Farmington Hills — Legendary Farmington Hills Harrison coach John Herrington expected a physical, low scoring battle in the Oakland Activities Association White Division showdown with No. 14 Oak Park Friday night at the sports complex named in his honor.
Herrington was attempting to earn his 430th career win to match Al Fracassa as the state’s all-time winningest coach and more importantly take a step closer to earning a state playoff appearance after missing out on postseason play a year ago.
Meanwhile, Oak Park was looking to spoil his night to clinch at least a share of the division title.
Harrison (5-2, 5-1) made sure Herrington got his record, intercepting Oak Park junior Dwan Mathis — a Michigan State commit — twice in the second half, getting a field goal off of one and ending a Oak Park scoring threat on another to power its way to a 17-14 victory in rainy conditions.
Herrington can own the record by himself with a Homecoming win next Friday against Berkley, which entered Friday night with a 1-5 record. Harrison also can clinch a playoff spot.
“It’s great, but I was really more into getting this win to have a chance at the playoffs," said Herrington, who is in his 48th year as Harrison's coach. "It (record) means a lot, but getting that win means more.
“They (Oak Park) are a great team, No. 1 in Oakland County and we hadn’t won a big game in a while. We’ve been beating teams that weren’t that good, but we hadn’t won a big game so it’s big for our players.”
Oak Park (5-2, 5-1) looked sharp on its first drive, moving into Harrison territory before Mathis came up a yard short of a first down on a fourth-and-9 play at the 34.
Harrison advanced to Oak Park’s 17 on its first drive before Noah Hendricks was sacked by Desmond Cleveland and Justin Rogers, forcing a 43-yard field goal which was short.
Harrison had a short field to work with on its second drive after a short punt, starting at Oak Park’s 43 and taking advantage of the situation when Rod Heard scored on a 29-yard run in the opening minute of the second quarter.
Oak Park, which had outscored its previous five opponents 220-14, answered with a 12-yard touchdown run by Cashual Goldsmith, which was set up by his 13-yard run on a fourth-and-2 from the 25. However, Oak Park’s PAT fell under the crossbar, giving the lead to Harrison, 7-6.
Hendricks led Harrison on a 64-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes of the half, finding Notre Dame-bound Ovie Oghoufo for a 36-yard pass to get into Oak Park territory at the 19.
Hendricks scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak on the final play of the half for a 14-6 cushion. He had hooked up with Oghoufo for a 27-yard completion on the opening drive.
Mathis was 2-for-5 for 21 yards in the opening half, then had his first pass of the second half intercepted by Jerrin Harvey, who stepped in front of the Oak Park receiver near the right sideline and returned it to the 11. Harrison failed to punch the ball into the end zone, settling for a 36-yard field goal by David Hiser for a 17-6 cushion.
“I saw an out and I let him (receiver) go a bit, just read it, jumped the pass and grabbed it," Harvey said. "I got it and was trying to score, didn’t score, but it set up that field goal which was huge."
Oak Park pulled with 17-14 with 4:23 left in the third on Gary Gayle’s 27-yard run, followed by Mathis’ two-point conversion.
Oak Park had a chance to take the lead early in the fourth when it looked like Mathis had scored on a 40-yard run on a fourth-and-1, but a holding call brought it back, giving Oak Park a first down at the 18.
Oak Park’s threat would end with an interception by Nik Cotton at the 6.
Harrison then ate up more than five minutes with Hendricks running for 19 yards on a third-and-4 play from the Harrison 9, then getting off a pooch punt on a fourth-and-4 at the Oak Park 45, putting it at the 11.
Mathis finished 3 of 9 for 38 yards and fumbled on a fourth-down pass from his own 24 in the final seconds that was forced by Harrison's Caleb Sparks. Goldsmith had 105 yards on 17 carries with 92 coming in the first half.
“Our defensive is unbelievable," Oghoufo said. "I feel we’re the best in the state. Playmakers make plays and (Sparks) made a big play.”