Dearborn Fordson’s state playoff run has hit a roadblock in Detroit Cass Tech the last four years and the annual postseason battle will take place again this season Saturday afternoon in the Motor City.
Fordson — 9-1 and ranked No. 12 in The News Super 20 poll — will try to slow down the explosive offense of No. 1 Cass Tech (10-0), led by quarterback Jalen Graham (Purdue) and running backs Jaren Mangham (Colorado) and Lew Nichols (Central Michigan).
Cass Tech’s defense isn’t bad either, allowing just 22 points the last eight games, including a 42-8 PSL championship game rout of No. 10 Detroit King, while shutting out five opponents.
Fordson has played Cass Tech tough, losing 27-22 a year ago, 28-21 back in 2014 and has weapons to compete, led by quarterback Hussein Ajami and 1,000-yard rusher Abraham Jaafar.
“Everybody dreams to have a kid like Abraham,” said Fordson coach Walker Zaban of the 5-foot-8, 175-pound running back. “He’s top three in our school academically and obviously he’s our fastest kid, just special to us. From a football standpoint, he’s been our horse this year, does multiple things for us. He plays both ways and he carries the load.”
Abraham scored the tying touchdown on a 40-yard jet sweep run and Fordson came back from a 17-3 deficit to defeat Grosse Pointe South, 24-17, last Friday.
On facing Cass Tech, Zaban said: “Cass is Cass, seems like it’s the same thing just different names every year with them. I feel like they have three running backs who are outstanding. Their quarterback is outstanding and their skilled kids on the outside are very good, but ultimately the line is what makes them go and they are very solid. Defensively, I think it’s one of their better groups. They keep reloading.”
Pick: Cass Tech by 8
No. 15 Warren De La Salle (8-2) at No. 6 Oak Park (9-1), Friday, 6
Oak Park players have been looking forward to this rematch ever since they were heartbroken following De La Salle’s winning 85-yard drive, then a last-second interception by Josh DeBerry of a Dwan Mathis pass in a 14-7 Division 2 regional title game last year at Wayne State.
Mathis — an Ohio State commit — is back and cutting down on mistakes this season as he tries to lead his team to the state championship.
Oak Park has never won a regional title before. De La Salle has won two of the last four state titles in Division 2.
While DeBerry is having an outstanding senior season and quarterback Nolan Schultz is playing well for De La Salle, look for Oak Park senior running back Phillip Stewart to be the difference with his ability to break long runs.
Pick: Oak Park by 4
No. 20 Macomb Dakota (8-2) at No. 2 Chippewa Valley (10-0), Friday, 7
Dakota arguably gave Chippewa Valley its toughest game this season, falling at home 24-17 in Week 5.
It was Chippewa Valley’s third straight win in the series, having lost 15 straight from 2006-14.
In that Week 5 game, Chippewa Valley jumped out to a 24-7 lead early in the fourth quarter before holding on to hoist the Superintendent’s Trophy.
Dakota scored a TD, then recovered an onside kick and kicked a 47-yard field goal to pull within 24-17, actually having the ball at its own 36 with four minutes left, advancing to the Chippewa Valley 16 before a fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
Andre Chenault was the hero for Chippewa Valley, rushing for 91 yards on 11 carries and a TD while getting in on four sacks from his defensive back position.
Michigan State-bound linebacker Marcel Lewis caught at TD pass as a tight end from quarterback Tommy Schuster, a three-year starter at Chippewa Valley.
Look for Chippewa Valley’s defense, led by Lewis, Chenault and defensive back David Ellis to slow down Dakota quarterback Mark Tocco and running back Dustin Solomon.
Pick: Chippewa Valley by 2
Birmingham Brother Rice (7-3) at Birmingham Groves (8-2), Friday, 7
Brother Rice is showcasing a balanced attack with the running of James Donaldson (1,207 yards, 468 in last three games) and passing of Greg Piscopink.
Groves has a strong defense, allowing just 42 points the last six games, including a 25-6 Week 8 win over Farmington Hills Harrison.
“They are a really good team, the favorites if you ask me and we have to come out and perform,” said Rice second-year head coach Adam Korzeniewski. “Hopefully we can play mistake-free football because that’s what it’s going to take to beat them."
Korzeniewski has been impressed with the play of Donaldson and Rice's offensive line.
“James is a really good running back," said Korzeniewski of Donaldson. "He has gotten very good at understanding where the zone cuts are occurring and is working really well with the O-line, which is creating the holes and James is running through them.”
Friday's district final will be the city showdown with Groves defeating Birmingham Seaholm 26-9 in Week 9, then defeating Seaholm in the Division 2 predistrict game, 35-14.
Rice defeated Groves 24-21 in last year’s predistrict game, avenging a 24-0 district final loss in 2016 when Groves advanced to the state semifinals.
Pick: Groves by 6
Walled Lake Western (7-3) at No. 19 South Lyon (10-0), Friday, 7
Can South Lyon earn the season’s sweep against Western and Boston College-bound quarterback Sam Johnson?
Yes, but South Lyon will have to play at its best after surviving a 31-24 overtime win over Dexter in a Division 2 predistrict game.
South Lyon defeated Western 29-19 in Week 8 to clinch the Lakes Valley title after finishing 1-8 last season.
The teams have played in the postseason in 2016 and 2014 with Western winning predistrict games both times, 31-30 in ’16 and 14-13 in ’14.
Pick: Western by 3