , a junior varsity player during the regular season, receive the kickoff, then throw across the field to Jason Alessi who raced 91 yards for the winning touchdown. It was a risky call with the game tied and 2:31 remaining. Had either player failed to execute it could have cost Brother Rice.

But anyone who has followed Brother Rice over the years is aware of such trick plays.

QBs go down, step up

Quarterbacks Derek Woltjer of Grand Rapids South Christian and Logan Hessbrook of Ithaca each made their first start of the season on Friday. Woltjer had a week to prepare for his assignments; Hessbrook but a few minutes.

Seemingly, and yes, surprisingly both played as if they started the entire season.

Woltjer, a receiver/defensive back, was switched to quarterback after Jon Wassink suffered a broken collarbone in the semifinal. Woltjer, a better runner than Wassink, tore through Detroit Country Day's defense for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. He fared well in the passing game, too, completing all seven of his attempts for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

South Christian (11-3) scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and rolled past Country Day, 40-7.

"I started Monday's practice pretty good," Woltjer said. "Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty shaky. When I come in a game my teammates pretty much know we're going to run the ball."

When Travis Davis suffered a right shoulder injury on the second play of the game, Hessbrook's uncle, coach Terry Hessbrook, had no choice but to insert his stunned nephew, who nervously entered the game against Constantine, ran 52 yards for a score to tie the game 7-7 and was good to go.

"It was nerve-racking," Logan Hessbrook said. "On a scale of one to 10 it was an 11. I was asking my center ( Mike Mallory ), "Is Travis ready? Is he coming in?" After I ran for that touchdown I started to settle in."

Hessbrook ran for another touchdown and passed for two to lead Ithaca (14-0) to a 37-27 win and third straight title.

Had Hessbrook suffered an injury defensive back Markes Gadlen was the next option at quarterback but he wanted no part in that.

"I told (Hessbrook) he's all we got," Gadlen said. "I wasn't going in there. I can't see over the line."

Detroit Cass Tech won its second straight Division 1 football title Saturday, again beating Detroit Catholic Central, and should go into 2013 as the odds-on favorite to win a third straight championship. / Daniel Mears/Detroit News
Grand Rapids South Christian quarterback Derek Woltjer led his team to a ... (Bryan Mitchell/Special to The News)
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