Pontiac — Orchard Lake St. Mary’s senior offensive lineman Cameron Kolwich hopes his team will be as successful in Saturday night’s Division 3 state championship game against Chelsea at Ford Field as it was the last time it played in the NFL Stadium.
Ford Field has been St. Mary’s home away from home and a sweet one at that. It played smash-mouth football a year ago in a 7-0 win for the Division 3 state championship, handing Muskegon its first shutout loss in 200 games.
Then, St. Mary’s returned to Ford Field last month to face a Warren De La Salle team which embarrassed it on its home field, 31-8, in Week 5.
With Kolwich returning from an illness that sidelined him from the first meeting, St. Mary’s dominated De La Salle, 38-0, for the Catholic League championship.
The win over De La Salle — the defending Division 2 state champion — started a four-game stretch where St. Mary’s averaged 50 points before grinding out a 14-7 semifinal win over East Grand Rapids last Saturday in snowy conditions.
Kolwich, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound tackle, is just happy to be playing, especially after missing five games with a bout of mononucleosis.
He came up with the illness in early September, played in the season-opening win over Detroit Loyola, then missed games against Harper Woods Chandler Park (56-28), Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn (24-21), Detroit Jesuit (49-14), De La Salle and Birmingham Brother Rice (37-0).
“I had mono and it took me five or six weeks to get back,” said Kolwich, a Northwestern commit, before heading out to practice Wednesday afternoon in the indoor facility at Ultimate Soccer. “The C.C. (14-7 win over Detroit Catholic Central) game is when I came back. It was definitely tough to not be out there with the other seniors, but now it’s great to be back.”
Kolwich was happy he didn’t lose much weight.
“It feels great to be back at full strength,” he said. “It was non-sympton mono where I felt it more in my spleen, my side felt a little weird. We just did some blood tests and that’s when we figured it out.”
Kolwich thinks it’s a great thing for St. Mary’s to get another game at Ford Field.
“Yes, I feel it is an advantage because it’s the fourth game our seniors will have played there and I think it will be their (Chelsea’s) first,” Kolwich said. “(Chelsea) is a good all-around team, big, strong and fast. We just have to play our game.”
Playing OLSM’s game is playing smash-mouth football, running the ball down the opponent’s throats with a touch of Brendan Tabone’s passing to big-play receiver Kahlee Hamler.
And Hamler will have to be at his best at cornerback going up against Chelsea’s outstanding passing game, led by senior quarterback Jack Bush and the 1-2 receiver punch in Minnesota-bound Bailey Edwards and Noah VanReesema.
St. Mary’s is blessed with depth at the running back position, which is good since Justin Myrick was sidelined in the semifinals with a hamstring injury. Junior Ryan Johnson took over and broke loose for a 70-yard touchdown run behind the blocking of Josh Ross. Plus, Brandon Adams scored the lone TD in last year’s championship game.
“It’s great to have depth ... we’ve been able to keep our running back production up and not take a step down,” Kolwich said.
Ross, a 6-1, 220-pound junior, is one of the premier linebackers in the state (100 tackles, 20 for lost yardage) and is getting offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State. He has been tossed in at running back to do some damage on the offensive side, as well.
“He’s playing running back and we put him in in short running situations or in blocking situations and he’s been great,” Kolwich said.
OLSM will head into the final with confidence after tossing aside a former jinx in East Grand Rapids, which had won all six previous meetings in the playoffs, including a 35-27 Division 3 title game win in 2010.
“It definitely meant a lot for us and the coaches, especially getting it for the coaches,” said Kolwich. “We got it done by toughness, tackling and blocking, those three things, and we need to bring that attitude (to the championship game). We’re a run-first team so if we can get the run going, we’re virtually unstoppable so that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
All games at Ford Field
Division 8: Muskegon Catholic Central (10-2) vs Waterford Lakes (13-0), 10 a.m.
Division 2: Lowell (12-1) vs Detroit King (13-0), 1 p.m.
Division 6: Ithaca (13-0) vs Clinton (13-0), 4:30 p.m.
Division 4: Zeeland West (13-0) vs Flint Powers Catholic (11-2), 7:30 p.m.
Division 7: Ishpeming (12-0) vs Pewamo-Westphalia (13-0), 10 a.m.
Division 1: Romeo (12-1) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (11-2), 1 p.m.
Division 5: Grand Rapids West Catholic (11-2) vs River Rouge (12-1), 4:30 p.m.
Division 3: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (11-1) vs Chelsea (12-1), 7:30 p.m.