Farmington Hills — The football program at Farmington Hills Harrison will exist for at least one more week.
Harrison (7-3) got the Division 4 predistrict win, 24-10, over Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood, extending its playoff run before the school closes its doors in June.
“I just worry about one game,” Harrison coach John Herrington said. “Is this the last game ever around Harrison, who knows?”
Herrington, the only coach Harrison has had in its 49-year history, is the winningest coach in state history and improved his mark to 442-111-1.
“I told (the kids) the first game of the playoffs is always difficult,” Herrington said. “Teams always give you their best, and we had problems with them (Cranbrook). Their coaching staff did a great job.”
Cranbrook (6-4) ended the season having qualified for the playoffs each of the past four years. It wasn’t the team-record 10-win season from last year, but first-year coach Scott Steward felt his team played hard.
“Our trademark now is we play hard,” Steward said. “I think we played hard today. It (this season) was a continuation of the work (former coach) Joe D’Angelo did building it.”
Steward was an assistant coach for the last four years under D’Angelo, who had been the head coach at Cranbrook since 2013. D’Angelo won 65 percent of his games and advanced Cranbrook to its first regional round ever last season.
“We play a physical brand of football,” Steward said. “We moved up in the Catholic League to a much tougher division, and we held our own. It’s no longer about growing to become a physical team. We are a physical team. We’re just looking to take the next steps.”
Cranbrook’s defense did an admirable job of blunting Harrison’s potent running attack led by senior Rod Heard, who’s committed to play football at Northwestern.
Heard had 93 yards rushing, but it took 26 carries to get there, a 3.6-yard average. Heard’s longest run of the day was 8 yards.
“It wasn’t frustrating. That’s just how some games go,” Heard said. “They did a good job clogging the gaps and staying disciplined. I just had to make plays in other places.”
One of those other places was special teams. After Cranbrook’s touchdown, on the ensuing kickoff, Heard bobbled the catch, patiently started left, cut back right, broke a tackle and was off to the races, sprinting down the right sideline for a 90-yard kickoff return touchdown, giving Harrison some breathing room with 17-7 lead in the third quarter.
“It was shocking because me and Coach Herrington were talking about the next play on the sideline,” Harrison quarterback Keel Watson said. “And I saw Rod (Heard) going down the sideline, and I was overjoyed, kind of shocked because I’ve never seen him do it in person.”
When Harrison could move the ball in the first half, it was through the air with Watson, who went 5-for-8 passing in the first two quarters for 83 yards. He ended the game 6-for-9 for 95 yards with a nifty, 13-yard scrambling touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“We (Harrison’s offense) had run the play earlier, in the first half,” Watson said about his touchdown. “I knew that only one guy (defender) was going to be there. Once he was blocked, I knew I had free reign to run into the end zone.”
“He (Watson) made a lot of plays that we needed,” Heard said. “A lot of crucial first-down conversions. A lot of big-time throws. He’s definitely stepping up.”
Harrison got an opportunity early in the first quarter when Cranbrook fumbled on its side of the field, recovered by senior Harrison defensive back Vincent Rawls. Watson then found a wide-open Ben Williams over the middle to put Harrison in the red zone. Harrison drew first blood with a 31-yard field goal by senior David Hiser. The quarter would end with Harrison up, 3-0.
Rawls provided the highlight of a scoreless second quarter when he came screaming off the edge, belting Cranbrook senior quarterback Jack Fairman as Fairman was throwing for a very loud incomplete pass. Fairman and Cranbrook put together a solid drive, aided by many Fairman scrambles, including a looping, 39-yard effort, but it came up empty on the drive after missing a 37-yard field goal. Fairman’s legs saved Cranbrook from losing several yards on sacks multiple times, but the first half ended, 3-0 for Harrison.
Nine total first-half penalties, most called on Harrison’s offense, slowed down its attack. Harrison finished the game with 11 penalties.
Things finally loosened up for Harrison in the third quarter. Cranbrook started the quarter backed up near its own goal line, and Harrison returned the resulting punt to Cranbrook’s 15. A few plays later, Heard plunged into the end zone from 4 yards out to make it 10-0 for Harrison after the extra point.
Cranbrook scored its touchdown on its next drive, a 22-yard strike from Fairman to senior wide receiver Torrell Williams, who fought off a defender for the ball. The Heard kickoff returned for a touchdown ended the third quarter with Harrison up, 17-7.
Harrison would get the ball back in the fourth quarter after senior defensive lineman Andrew Brown got a strip-sack with senior linebacker Michael Alford recovering for Harrison on Cranbrook’s 30. A few plays later, Watson executed his 13-yard scrambling score to make it 24-7 for Harrison with 8:07 left in the fourth quarter. Cranbrook added a late, 41-yard field goal by sophomore Chase Paulus to end the game 24-10.
Harrison will play Detroit Country Day on the road next week in the district final. If Harrison wins that game and Chelsea wins its district final versus Milan, Harrison will host one last football game at home.
Harrison’s players are trying to focus on football, not the end of a program.
“We don’t feel any pressure,” Heard said. “Were going out there to dominate, and that’s all we expect.”
“We apply pressure,” Watson said. “The pressure doesn’t get applied to us.”
Detroit Loyola 62, Madison Heights Bishop Foley 15: D'Vaun Bentley ran for 276 yards and four touchdowns and Kiem Moore had 145 yards rushing and scored a TD for Loyola 7-3. Bishop Foley finishes 8-2.
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.