Warren De La Salle coach Paul Verska has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season, with his players healthy as he prepares for Friday's Division 2 state championship game against Muskegon Mona Shores.
"It would be a dream come true to have this group of seniors win De La Salle's first state championship in football," said Verska, whose team was 3-3 and in danger of missing the playoffs.
Verska was disappointed with the 3-3 start, but told his players they would win the rest of their games and do some damage in the postseason.
"We had a prayer at the shrine, the Blessed Mother (statue) in front of the school and I told them I'm not happy to be 3-3, then told them what they were doing wrong and how we could win the rest of our games and they looked on like I was crazy," Verska said. "I asked them why they were doing some of the things they were doing and they said they were trying to help their teammates out. They were really trying to do too much instead of just worrying about their own jobs.
"It was all about accountability. And, it helped that we were getting Mike Danna back (defensive lineman) so everyone else could play their normal positions. (Danna) an impact player, a leader and calming influence for us."
It's not that De La Salle was getting blown out with Danna out of the lineup. In fact, the De La Salle was competitive, pushing Birmingham Brother Rice (28-21), Orchard Lake St. Mary's (14-10) and Dearborn Fordson (28-24) — all top 10 teams in The News Super 20 poll.
Senior defensive lineman Austin Ballard recalls a players-only meeting after the 3-3 start.
"It was great to be part of something like that," he said. "We talked about how we shared the same goals and why we play and who we play for. We talked about instead of playing individually, what we could do to help us win as a group.
"It was definitely the turning point of the season."
Division 4: Lansing Sexton vs. Grand Rapids South Christian
Scouting South Christian: Quarterback Jon Wassink (Western Michigan) has accounted for nearly 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns as South Christian averages 48 points. He had 300 yards rushing and five touchdowns against Hudsonville Unity Christian.
Scouting Sexton: was ranked No. 6 in The News' final Super 20 poll, and backed up the lofty spot with an impressive run to its first state title game appearance, slowing three-time 2,000-yard rusher Alex Grace and Saginaw Swan Valley in the opener and then Country Day in the semifinals. Sexton is averaging 35 points.
Division 6: Ithaca vs. Monroe St. Mary CC
Scouting Ithaca: Four-time defending state champion Ithaca will be attempting to stretch its winning streak to 70 games, just two off the state record held by Hudson. Ithaca has been tested during this postseason run, having to come back from a fourth-quarter deficit in the regional final to defeat Madison Heights Madison, then defeating Boyne City, 20-16 in the semifinals.
Scouting Monroe St. Mary: Monroe St. Mary has some firepower of its own in quarterback Bryce Windham (865 yards passing, 15 touchdowns) and 1,000-yard running backs Justin Carrabino (1,365, 15 touchdowns) and John Lako (1,100 yards, 16 touchdowns).
Division 8: Munising vs. Muskegon CC
Scouting Munising: Munising has enjoyed its best season in a generation, winning its first district title since 1980 when it won the Class C state title. Garrett Blank has 2,071 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns.
Scouting Muskegon CC: Dominant is the only word to describe defending state champion Muskegon CC is winning by an average of 42 points, with its closest game a 36-point semifinal victory. Tommy Scott has led the way, rushing for 1,944 yards and 31 touchdowns. The question is, how effective will quarterback Nick Holt be after an ankle injury?
All games at Ford Field
TV: FSD unless noted
Munising vs. Muskegon CC, 10 a.m.
Muskegon Mona Shores vs. Warren De La Salle, 1 p.m.
Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central vs. Ithaca, 4:30 p.m. FSD+
Grand Rapids South Christian vs. Lansing Sexton, 7:30 p.m.
Ishpeming vs. Detroit Loyola, 10 a.m.
Clarkston vs. Saline, 1 p.m.
Grand Rapids West Catholic vs. Lansing Catholic, 4:30 p.m.
Orchard Lake St. Mary's vs. Muskegon, 7:30 p.m.