David Goricki of The Detroit News breaks down Friday’s high school football finals.
DIVISION 2: Detroit King (13-0) vs. Lowell (12-1), 1 p.m. Friday
How they made it here
Detroit King was The News preseason No. 1 team and has lived up to its billing, showing it can win the close games in topping defending Division 2 state champ Warren De La Salle (12-10) in the season opener, Detroit East English Village (20-15) and Detroit Cass Tech twice (31-28 in overtime, 27-25 PSL final). King has been impressive in the playoffs, earning its first state championship game appearance since winning the Division 2 title in 2007 with district wins over U-D Jesuit (35-24), Wyandotte (42-6), then a 26-12 regional win over East English and a 40-6 semifinal rout of Livonia Franklin.
King coach Dale Harvel knew the Crusaders needed to develop a running game after an early ouster in last year’s playoffs. They received a huge boost with the transfer of Martell Pettaway, who has rushed for more than 1,500 yards to give them a balanced attack. Harvel made a big move heading into Week No. 4 inserting Armani Posey, a transfer from East English, to quarterback to run the show. Posey has played well, using a trio of receivers in the state’s top player Donnie Corley, Western Michigan commit Dontre Boyd and Ambry Thomas.
Lowell arguably has been the most impressive team in the postseason, lighting up the scoreboard in every game, starting with district wins over Battle Creek Lakeview (49-6) and Byron Center (48-17), and following up with a 36-7 rout of a Muskegon team that played in a state title game the previous three years. Lowell avenged its lone loss of the season, a 42-40 season-opening setback to Walled Lake Western with a 49-34 semifinal win.
Lowell, which won state championships in 2002, 2004 and 2009, will be making its first trip to Ford Field since a 24-14 loss to Birmingham Brother Rice in the 2011 title game. Senior quarterback Ryan Stevens was a big fan of Lowell during its runs in 2009 and 2011 and is now a big reason why it is making a return. He has a big weapon in receiver Gabe Steed and runners in Max Dean and Derek Massey. You can bet longtime coach Noel Dean — who has averaged 10 wins during his 21-year coaching career — is enjoying this run with his son, senior running back Zeth Dean on the team, along with Max, his nephew.
Players to watch
Donnie Corley, Detroit King: Corley has reached all of his goals … so far, saying he wanted to win the PSL championship and get to Ford Field to finish his career with a state title as well. He has been an outstanding two-way threat, intercepting nine passes as a shutdown corner and also being a big-play receiver with nine touchdown receptions.
Ryan Stevens, Lowell: Stevens is an outstanding dual-threat quarterback, completing 63 percent of his passes for 2,430 yards and 31 touchdowns and running for 1,005 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has a number of weapons to work with in Steed (17 touchdown receptions) and Alex Anschutz (10 touchdown receptions).
Why Detroit King can win
King has more than a dozen of Division 1 players in Corley, cornerback Lavert Hill (Penn State), Pettaway (West Virginia), Posey, lineman Leon Page (Central Michigan) and big-time players make big plays. Posey is a difference maker, having the ability to get out of pressure and make plays with his feet and arm and Pettaway opens up the passing game with his running.
Why Lowell can win
Lowell can win by making a statement early, forcing a turnover and putting the ball in the end zone. Lowell had a pair of interceptions while dominating Muskegon in the regional. It also showed it has a balanced attack and Stevens will give it a chance to win by running to move the chains when a play breaks down or by finding big weapons in Steed and Anschutz.
Sure, Stevens has been impressive this season, but he has yet to face a secondary like King. The group of Corley, Hill, Posey, Boyd and Thomas has given up just one touchdown pass all season. Look for Posey to continue his strong play and for Corley to be the best player on the field. Pick: King 24, Lowell 12
DIVISION 4: Zeeland West (13-0) vs. Flint Powers Catholic (11-2), 7:30 p.m. Friday
How they made it here
Zeeland West has been piling up the yards and points with its wing-T offense, running out to a 48-0 win over Plainwell and a 62-8 rout of Benton Harbor in district play before getting a major scare by Hudsonville Unity Christian (28-21) in the regional. Zeeland West punched its ticket to Ford Field in impressive fashion with a 46-8 win over Ada Forest Hills Eastern.
This will be Zeeland West’s third trip to Ford Field in the last five years, winning the Division 4 state championship in 2011 and the Division 3 title in 2013. Zeeland West is 38-2 in the last three years with Casey Brinks operating the controls at quarterback. Darius Perisee has enjoyed a big season, rushing for nearly 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns with Tyler Thompson also topping the 1,000-yard mark.
Flint Powers has bounced back nicely after a 3-2 start, winning eight straight games, including a pair of 41-0 shutouts over Goodrich and Lake Fenton in the districts, followed with a 28-7 regional win over Richmond and a tough 21-14 victory over Detroit Country Day in the semifinals.
Noah Sargent has done a strong job of running the Powers offense. He has multiple weapons to work with in handing the ball off to a 1,000-yard runner in Reese Morgan or throwing it to Nick Thompson, who had two huge third-down receptions in the final minutes leading to the winning score over Country Day.
Players to watch
Casey Brinks, Zeeland West: Brinks has been operating the wing-T offense the last three years, resulting in a Division 3 state championship his sophomore year and now a perfect record heading into this year’s title game. He gets the ball into the right hands and rarely makes a mistake. He also showed he could play defense in the semifinal, coming up with two interceptions.
Noah Sargent, Flint Powers: Sargent has run for 1,000 yards and completed more than 60 percent of his passes for 1,600 yards as a dual-threat quarterback. He scored on two touchdown runs in a regional win over Richmond, then helped Powers fight back from a 14-0 deficit against Country Day by completing those two critical third-down passes in the snow to Thompson.
Why Zeeland West can win
Zeeland West has played on the big stage before and has an experienced quarterback in Brinks. Zeeland West also will be coming in with momentum after piling up 300-plus yards in the first half of its semifinal win and scoring on all four first half possessions to take command.
Zeeland West can pound the ball on the ground, rushing for more than 5,000 yards on the season.
Why Flint Powers can win
Flint Powers’ defense has been strong this season, earning six shutouts, including two during its postseason run. Powers also showed it can fight from behind and win, displayed by its comeback win over Country Day to get to Ford Field.
This is one of Zeeland West’s best teams and Brinks knows how to get Zeeland West into the end zone doing it early and often during the postseason. Flint Powers pulled off an upset with its comeback win over Country Day, but another upset isn’t in the cards. Pick: Zeeland West 34-14.
DIVISION 6: Ithaca (13-0) vs. Clinton (13-0), 4:30 p.m. Friday
How they made it here
Ithaca defeated Vassar (56-14) and Sanford Meridian (42-6) in the districts before a 34-10 win over Laingsburg in the regional, then had to battle its way past Traverse City St. Francis, 28-19, in a semifinal to earn its sixth straight trip to Ford Field.
Ithaca senior quarterback JakeSmith has done a solid job in bringing the team back to Detroit after a 22-12 loss in the title game to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central a year ago which ended its 69-game winning streak. Ithaca's defense has been outstanding, shutting out five teams and allowing just 38 points during the regular season, then continuing with a strong showing in the postseason, led by Jonah Loomis and Derek Teed on the line and 6-foot, 210-pound senior linebacker Jace Demenov.
Clinton’s road to get to the Motor City was a tough one, needing to defeat defending state champion Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (14-10) to start the playoffs, then needing to defeat a solid Madison Heights Madison team, 43-20. Clinton went on to earn a 49-20 victory over Jackson Lumen Christi in a regional, then a 42-20 win over Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian in the semifinals.
Don’t expect to see the ball go through the air much when Clinton has the ball. Clinton likes to pound it on the ground with running backs Matthew Sexton (2,257 yards) and Noah Poore (1,029 yards).
Players to watch
Jake Smith, Ithaca: Smith does a great job of taking care of the ball and making things happen as a dual-threat quarterback, throwing for 1,340 yards and 24 touchdowns (just three interceptions) and running for 1,627 yards and 31 touchdowns, averaging more than 10 yards a carry. He played at a high level in the semifinal win, completing 14-of-26 for 178 yards and 2 TDs and running for 142 yards and two more scores.
Matthew Sexton, Clinton: Sexton, an Eastern Michigan commit with sub 4.4 speed, has rushed for 2,257 yards, including 154 and four tochdowns in a district final win over Madison, 258 yards and four touchdowns in the regional win over Lumen Christi and 192 yards against NorthPointe Christian. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield when called upon.
Why Ithaca can win
Well, big-game experience is a luxury to have and Ithaca’s players definitely have that with annual trips to Ford Field. And, you can bet Ithaca will be heading into the game with added motivation after the loss in the championship game last year. They have a quarterback who can make all the plays and a defense that showed in past games it can shut down team. That defense will need to be at its best to stop the run in this one.
Why Clinton can win
Clinton has proved all season that it can win games by running the ball. And, don’t expect Clinton to be intimidated by playing at Ford Field, earning their second trip in the last three years. It lost to Ithaca 41-22 in the championship game in 2013 and will take a field with a chip on their shoulder. Expect Sexton to be at his best and his best is great.
Most players and coaches dream of earning a trip to Ford Field once in their lifetime, but Ithaca’s Black Friday plans are put on the shelf on a consistent basis in favor of a state title game appearance. Ithaca is 82-1 the last half dozen years, but add another loss with Sexton ending his high school career in style. Clinton’s confidence is sky high after dethroning St. Mary Catholic Central to start its playoff run and continuing with the momentum the rest of the postseason. Pick: Clinton 22-14.
DIVISION 8: Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes (13-0) vs. Muskegon Catholic Central (10-2), 10 a.m. Friday
How they made it here
Waterford Lakes has averaged 41 points during its postseason run, starting with a 42-0 shutout of Clarkston Everest Collegiate and a 54-29 district title win over Sterling Heights Parkway Christian. Lakes then dominated Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary 32-6 in the regional before defeating Ottawa Lake Whiteford (36-20) in the semifinal.
Lakes’ offense is led by the Senerius twins, Clay, a 6-foot-4 senior quarterback, and 6-3, 180-pound receiver Devin. Clay has thrown for 2,900 yards and 33 touchdowns and Devin has 65 receptions for more than 1,270 yards and 11 touchdowns. Lakes also has a 1,300-yard rusher in Chris Cartier, who had six receptions for 76 yards in the semifinal win.
Muskegon Catholic Central isn’t as dominating as in years past when it made the trip to Ford Field, but they are still very talented. Muskegon Catholic Central bounced back nicely from a season-opening 45-26 loss to Muskegon Oakridge — which ended their 26-game winning streak — going on to win five straight before a 35-6 loss to powerful Detroit Country Day in Week 8.
MCC was impressive in district play with wins over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (49-7) and Beal City (48-13), then getting by Frankfort 22-12 in a regional before a 33-20 semifinal win over St. Ignace, jumping out to a 20-0 third-quarter lead behind the running of junior Walker Christoffersen (192 yards, touchdown).
Players to watch
Clay Senerius, Waterford Lakes: After leading Lakes to a district final appearance last year, Senerius made sure it would take the next step. He has multiple weapons to work with in his twin, Devin, and Cartier. He was never better than in a regional win over Saginaw Michigan Lutheran, completing 20-of-26 for 298 yards.
LaTommy Scott, Muskegon Catholic Central: Scott, a 5-7, 160-pound junior, has taken over where his older brother, Tommy, left off a year ago. LaTommy has run for more than 1,000 yards, averaging 10.8 yards per carry in a backfield that also includes juniors Logan Helton and Christoffersen. His brother was the hero in last year’s state championship win, scoring four touchdowns, including a 99-yard TD kickoff return in the opening quarter to give MCC the lead for good.
Why Waterford Lakes can win
Lakes has a player in Devin Senerius who can do it all, catch the ball, kick field goals and get the big interception. Josh Sawicki has been building Lakes to make this run three years ago and now he has an experienced quarterback in Clay Senerius who could make Sawicki, a 2005 Lakes grad, one of the youngest head coaches to win a state championship at age 28.
Why Muskegon Catholic Central can win
MCC can win the state title because it has done it again and again, now trying to win a third straight championship. Sure, players have graduated from the championship teams, but others have watched closely to how they got it done so they could make the most of their opportunity when given the chance. MCC also has a solid secondary, led by Christian Martinez and Scott, that could slow down Lakes’ passing game.
Sure, MCC has been there and done that, but this is Lakes year to get the job done. The Senerius twins are talented and Lakes has a talented supporting cast to light up the scoreboard. Pick: Waterford Lakes 30-21.