Livonia Franklin (11-2) vs. Warren De La Salle (11-2), Friday, 1 p.m.
Livonia Franklin breakdown:
Livonia Franklin was a major underdog heading into the postseason, starting the season 2-2 before making a move during the second half of the season, then pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the postseason with a 35-28 OT win over 2016 state finalist Walled Lake Western, before moving on to avenge an earlier season loss to crosstown rival Livonia Churchill (21-19) in the district title game. Franklin went on to defeat Flushing (31-29) in the regionals, then beat previously undefeated Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (20-0) in the semifinals.
Franklin has shown the ability to pound the ball on the ground with the strong running of Isaac Moore and Julius Simmons with timely passing by sophomore quarterback Jacob Kelbert, son of longtime head coach Chris Kelbert.
And, Franklin’s defense – led by senior linebacker Jacob Mass, along with a line of Arsell Weary, Manee Willie, Forrest Hertlein and Zach Zella – has never been better than Saturday’s semifinal, when it forced five turnovers and limited Forest Hills Central to 111 total yards, just 21 in the first half to set the tempo.
Warren De La Salle breakdown:
Things didn’t look good early on for De La Salle, which was coming off a rare sub-.500 season and then opened the season with a 30-point loss (36-6) to Lowell. However, a Week 2 rout of Grandville (31-0) turned things around and the Pilots carried the momentum to win 10 of their final 11 games, including consecutive wins over Detroit Catholic Central (20-6, 35-14) to win the Catholic League title.
De La Salle’s defense has been nothing short of brilliant during the postseason, opening with shutouts over Ferndale (46-0) and Port Huron Northern (50-0), then defeating Oak Park (14-7) in a regional before a 14-13 semifinal victory over two-time defending state champion Detroit King.
A big key to De La Salle’s turnaround has been Mike Giannone’s ability to persuade 6-6, 235-pound basketball player Luke Pfromm to join the football team. Pfromm has responded by directing a game-winning 85-yard drive in the final minute against Oak Park, then running for a TD and finding Jacob Badalamenti for a 44-yard TD pass against King.
Players to watch:
Isaac Moore, Sr., RB, Franklin: Moore, a 5-11, 205-pound senior, has rushed for 1,450 yards and 13 TDs. He has picked up more than 1,000 yards during the last half dozen games, stepping up big during Franklin’s postseason run, starting with a 225-yard (28 carries) and two TDs performance against Walled Lake Western, followed by a 198-yard effort in the district title win over Churchill. He is durable and only gets better as the game goes on.
Jacob Badalamenti, Sr., ATH, De La Salle: Don’t blink or the 5-9, 150-pound Badalamenti is more than likely past defenders and headed for the end zone. He has made big play after big play this season, returning kickoffs for TDs in consecutive weeks, then grabbing a 37-yard pass from Pfromm on a third-and-14 play from the 11 to spark a game-winning 85-yard TD drive against Oak Park, and then grabbing the 44-yard TD pass against King.
How Franklin can win:
Franklin is used to being the underdog, finding ways to pull out victories with the maturity of sophomore quarterback Jacob Kelbert and the running of Isaac Moore behind a blue-collar offensive line consisting of first-year starters in sophomore Jake Swirpel and seniors Jack Yardely, Marcus Martin, Riley Baty and Jacob Mass. Franklin’s defense can force turnovers, displayed by the three interceptions and two fumbles forced in the win over Forest Hills Central. The Patriots also have a weapon in kicker Brad Gibson.
How De La Salle can win:
De La Salle’s defense has stepped up big and slowed down a number of powers, including Detroit Catholic Central, Oak Park and Detroit King with linebackers Devin Campbell and Jacob Dobbs leading the way, along with cornerback Josh DeBerry. Pfromm has become a great leader, making good decisions on critical drives late in games while showing his ability to move the chains with his legs or through the air.
Giannone has won state championships before, guiding Macomb Dakota to Division 1 titles in 2006 and ’07. He has De La Salle playing at a high level in his second year with the program and has his team grinding out victories. Look for Badalamenti to be the difference, making big plays in special teams and coming up with crucial third-down catches to put De La Salle in scoring position. De La Salle, 20-17
Grand Rapids Catholic Central (13-0) vs. Edwardsburg (12-1), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Grand Rapids C.C. breakdown:
Defending state champ GRCC returned one of the top players in the state in 6-5, 270-pound two-way lineman Jalen Mayfield (Michigan), who is opening holes for standout running back Nolan Fugate on offense and causing havoc as a defensive end.
GRCC was tested in a pre-district win against Hudsonville Unity Christian (32-26) and a district title win over Wyoming Kelloggsville (45-34), but has had a much easier time in the regionals – 42-3 win over Belding – and semifinal against Escanaba (24-0).
Edwardsburg has lit up the scoreboard in its run to Ford Field, including a 41-0 pre-district win over Benton Harbor, 30-12 district victory over Three Rivers, 52-30 rout of Lansing Sexton in the regionals and a 32-21 upset of River Rouge in semifinal.
Edwardsburg has been effective in using the Wing-T offense, piling up 437 yards against River Rouge, all of it coming on the ground. Running back Nick Bradley leads the Eddies with 1,313 yards with Kyle Shrider rushing for more than 800 yards and Chase Sager, more than 700. Matt Hepler has thrown the ball less than three times a game but has connected on 63 percent of his attempts to keep opponents honest.
Players to watch:
Nolan Fugate, Sr., RB, GRCC: Fugate is a workhorse back at 6-1 and 210 pounds, showing his durability by running for 477 yards on 37 carries and five TDs in a 57-50 win over Comstock Park. He has rushed for 2,698 yards and 32 TDs this season, including 555 and seven TDs the last two weeks.
Nick Bradley, Sr., RB-DB, Edwardsburg: Bradley isn’t as big (5-9, 160) or as physical as Fugate, but he certainly gets the job done. Bradley has rushed for 1,313 yards, and he also returns punts, is the punter and forces turnovers from his secondary position.
How GRCC can win:
GRCC has put up big numbers on making a return trip to Ford Field and it has a strong offensive line and an outstanding running back in Nolan Fugate. It will be important for GRCC to make the most of its possessions because Edwardsburg likes to keep the ball when it gets it.
How Edwardsburg can win:
Edwardsburg can win if it plays turnover-free ball – the Eddies commit less than a turnover a game – and gets the lead early to gain confidence and momentum.
No doubt, Edwardsburg knows it can also earn a comeback win, coming back from a 21-12 first-half deficit against River Rouge by scoring the game’s final 20 points, but it would be advantageous to play with the lead this time around.
Look for GRCC to jump out to the lead and keep pouring it on behind the running of Fugate. Fugate will fall short of becoming a 3,000-yard rusher, but he will have a game to remember. GRCC, 35-21
Jackson Lumen Christi (11-1) vs. Ithaca (13-0), Friday, 4:30 p.m.
Jackson Lumen Christi breakdown:
Lumen Christi, the defending state champ, has averaged 47 points during its postseason run. Lumen Christi opened with a 48-15 win over Quincy, followed by a 51-14 district title game victory over Michigan Center, then doubling up Watervliet (44-22) in the regionals before a 44-12 rout of Warren Michigan Collegiate in the semifinals.
Lumen Christi has played a tough schedule, defeating four-time Division 5 state champion Grand Rapids West Catholic (27-24) and suffering its lone loss to Division 3 state semifinalist Battle Creek Harper Creek (22-21, OT). The Titans have multiple weapons, led by Sebastian Toland (1,944 rushing yards, 22 TDs), Kyle Minder (809, 17 TDs) and quarterback Troy Kutcha (63-of-92, 1,297, 16 TDs). Minder scored four TDs in the semifinal win.
Ithaca won four straight Division 6 state championships (2010-13) while building a 69-game winning streak prior to a title game loss to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in ’14, quickly rebounding to bring home the trophy again in ’15.
Terry Hessbrook’s gang earned its way back to Ford Field with victories over Byron (43-0) and Laingsburg (56-7) before defeating Montague (33-23) in the regionals and Traverse City St. Francis (27-0) in the semifinals.
Ithaca has had a long line of outstanding quarterbacks in recent years and it has another one in dual-threat Joey Bentley, who has thrown for more than 1,900 yards and 27 TDs and run for 1,552 yards and 26 TDs.
Players to watch:
Sebastian Toland, Sr., RB, Lumen Christi: While Ithaca has enjoyed outstanding quarterbacks in the past, Lumen Christi can say the same about its running backs, including Khari Willis (Michigan State) and Bo Bell, who rushed for 2,650 yards and 34 TDs last season. Toland has shown his breakaway speed on a consistent basis, averaging more than 11 yards a carry.
Joey Bentley, Sr., QB, Ithaca: Bentley has done an outstanding job of running Ithaca’s offense, making great decisions to take care of the ball (27 TDs, seven interceptions). He has the ability to make things happen with his legs when a play breaks down and has a strong arm to get the ball to his receivers Adam Culp (35 receptions, 10 TDs), Seth Davis (35, five) and Devin Barnes (23, five).
How Lumen Christi can win:
The Titans have experienced players, including Minder, who rushed for 66 yards and three TDs in the 26-14 title game win over Maple City Glen Lake last year, along with Kutcha, who directed the offense. Bell is gone but Toland is more than capable of piling up big yardage, and the Titans’ defense has already slowed down one elite dual-threat QBs in Zack Pickens of Watervliet.
How Ithaca can win:
Ithaca has a balanced attack with Bentley at the controls, making good decisions and using his playmakers. Kicker Adam Culp, who booted 30- and 33-yard field goals in the semifinal win, is also a weapon.
Look for Toland to have a big game to give Lumen Christi legendary coach Herb Brogan his eighth state title and 343rd career win. Lumen Christi, 21-20
Ottawa Lake Whiteford (13-0) vs. Saginaw Nouvel (13-0), Friday, 10 a.m.
Ottawa Lake Whiteford breakdown:
Whiteford lit up the scoreboard, using an explosive offense to defeat Adrian Lenawee Christian 61-6 to start its postseason run before winning the district title with a 36-20 victory over Petersburg-Summerfield, then moving on to crush Clarkston Everest Collegiate (60-20) before dominating a powerhouse Mendon team (50-21) that had knocked four-time defending state champion Muskegon Catholic Central out of the playoffs in the district final.
Whiteford’s offense is led by junior running back Logan Murphy, who has rushed for more than 1,747 yards, running behind a mammoth and physical offensive line.
Junior wingback Zach Bertz scored three second-quarter TDs to help Whiteford take a 36-7 halftime lead over Mendon. Whiteford can move the ball through the air, as well, with Thomas Eitnier throwing for three TDs.
Saginaw Nouvel breakdown:
Saginaw Nouvel had a much tougher time getting to Ford Field, defeating Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart 29-7 before a district title victory (27-26) over Harbor Beach, a 54-34 regional win over Lincoln Alcona and a 17-14 win over Iron River West Iron County in the semifinals.
Tate Hausbeck has played well at quarterback and has multiple options to throw to, including Peter Snyder and Kenny Kujawa who each have more than 700 yards in receptions.
Kujawa has also intercepted five passes with linebacker Alex Wrobel showing his ability to get in the backfield on a consistent basis, getting more than 20 tackles for lost yardage.
Players to watch:
Logan Murphy, Jr., RB, Whiteford: Murphy, a 6-0, 190-pound running back, has run for 1,747 yards and 24 TDs behind an outstanding offensive line, also showing his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Tate Hausbeck, Sr., QB, Saginaw Nouvel: Hausbeck is a big, physical quarterback at 6-3 and 205 pounds and has the ability to move the ball through the air or on the ground. He has completed over 60 percent of his passes for close to 2,500 yards while also rushing for more than 600 yards.
How Whiteford can win:
Whiteford’s line can open holes for Logan Murphy while also giving Thomas Eitnier time to find his receivers. Whiteford also has a weapon in return man Ty Eitnier, who has scored on a kickoff return. He also has six interceptions.
How Nouvel can win:
Nouvel is known for forcing turnovers and if it can cause a turnover or two early to get some points and some momentum it will have a good chance at a win.
Whiteford enters the championship game with extra motivation after getting beat by Muskegon Catholic Central 35-6 in last year’s title game. Whiteford, 31-14