Ray Buford runs for a touchdown for OAA White contender Southfield. (Bryan Mitchell / Special to Detroit News)
Southfield — Before Friday’s division opener against Rochester Adams, legendary coach John Herrington shook his head in a somewhat disgusted fashion as he spoke of the highly competitive Oakland Activities Association White Division, of which his Farmington Hills Harrison team is a member.
“I knew I wouldn’t like it when (Greg) Carter came into our league,” Herrington said. “It was just going to make (the White Division) tougher.”
Carter is in his third season as head coach at Oak Park and what a difference he’s made. Oak Park had one winning season (5-4) in the five years before Carter came there. In his first season, Oak Park was 3-6. Last year, it was 9-3, losing to Wyandotte Roosevelt, 10-6, in a Division 2 regional final. This year, Oak Park is 2-0 and ranked No. 9.
The emergence of Oak Park has raised the level of play in a division that was already one of Metro Detroit’s best.
That’s one reason. Another is Southfield (1-1), perhaps the best team in the division. Only Detroit Cass Tech and Grand Rapids Christian can match Southfield as far as talent and the number of college prospects. Southfield has been a good team in each of the past six seasons, making the playoffs in five, but this season could be its best. Its best season came in 2008, when it finished 11-2.
“At Southfield, we’ve always had great kids,” coach Tim Conley said. “It’s a matter of consistency. The last six or seven years, I’ve had the same coaches. We have six coaches in the building (as teachers). That’s a big deal. It’s the same at Oak Park. They have a guy (Carter) who demands discipline. We hold the kids accountable.
“We have three teams (Harrison, Adams and Oxford) in the division that have won state titles. They’ve been there before. What’s amazing is the coaching staffs they have. They’ve been there so long. They’ve been there before. At Oak Park you have a coach who has won multiple state titles (at Detroit DePorres). I’m hoping Oak Park closes. Carter’s last two (DePorres, Inkster) have.”
Kidding aside, that’s not likely. Oak Park has added over 200 students (from 1,213 students to 1,438) since Carter’s arrival.
For the past 16 years Dave Mifsud had it good as head coach at Dearborn High. His teams made the playoffs 11 times, reached the Division 2 semifinals twice and upset huge rival Dearborn Fordson, 24-14, in the first round of the Division 1 playoffs last season.
But for a time he and his wife, Coryn, had looked to move away from Southeast Michigan to a more slow-paced, country style of life. Their three children had grown and moved out so there was nothing holding them back.
Last spring, Mifsud accepted a position as head coach at Parma Jackson County Western, about an hour drive from Dearborn and 40 minutes from Hillsdale College, where his youngest child, C.J., a quarterback, is a redshirt sophomore.
“It was way more adventurous than we were accustomed to,” Mifsud said. “It’s a great school district. It’s a great community that gives great support to its students. They recently re-did the facilities and every child is given an I-pad. I hope to keep coaching for another 10 to 15 years.”
One at a time, Dave. To say that taking over a program like Western is a challenge is an understatement. Western has never made the playoffs. Since 2002 the program had won 19 games before this season. Western was 0-9 last year.
Western opened with a 29-10 victory over Lake Odessa Lakewood, then lost to Charlotte, 41-17, Friday. Western led 17-7 and faced a fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line with four minutes left in the first half when the bottom fell out.
“These kids haven’t experienced success,” Mifsud said. “The mistakes they made are correctable.”
Expectation is to win
Coach Ryan Irish is proud he and his team at Royal Oak gave the fans something to cheer about on Friday. Royal Oak’s 31-7 victory over Ferndale was just the second in the last 19 games. What Irish didn’t like was how the fans reacted.
“I’m excited for the win,” he said. “But when the student body stormed the field, I didn’t like that. Our expectations are to win every week. Our guys and staff expect to win. I told them, I’m not happy with one win. It’s a win, yes, but I want to consider Royal Oak a contender in the (Oakland Activities Association) Blue Division.”
Tweaking the playoffs
Most would agree the current state playoff system has some inequities. If this weren’t true, why would members of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association propose an alternative formula that would have placed more emphasis on strength of schedule?
That proposed change was shot down earlier this year at an administrative meeting in Traverse City.
The simple way to improve the playoff system, one that many coaches, including Thomas Wilcher at Detroit Cass Tech, endorses, would be to expand the playoffs from 256 to 512 teams. To do this the current ninth week of the regular season would become the first round of the playoffs and all but 79 member schools would compete.
Under the current system too much emphasis is placed upon programs to win six games to earn that automatic playoff spot. Other than determining home field, playoff points only come into play for the additional qualifiers, the teams that finish 5-4 or 4-4.
Here’s an example of the inequities that exist. Teams A and B are Class B schools with 5-3 records and play each other to determine a playoff spot. Team A wins by a touchdown and earns 64 points for defeating a Class B school plus 40 bonus points (eight points for each win of your opponent) for a total of 104 points. Team B receives six points (one point for each victory the team it lost to won). This disparity in points, 104-6, doesn’t reflect the competitive play that took place on the field.
One byproduct of the current system is the open dates Warren DeLaSalle and Detroit Douglass had this past weekend. DeLaSalle offered to host Douglass but Douglass refused. Douglass would be a big underdog had this game been played.
So what? Teams are guaranteed to play a regular-season schedule and nothing more.
It’s early in the season. That’s why you’ve seen so many mistakes in the form of turnovers, illegal procedures, poor execution and the like.
Some officials also had their share of guffaws. On Friday at Farmington Hills Harrison simple mathematics were in question. Harrison was called for a 5-yard penalty, had two incomplete passes, then Rochester Adams was called for defensive interference. Simple call, right? The 15-yard penalty would give Harrison a first down.
This time it was not so simple. Initially the officiating crew measured for a first down. Measured? And they ruled Harrison was inches short. After a meeting of the minds they determined it was a first down and we could get on with the game. Whew! That was tough.
The first game of the season can be a nightmare for coaches. Clarkston was ranked No. 4 in the preseason and lost to Rochester Adams, 12-7. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, No. 14 in the preseason, led Oak Park 13-0 before losing 25-20. Northville, the favorite to win the KLAA Central Division, failed to score three times inside the 10-yard line and lost to White Lake Lakeland, 14-10. And Sturgis, with highly rated quarterback Chance Stewart, was drubbed by Portage Central, 55-0.
All four rebounded well from those losses this week. Clarkston defeated West Bloomfield, 41-18. St. Mary’s, behind nine tackles and a late interception by freshman Josh Ross, defeated Toledo Whitmer, 10-3, and Northville got past Waterford Mott, 41-25. And Stewart threw three touchdown passes and Sturgis blocked a late field goal try and held on to defeat Niles, 34-33.
Rochester Hills Stoney Creek running back/defensive back
Cox had 100 all-purpose yards, four touchdowns and an interception in a 62-13 victory over Pontiac.