Prep Insider: River Rouge is up for first state semifinal
Corey Parker took over River Rouge's program as a 25-year-old head coach in 2009 and has built it into a power, just a game away from a state championship game appearance.
River Rouge earned its first regional title in school history Friday, defeating Algonac, 51-25, to improve to 11-1 with a Division 5 semifinal showdown with Ida (12-0) Saturday afternoon at Novi.
River Rouge has outscored its opponents by a 167-25 margin in three postseason games. It has earned six shutouts, including a pair in district play. It defeated Ida, 42-14, in the district championship game last year before losing in the regional to Almont.
"It was definitely great for the kids," Parker said of the regional title. "They have all worked so hard, doing everything they needed to do during the offseason to give us a chance for a long, successful postseason run.
"You could definitely say I've grown up as a coach over the last seven years here. I've had some great mentors that I've learned from, Coach (Greg) Carter, Coach (John) Herrington, Coach (Drake) Wilkins and Coach (Scott) Merchant. I was recruited by John Dignan at Eastern Michigan and then after I played safety at Eastern, Coach Dignan was with Coach Merchant at Detroit Jesuit and I got my first job coaching with them back then in 2006."
Parker made the most of his opportunity to watch some of the best coaches at work, playing at Detroit DePorres under Carter, then coaching under Carter at Inkster and Merchant at U-D. He took over a River Rouge program which had suffered six straight losing seasons, including 1-8 in 2007 and 2-7 in '08, then after another 2-7 record in his first season, improved to 6-4 with a playoff spot in 2010, then 7-3 in '11 and 11-1 with a 16-6 regional final loss to Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard in '12.
This year, River Rouge has a high-powered offense led by 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior quarterback Antoine Burgess. He has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and run for more than 1,200, rushing for 211 yards and six touchdowns in the regional final win.
Burgess has a physical runner to work with in 5-10, 210-pound sophomore Alexander Carter (1,050 yards), tall receivers in 6-2, 190-pound Aaron Vincent and 6-2, 170-pound Ashawnti Howard and a productive slot back in Lenell Martin.
"We run a single-wing offense with some wildcat and spread mixed in to fit the personnel," Parker said. "Antoine has been awesome. Last year, he threw for 900 and rushed for 1,000 and this year he's surpassed those numbers. He has some big-play receivers.
"Our defense is very quick and sound. The strength of our defense is continuity where guys have played together and understand each other. We're very, very young in spots, but talented with some of those kids getting Division 1 interest. We have lock-down corners."
The defense is led by 6-2, 200-pound senior end Jamal Bonner and 5-10, 205-pound linebacker Devonte Pitkins. Sophomore free safety Reggie Pearson already has offers from Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan and interest from Iowa, and 6-0, 205-pound sophomore linebacker/safety Eric Chenault is getting recruited by WMU, CMU and EMU. Seniors Marquis Robinson and Robert Blackwell are the cornerbacks.
"Ida used that fullhouse wing-T and they have a great back in Eric Bugg and they'll try to pound it so we have to stop the run," said Parker. (Bugg ran for 110 yards, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble for Ida in a 43-20 regional win over Buchanan.)
KLAA flexes muscles
Three teams from the Kensington Lakes Activities Association (KLAA) advanced to the semifinals with regional championship wins over the weekend.
"I don't know any other conference that can say that," said Walled Lake Western coach Mike Zdebski, whose team defeated Midland Dow, 35-14, in a Division 2 regional to improve to 12-0. "We have a lot of hard-working coaches in our conference."
Canton sent Saline — ranked No. 2 in The News Super 20 poll — to the sidelines with a dominating 27-7 win in Division 1 Friday night. Canton will play Detroit Cass Tech Saturday at Troy Athens.
Livonia Franklin also was dominating in its 38-6 rout of Berkley in Division 2. Franklin will face No. 1 Detroit King Saturday at Dearborn.
And to think Canton and Franklin didn't even win their division, each finishing 3-2 in the Kensington Lakes South Division behind 5-0 Plymouth.
Western will make the long trip to Alma for a Division 2 semifinal against Lowell.
Canton made the trip to Saline with revenge on its mind after suffering a 42-35 regional loss at Saline a year ago. It was in that game when Saline quarterback Josh Jackson threw for 319 yards and four TDs and ran for 70 and two more scores.
Canton made sure every yard would be tough to come by this time around, limiting Jackson to 8-of-19 passing for 71 yards and a TD with an interception. He was sacked three times and hit on several other pass attempts.
Canton used its wing-T offense to pile up 363 yards with junior Markus Sanders rushing for 195 yards and Jared Stephens, 116 more.
"I don't care how ugly our offense looks, I just want three yards and a cloud of dust, it's all about moving those chains," said Canton coach Tim Baechler, whose team had a pair of 14-play, 70-plus-yard scoring drives, both coming after their defense stopped Saline on fourth down.
While Sanders has now rushed for 2,213 yards this season, Baechler has been impressed with Stephens, who has rushed for 323 yards and five touchdowns in the postseason.
"He's a great runner, reminds me of Eric Dickerson," Baechler said. "He blocks well, catches everything and is also great defensively (as a safety)."
Zdebski had to enjoy everything about its win over Dow aside from one play when safety Darnell Lanier was called for a targeting penalty late in the fourth quarter, putting him on the sidelines for the semifinal game.
Lanier was part of a defense that slowed down Dow quarterback Bruce Mann, picking him off four times. Six-foot-3 junior cornerback Cody White had two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, and 6-6 Dow receiver Mike Robb was limited to six receptions and a TD.
But Franklin is still the surprise of the tournament. After a 2-7 record last year and a prediction to finish 10th in the 12-team Kensington Conference, the Patriots (9-3) have won seven straight, and no running back has been better than junior Jacob Clark during the postseason.
Clark rushed for 274 yards and two touchdowns against Berkley and now has 731 yards (68 carries) and 10 TDs during the playoffs.
Detroit Loyola dominating
Detroit Loyola was outstanding in its 50-0 win over Dansville Friday, putting the running clock in play in the second half.
Loyola (10-2) has averaged 58 points during the playoffs with an offense run by 6-0, 180-pound senior Blaine Woodland.
Coach John Callahan gave the controls to Loyola's offense to Woodland heading into the playoffs after starter Nick Lee was suspended. Loyola had lost 1,000-yard rusher D'Anthony Robinson with a broken leg prior to the Catholic League championship game.
Woodland, who was a running back, rushed for 158 yards on nine carries and scored three TDs against Dansville. Loyola piled up 534 yards on the ground and will play a Division 7 semifinal against Pewamo-Westphalia (12-0) Saturday at Fenton.
"Blaine has done an excellent job, he's an outstanding runner and has been around the program since fifth grade since his father is a coach here," Callahan said.
Loyola is attempting to earn its fourth straight trip to Ford Field for the state finals. It won a championship last season.
By the numbers
50 -- Touchdowns scored this season by Pewamo-Westphalia junior running back Jared Smith
10 -- Touchdowns scored in three postseason games by Livonia Franklin junior Jacob Clark
4 -- Interceptions by Walled Lake Western, including two by 6-3 junior cornerback Cody White, in its 35-14 regional-final win over Midland Dow
110 -- Yards rushing in the fourth quarter by Canton junior Markus Sanders in a 27-7 regional-final win over Saline
Jacob Clark, Livonia Franklin
The junior running back rushed for 274 yards on 21 carries, scoring two touchdowns to lead Livonia Franklin to a 38-6 rout of Berkley in a Division 2 regional final.
"I'm very confident in Aaron Jackson since he's played at times this year and can run and throw the ball."
Thomas Wilcher, Cass Tech coach, on the sophomore quarterback who will get his first start in the state semifinal after starter Rodney Hall suffered a fractured ankle in a 16-10 win over Macomb Dakota in the regional final.