Catholic League flexing muscles so far in state playoffs

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Quarterback Nolan Schultz and Warren De La Salle are trying to defend their Division 2 state championship.

Defending Division 2 state champion and No. 15 ranked Warren De La Salle will be playing at No. 6 Oak Park on Friday night in a district championship game.

The teams met in last year’s regional title game at Wayne State, where De La Salle scored on an 11-play, 85-yard TD drive in the last minute, and Josh DeBerry intercepted a Dwan Mathis pass in the final seconds to pull out a 14-7 victory, moving on to earn its second state championship in five years.

Luke Pfromm, who directed the winning TD drive, has since graduated, but DeBerry is back, as is Mathis, an Ohio State commit for Oak Park, trying to avenge the heartbreaking loss of a year ago.

And, while De La Salle has won a couple of state titles in the past five years, Oak Park is still in search of its first regional title in program history.

Both head coaches know how to win state championships. Oak Park coach Greg Carter guided Detroit St. Martin de Porres to four state championships, then Inkster to three state title game appearances before moving on to Oak Park, where he is in his eighth season.

Mike Giannone won two state championships at Macomb Dakota and one in three seasons at De La Salle.

“They have a good group of skilled guys, their core group is really good,” Giannone said. “Obviously, (five-star offensive tackle/linebacker Justin) Rogers is a heck of a player, the quarterback (Mathis) is good, they have a good receiver (6-foot-6 Maliq Carr) and a running back (Phillip Stewart) who can break one at any time.

“I feel their offensive and defensive line are playing extremely well together. We just have to make some plays against them and shut down their big play. It’s all about staying in the ball game and grinding out some time, that’s obviously the game plan.”

More:Michigan high school playoffs: District finals matchups

De La Salle showcases a strong defense, led by DeBerry, who has offers from multiple Big Ten schools, at cornerback, linebackers Jacob Dobbs and Devin Campbell, and defensive end Michael Young.

Giannone has been impressed with the play of quarterback Nolan Schultz.

“(Schultz) has been doing a good job for us, and (DeBerry) has been playing outstanding,” Giannone said of Schultz and DeBerry, who will have to go up against an Oak Park secondary that has senior Corion Montgomery and four-star junior Enzo Jennings.

Stewart has outstanding speed for Oak Park, having outstanding games in wins over Utica Eisenhower and Farmington Hills Harrison, among others.

And, while 6-3, 300-pound Rogers — the top guard in the nation for the 2020 class — has offers from Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Michigan, Ohio State and other national powers, De La Salle has 6-7, 290-pound junior tackle Grant Toutant, who has offers from Penn State, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh.

“We’ve been involved in quite a few of these games, but it’s always special when you’re going against guys who are major college prospects like Oak Park has, and I think they really do a good job of coaching them as well,” Giannone said.

Catholic League teams have won at least one state title in each of the last seven seasons with De La Salle winning last year, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s winning in Division 3 in 2011, ‘14, ’15 and ’16, De La Salle (Division 2) and Detroit Loyola (Division 7) in 2014 and Birmingham Brother Rice (Division 2) in 2011, ’12 and ’13.

Brother Rice (7-3), which suffered a 13-0 Week 4 loss to De La Salle, earned an impressive 27-14 upset win over Livonia Churchill on Friday with running back James Donaldson rushing for 177 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown behind an outstanding offensive line.

Brother Rice second-year coach Adam Korzeniewski knows playing in the Catholic League prepares his team for the postseason.

“I don’t underestimate that at all,” Korzeniewski said. “When you see St. Mary’s go and have West Bloomfield down in the fourth quarter late (in a Week 9 loss), when you watch De La Salle pound teams. I just think it’s the toughest league and it’s a privilege to play in it.”

Playing in the Catholic League has helped Birmingham Brother Rice prepare for the playoffs.

Donaldson agrees.

“It’s a big deal playing in the Catholic League," he said. "It’s very competitive, and to get the experience and play against those good teams gives us confidence in what we can do.".

Donaldson is on a roll, rushing for 468 yards in his last three games. He ran 289 yards — second best in school history — in a Week 6 31-28 win over Grand Blanc.

In the win over Churchill, quarterback Greg Piscopink completed 15 of 19 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s one of the best games we’ve played all year," Korzeniewski said. "(We) ran the ball well, threw it well, the kids just did a great job of executing."

Donaldson has rushed for 1,207 yards this season.

“I attribute a lot of it to my offensive line,” Donaldson said. “They are playing like studs and we’re only getting better every game, just having a lot of fun. “

Brother Rice will be playing in a district final at Birmingham Groves. The teams have played in the state playoffs the previous two years, with Brother Rice winning last year, 24-21, and Groves earning a 24-0 district final shutout in 2016, on its way to the state semifinals.

Detroit Catholic Central (7-3) defeated Canton, 49-28, in Division 1, advancing to play at No. 14 West Bloomfield (8-2) in a district final.

State powers survive, move on

A number of state powers pulled out close wins in predistrict games to move on, while No. 18 Jackson had its unbeaten season come to an end with a 31-22 Division 2 loss to Okemos.

No. 19 South Lyon escaped with a 31-24 overtime win over Dexter to remain unbeaten. It was Dexter’s first state playoff appearance, ending its 42-game losing streak in Week 2.

No. 3 Muskegon held on for a 42-35 win over East Grand Rapids in Division 3 while No. 5 East Kentwood defeated No. 16 Brighton, 31-28; No. 7 Muskegon Mona Shores defeated Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, 34-28, and No. 10 Detroit King slipped past No. 20 River Rouge, 7-6.

In addition to the top-20 showdown between De La Salle and Oak Park, No. 8 Saline (9-1) plays host to No. 5 East Kentwood (9-1), No. 12 Dearborn Fordson (9-1) plays at No. 1 Detroit Cass Tech (10-0), and No. 20 Macomb Dakota (8-2) will play at No. 2 Chippewa Valley (10-0).

Another intriguing matchup will put Detroit Loyola (7-3) up against unbeaten Madison Heights Madison (10-0) in a Division 7 district final. Loyola has a physical running back in D’Vaun Bentley, who rushed for 276 yards and four touchdowns in a 62-15 win over Madison Heights Bishop Foley and is closing in on 2,000 yards.

Who saw this coming?

St. Clair Shores Lakeview was 2-7 while competing in the MAC Silver last year, then was predicted to finish last after actually moving up two divisions to the Macomb Area Conference Blue Division this season.

Instead of finishing in the basement after making the big move, Lakeview (7-3) finished third and earned a state playoff spot, then made the most of the opportunity by avenging an earlier 28-22 loss to Roseville with a 41-32 win on Friday night.

“We got the second playoff win in school history, and now have a chance to go down as the best team in Lakeview history if we win the district title,” Lakeview coach Pat Threet said. “We moved up two divisions from the Silver where we finished last to the Blue where we finished third after being picked to finish last so we’ve had a good year.”

Evan Rochon rushed for 206 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Roseville, topping the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Ivan Krohta has done a solid job in his third year as the starting quarterback and tight end/defensive lineman Harold Irby has played well, as has 6-1, 200-pound outside linebacker Delorean Ishmon, who has 4.5 speed, and four-year starting two-way lineman Damond Duncan.

Now, Lakeview will play in a Division 2 district final at Port Huron Northern (9-1) Friday. Northern, the Blue Division champs, defeated Lakeview in Week 3, 26-15.

Northern is led by 6-5, 250-pound junior defensive end Braiden McGregor, who has offers from Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa.

South Lyon East earns first playoff win

South Lyon East had a 7-38 record the previous five years before finishing 5-4 this season to make the state playoffs for the first time since 2012.

On Friday, South Lyon East earned its first postseason win, defeating Ortonville Brandon, 22-15, to advance to this weekend’s Division 3 district final at Farmington.

South Lyon East coach Joe Pesci is a teacher in the Farmington school district, making things even more interesting.

Pesci is pleased by the progress of sophomore quarterback Ayden Oliver, who doubles as one of the linebackers. Oliver was pressed into duty at quarterback in Week 7 following a shoulder injury to three-year starter Chris Kaminski.

“It was a great moment for our school and program, an unbelievable moment and I don’t think anybody at East is going to forget for a long time,” Pesci said of the playoff win. “Ayden Oliver played a heck of a game at quarterback, completed 11 of 16 for 170 yards, just had a nice command and feel of the offense and was equally as big playing linebacker on defense. Terry Day was all over the field at linebacker as well.”