South Lyon — Jeff Henson knew his South Lyon team would have a year of growing pains last season, starting 13 sophomores while hoping the move would pay dividends in future years.
Well, the future is now for Henson and South Lyon is one of the biggest surprise teams in the state.
South Lyon — which was picked to finish seventh in the nine-team Lakes Valley Conference by the league coaches — turned a 1-8 season in 2017 into a 10-0 start this season.
South Lyon — ranked No. 19 in The Detroit News Super 20 poll — won the conference championship and will play host to Walled Lake Western (7-3) Friday night with a chance to earn its first district championship since 2004 when it advanced to the Division 1 state semifinals.
“Last year we only had six seniors on our team and ended up starting 13 sophomores so a lot of our juniors now got a lot of playing time even though they struggled at times last season,” said Henson, who is in his fourth year as South Lyon’s head coach. “They have been a winning group, undefeated as freshmen and even though we had all those kids up last year on varsity the JV team was 8-1.
“Our junior group is a really good group of kids. I knew we would be better this year, but I didn’t know if we’d be where we are now.”
Junior Connor Fracassi is in his second year as the starting quarterback, running the spread wing-T offense. He has played well, throwing for more than 1,200 yards and 17 TDs with just two interceptions, also rushing for five TDs. Ian Goins, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior, has rushed for 800 yards, averaging 6.5 yards a carry, and 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior tight/end Ron Menard has 300 yards receiving and seven TDs.
“The season’s been special,” Fracassi said. “We’ve all come together like brothers. We’ve played every game the same, with the same mentality and it’s been special from the start.
“We all felt like we were better than that (seventh-place prediction) and we all took it to heart, went out there and did the best we possibly could and it turns out we’re sitting 10-0 going into the big playoff game (Division 2 district final) this week.
“Obviously, the experience from last year has helped me. I’ve matured a little bit, try not to do too much, just taking the check downs and doing what’s best for the team.”
Said Goins: “I think this year our team’s chemistry is what sets us apart from the rest of the teams. We all play for each other, which is awesome. It’s been a great experience, one of the greatest feelings I’ve had in my life.”
South Lyon has limited its opponents to an average of 10 points.
“We’re not big by any means on defense, just have a lot of really good football players on that side of the ball who like to hit and run to the ball so that’s helped out tremendously,” Henson said. “We have good kids who believe in what we do and that definitely helps us out.”
South Lyon’s defense is led by junior middle linebackers Mitch Komorous and Jack Schafer with senior nose guard Mitch Hannah also having a strong season. Senior outside linebacker Mike Dancer has also played well.
“It’s incredible, we didn’t expect this coming into the season but we all had our hopes that we’d change things around so it’s a great feeling," Komorous said. "We have a lot of athletic players who can get to the ball. We play well together and play for each other.”
Henson, who has been at South Lyon since 2010 when he was defensive coordinator, also has a shutdown corner in junior Jake Newman who has four interceptions and 15 pass break-ups.
“We only have two seniors on defense so we’re feeling pretty good about the future,” Henson said.
Goins rushed for 110 yards on 18 carries and a TD in a Week 8 29-19 win over Walled Lake Western. Fracassi threw for 78 yards and was outstanding on South Lyon’s final TD drive, executing a pair of fourth=-down plays for first downs, one on a run and the other on a pass to Goins.
Henson is looking for a repeat performance against Western.
“We have to control the ball like we did the first time we played them,” Henson said. “Our offense did a great job controlling the ball and we ran the ball really well against them the first time around. We need to continue to do that and mix it up on offense.
“We were able to get a lot of pressure on (Boston College-bound quarterback) Sam Johnson so we’re going to try to continue to do that and make him throw the ball before he wants to, and we were able to contain their run game as well. We’re looking to repeat the same thing, but I know they are going to be fired up and ready for some revenge against us.”
Komorous is looking forward to the rematch. Western knocked South Lyon out of the playoffs the last time the teams played in the postseason, 31-30 in a 2016 pre-district game and 14-13 in a 2014 pre-district battle.
“We really need to just get off their blocks because they have some pretty big linemen,” Komorous said, noting Western's line is anchored by Michigan State-bound 6-6, 290-pound tackle Spencer Brown. “We did pretty good in that first game of reading their formations and getting adjusted before the play. I felt we did well covering the passes and just clogging up the middle on runs.”
Henson knows all about Western first-year head coach Alex Grignon since he was South Lyon’s offensive coordinator last year. Hal Stalter took over for Grignon and has played a big role in the turnaround.
“It was a really big win,” Goins said of beating Western. “Everyone did their assignments and executed well. They are a hard team and we know they will be fired up for this game so we have to come out and do the same thing.”