Lloyd Lyons and his U-D Jesuit teammates watch the selection show. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
Detroit — You’ve come a long way, baby.
Three years ago, U-D Jesuit’s freshman football team finished 0-9, and it’s been 12 years since U-D made the playoffs.
All of those setbacks are forgotten. U-D’s 20-17 victory over previously unbeaten Birmingham Seaholm on Friday saw to that.
At 5-4, U-D is one of nine Class A schools that made the playoffs as an additional qualifier. In fact, U-D has the most playoff points (67.444) of any of the 31 additional qualifiers and it will host Warren Woods-Tower (6-3) in a Division 2 pre-district on Saturday. The game will be played at Ferndale at a time to be announced Monday.
Much of the credit, some would say most, goes to first-year head coach Oscar Olejniczak, an alumni and former assistant coach. Olejniczak was on staff when U-D reached the state semifinals in 1999 and 2001. This season, he brought back some of that mojo.
“It’s unbelievable,” Olejniczak said. “I’m just happy for the school. It’s been a long time coming.
“This team is different from those other teams. This team has never tasted the playoffs. It’s a totally different staff. After those four losses I told them they have to believe in the process. They had to trust the coaches and it was hard for them. They’ve never won before. It’s a testament to the (22) seniors.”
The four losses were to Catholic League Central Division foes Birmingham Brother Rice, Detroit Catholic Central, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and Warren DeLaSalle. None of the games was close.
One of those seniors is Parris Bennett, a linebacker and receiver, a team captain. Bennett is a three-year player who’s been through the hard times.
Those times have changed.
“I expected to be (in the playoffs) before the season,” Bennett said. “Coach Olejniczak brought a new fire and passion into the program that the kids bought into. It took a minute. It took longer for some. Being alumni makes a big difference.
“It’s exciting to bring the program back. We want to make a long run. I think our chances are good.”
At least now U-D has a chance.
The hard way
Like U-D, Grosse Pointe North had to win on the road against an 8-0 team to get in.
North trailed St. Clair, 12-10, then 26-18 and 32-26 with seven minutes left before Tod Long (35 carries, 264 yards) scored two touchdowns to give North (6-3) a 40-32 victory.
“I felt in my heart we could go to St. Clair and beat them,” coach Frank Sumbera said. “We’ve been scoring pretty good all year. We scored in three plays, then they scored on one play.”
And back and forth it went.
After North’s last touchdown, with 3:18 left, Sumbera instructed his kicker to squib the kick in an attempt to prevent twins Bo and Blake Meldrum from making a long return. The kick bounced off a St. Clair player and North recovered.
“It’s a great win,” Sumbera said. “They beat us last year, 29-7, to keep us out of the playoffs.”
Turning the page
Winning is contagious just as losing can be. Four times Waterford Kettering had winless seasons since 2001 and had just three victories the last three seasons.
Kyle Schultz is in his second season as head coach and has turned things around. After running past Dearborn Edsel Ford, 48-7, on Friday Kettering (6-3) is in the playoffs for just the second time in school history.
“You feel the culture change,” Schultz said. “We have a lot of guys coming back next year. We’re looking to build upon this. It doesn’t matter who we play. We’re not happy just getting in.”
Something ain't right
East Grand Rapids and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s both finished 5-4, and both missed the playoffs. The last time that happened was 1996.
It seems like yesterday when East Grand Rapids defeated St. Mary’s, 46-39, in five overtimes to win the Division 3 title. OK, it wasn’t yesterday. It happened in 2007.
Point is, both these teams, and 254 others, should make the playoffs. The playoffs need to be expanded to 512 to ensure teams like these have a shot at a state title. All that is needed is for the ninth week of the regular season to become the first round of the playoffs. Most of the 2-6 teams that would make the playoffs within this formula would be eliminated the first week. OK. So they get their nine games in with their ninth game now meaningful. Some argue that there would be too many one-sided games in the first round (which would have taken place this past weekend) if this expansion took place.
What would you call Macomb Dakota’s 55-0 victory over Roseville on Friday?
Howell (5-4) lost to Jackson Lumen Christi (9-0), 42-35, and missed the playoffs because both Farmington and Bloomfield Hills (two of Oxford’s opponents) won on Friday. If either had lost, Oxford would have been outside looking in. Oxford has 61.333 playoff points; Howell 61.222.
Strange circumstances, huh? That’s the current system.
“I think it could be better,” Howell coach Aaron Metz said. “I went to college in Indiana and on Week 9 the playoffs start. It would certainly (ease) the scheduling issues.”
Perhaps other leagues should study the scheduling implemented by the Detroit Public School League the last two weeks. Take Detroit Cody, for example. The PSL holds its league semifinals in Week 8 so the teams that don’t qualify play crossover games. Cody, 4-3 at the time and in playoff contention, played Detroit Pershing, which was 1-6. Cody won 32-0. Last Thursday, Cody played Detroit Douglass, which was 1-6, and Cody won 62-0 to get in.
Conversely, the Oakland Activities Association had its crossover games matching the Red Division against teams from the White Division. At 5-3 West Bloomfield hosted Oxford, which came in at 4-4. Oxford won and qualified for the playoffs and West Bloomfield is out. Maybe next year the OAA could schedule its 5-3 teams against teams with one or two wins, allowing more of its teams a better chance to get in.
State final predictions
Division 1: Detroit Cass Tech vs. Clarkston; winner, Cass Tech
Division 2: Birmingham Brother Rice vs. Muskegon; winner, Brother Rice
Division 3: DeWitt vs. Grand Rapids Christian; winner, DeWitt
Division 4: Grand Rapids South Christian vs. Lansing Sexton; winner, S. Christian
Division 5: Menominee vs. Jackson Lumen Christi; winner, Lumen Christi
Division 6: Ithaca vs. Shelby; winner, Ithaca
Division 7: Detroit Loyola vs. Ishpeming; winner, Loyola
Division 8: Beal City vs. Muskegon Catholic Central; winner, Muskegon CC
Division 1, Region 3, District 1
How about Detroit Catholic Central (7-2) and Canton (8-1) as the two road teams? C.C. is good enough to reach the state final, as it did the last two years. Canton is good enough to win this district. Northville (8-1) might have its best team and must face C.C. in the opener. Walled Lake Western (8-1) is good enough to win this region but might not get past Canton.
Division 1, Region 4
Cass Tech against either Macomb Dakota or Warren DeLaSalle would be a fabulous regional final. Dakota’s defense is outstanding but DeLaSalle has played a more difficult schedule. Cass Tech is in the catbird seat awaiting the survivor.
By the numbers
31: Additional qualifiers, the most ever, to make the state playoffs
200: Coaching milestone for victories reached by Noel Dean of Lowell and Frank Sumbera of Grosse Pointe North on Friday
300: Herb Brogan of Jackson Lumen Christi became the 10th coach in state history to reach that victory milestone on Friday (42-35 victory over Howell).
Waterford Kettering running back/linebacker
In the first half Wood had 144 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries and had eight tackles as Kettering clinched its second playoff appearance with a 48-7 victory over Dearborn Edsel Ford.
“(Our record) don’t mean nothing. We’re rolling. We’re getting better. There’s no pressure on us. The pressure is on the 9-0 teams. My team has my personality. I coach tough.”
Bud Rowley, Oxford coach, on being the last 5-4 Class A team to qualify for the playoffs.