November 18, 2013 at 3:45 am

Tom Markowski

Prep Insider: Hook and ladder works wonders for Livonia Clarenceville

Coach Ken Fry instructs his players at Livonia Clarenceville, which moved on to a Division 5 state semifinal, its first since 2001. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)

Livonia — After studying game film of Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central and its two-tight end T-formation offense Livonia Clarenceville coach Ken Fry knew he needed help developing a game plan for last Friday’s Division 5 regional final.

“I tried a four-man front in practice,” Fry said. “I tried a six-man front. Nothing seemed to satisfy us as a coaching staff. So I went to (Royal Oak coach) Ryan Irish and asked for help.”

Irish was the head coach at Clarenceville and still teaches at the school.

One of Royal Oak’s opponents is Hazel Park, which runs a similar offense to the one run by coach Jack Giarmo at St. Mary C.C.

“Ryan told me he and his coaches sat for hours talking about what defense to run,” Fry said. “And what he said was they layered it. They use three layers, a 5-4-2, and each player had their assignments. What we liked about it was the kids played somewhat the same position so we didn’t have to teach them anything that was that different.”

A resourceful head coach realizes his limitations.

When Clarenceville trailed St. Mary C.C., 20-14, with 17 seconds left on Friday, Fry went to his offensive coordinator, Lloyd Slaubagh, for a trick play. On a fourth-and-3 from the Clarenceville 40, quarterback Jake Kubiak completed a pass to Carlon Davis, who then pitched it to Jalen Bryant, who completed the 60-yard touchdown play to tie the score. David Vanderkerckhove’s conversion with five seconds left gave Clarenceville a 21-20 victory.

“We’ve practiced that hook-and-ladder for six or seven weeks and we never got it right,” Fry said. “(Slaubagh) said, ‘No, coach, it’s going to work this time.’ I said come on, Lloyd. But it worked.”

Clarenceville (12-0) will play Grand Rapids West Catholic (8-4) in a semifinal at Battle Creek Harper Creek at 1 p.m. Saturday.

It will be Clarenceville’s first semifinal appearance since 2001.

Hook and Ladder II

Marine City trailed Detroit Country Day, 28-27, when it faced a third-and-8 at Country Day’s 45 with 1:20 left. With Country Day playing prevent defense, quarterback Alex Merchant passed to Pete Patsalis, who pitched it to Jarret Mathison for a 20-yard gain. Three plays later, Merchant threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Patsalis with 45 seconds left and Marine City held on to upset Country Day (8-4), 33-28, in a Division 4 region final on Saturday.

Country Day reached the state final last season.

Marine City (11-1) will face Lansing Sexton (12-0) in a semifinal at 1 p.m. Saturday at Ortonville Brandon.

“Everyone talks about their Division I players,” Marine City coach Ron Glodich said. “But they have 11 good players on the field all the time. Our defensive line averages 180 pounds. Country Day doesn’t list their height and weights in the program but they’re big. That’s the most talented team we’ve faced since Detroit Crockett in 2011 and they’re in the top five all-time of the teams we’ve faced.”

Mathison rushed for 182 yards on 19 carries and Merchant was 10-of-14 passing for 167 yards.

Challenges

Dale Harvel faced a huge challenge when he took over as head coach for James Reynolds at Detroit King in May of 2009. King has made the playoffs in each of Harvel’s five seasons including a state semifinal appearance in ’11.

Reynolds, who guided King to state final appearances in ’89 and ’90, stepped down as coach after suffering a stroke. Reynolds remains on staff as an assistant coach.

King (10-1) is back in the semifinals after defeating Wyandotte Roosevelt, 6-0, on Friday and will face two-time defending Division 2 champion Birmingham Brother Rice (12-0) at Wayne State at 1 p.m. Saturday.

“I told my players, this is what you play for,” Harvel said. “This is why you’re at King High. You’re here to play the best.

“Our defense has played well all season. We haven’t given up big plays, except against (Detroit) Cass Tech (a 20-14 loss). It’s given us a chance to win every game.”

Possessive

St. Clair (11-1) will play in its first semifinal after soundly defeating Melvindale, 40-14, in a Division 3 regional final on Friday.

St. Clair coach Bill Nesbitt, a former assistant at Marine City, said his team played its most complete game of the season, and added his offense, run by quarterback Jared Tobey, was “methodical.” St. Clair dominated time of possession, 38 minutes to 10. Melvindale had the ball for just three minutes in the first half.

St. Clair won its first eight games, then lost to Grosse Pointe North, 40-32. Nesbitt said his team has taken its level of play up a notch in the playoffs.

“The loss was probably a blessing in disguise,” he said. “Our practices have been better since and we’ve had greater energy.”

At long last

Lansing Sexton is in the semifinals for the first time since 1989 and is the first team from the Lansing school district to be 12-0.

Sexton held junior running back Alex Grace to 246 yards on 38 carries and defeated Saginaw Swan Valley, 20-14, in a Division 4 regional final on Friday.

Sexton led 20-7 before Grace ran 80 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Sexton was then able to hang on.

“For the most part we did a pretty good job on Grace,” Sexton coach Dan Boggan said. “He had 20 yards on 19 carries before he broke a 53-yarder at the end of the first half. He just keeps coming at you, fast and hard, fast and hard. Not many kids take that many hits and don’t get discouraged.”

Grace, a junior, has rushed for over 2,500 yards this season.

Receiver Javon Cooney led Sexton with 11 receptions for 197 yards and two touchdowns.

Emotional ending

Not many games this season were as well-played as the one Detroit Catholic Central and Temperance Bedford put on Friday before an estimated crowd of 7,000 at Bedford on Friday.

Bedford players had the word, family, on the back of their jerseys in remembrance of Colton Durbin, a senior starting defensive back who died as a result of an automobile accident on Oct. 24.

C.C. found yet another way to win as its run-oriented offense executed the two-minute drill as well as any team that runs a spread offense could.

Trailing 33-28, C.C. took over on its 39 with 1:50 left. Quarterback Sean Birney was 6-of-7 on the drive for all 61 yards, including the last 4 to tight end Nicholas Cococcetta with 25 seconds left to give C.C. the 34-33 victory.

C.C. did not commit a turnover. Bedford had two with one coming on a desperation pass on the game’s final play.

Special teams played an important part as Bedford had an extra point blocked after receiving a dead-ball personal foul penalty following its fourth touchdown that kept the score at 27-21.

When C.C. tied the game on a 30-yard pass from Birney to Zach Bock with 8:32 left, Bock’s helmet came off after scoring the touchdown and, according to the rules, he had to sit out the next play. Bock is C.C.’s kicker so his brother, Alex, kicked the conversion, but C.C. was penalized for illegal procedure so Alex Bock had to kick the conversion from 25 yards, which he did, to give C.C. a 28-27 lead.

Birney pointed to the scoreboard afterward. The significance of the number 33 (points) on the scoreboard was not lost on him amid the celebration. All of the C.C. players wear that number circled on the front of their jersey. That’s the number C.C. linebacker David Widzinski, who died in his sleep last December, wore last season.

Detroit Cass Tech’s 32-17 victory over Macomb Dakota on Saturday sets up a rematch many have anticipated.

Cass Tech defeated C.C., 36-21, in last season’s Division 1 final and the same teams played for the state title the year before with Cass Tech capturing its first state title with a 49-13 victory.

C.C. (10-2) plays Cass Tech (12-0) at Troy Athens at 1 p.m. Saturday.

tom.markowski@detroitnews.com