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Farmington Hills — In a key matchup that could go a long way in determining the champion of the Oakland Activities Association’s White Division, Farmington Hills Harrison used a big defensive performance in the second half to hold on for an emotional 17-14 victory over rival Southfield on Friday.

“You don’t even know what the emotions are about this,” Harrison coach John Herrington said. “The rivalry is big.”

Herrington lost some key pieces off last year’s team to Southfield as rumors swirled about the possibility of Harrison’s closure in the near future.

The coach was short on the subject, but he wore the emotion of the victory all over his face.

On the field, Harrison (4-1, 4-0) held Southfield to just 94 total yards in the second half after going into the break down 14-7.

With the score tied 14-14 at the start of the fourth quarter, Herrington decided to send the field goal unit on facing a fourth-and-one from the Southfield 10-yard-line. Alex Bolstrum didn’t make his coach regret that decision, booting what would prove to be the game-winner through the uprights from 27 yards out.

“No, I didn’t (think about going for it),” Herrington said. “The way they’d been stuffing us, I figured, let’s get the three points. We have a good kicker.”

Despite a first half that saw Southfield freshman quarterback Sam Johnson III go 6-for-6 for 79 yards and two touchdowns, it was Harrison that came out of the break quickly behind running back Jared Char.

It took just three plays for Char to find paydirt in the third quarter, gashing Southfield for 63 yards and a 42-yard score on Harrison’s first possession of the second half. The senior tailback racked up 81 of his 110 yards in the second half.

In the fourth quarter, the Harrison defense stepped up to seal the victory.

Southfield (3-2, 3-1) drove the ball into Harrison territory behind the running of Eric McCarn (17 carries, 98 yards), but on third-and-long, Johnson was picked off by Jamison Scarber at the 23. The senior defensive back returned the ball 27 yards to the Southfield 48.

With the battle for field position firmly within its control, Harrison punter David Vinsky pinned Southfield at its own 8 with 3:33 left to play.

Southfield ran the ball five times on its next six plays, getting the ball out to the Harrison 38, but also bleeding the clock. Facing third-and-10 with 1:30 to play, Johnson fumbled the snap, but it was recovered by a teammate, giving Southfield one last chance to extend the game. On fourth down, an ill-fated floater to McCarn was batted to the ground, and the celebration began for Harrison.

Johnson finished 9-for-16 for 97 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

“The defense was well prepared,” Herrington said. “I don’t think the offensive coordinator did a very good job, but I won’t fire him because he’s me.

(The kids) are really going to celebrate this one. This is big, and they know it.”

Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer