State playoff breakdown: Cass will lead parade of champions
Detroit Cass Tech has been on a mission to win the state championship ever since coming up short of a Division 1 title last fall at Ford Field.
Cass Tech — 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in The News Super 20 poll all season — showcases more than a dozen Division 1 players, including six Power Five recruits led by five-star receiver/defensive back Donovan Peoples-Jones and four-star defensive back Jaylen Kelly-Powell. The team has averaged 48.5 points with an offensive line led by MSU-bound tackle Jordan Reid.
Cass Tech is coming off an impressive 41-20 win over King in the Detroit Public School League championship game at Ford Field Friday. Northern Illinois-bound quarterback Rodney Hall found Peoples-Jones for a 55-yard TD pass three minutes into the game, then scored on a 40-yard run on the next series to open up a 14-0 cushion.
Hall was injured in the state semifinal win over Canton last season and missed the title-game loss to Romeo. He twisted his ankle during the third quarter of the PSL final Friday but is expected to be ready for the playoffs.
“I’m fine, jogged on it this morning and everything is good,” Hall said Sunday. “It feels good to win the PSL title, but we just want to win everything and our main goal is to win the state championship. I feel we should be able to go out and dominate. We have the talent to get the job done.”
Cass Tech has yet another weapon in kicker Luis Borjas, who kicked field goals of 39 and 49 yards in the PSL title game.
“That’s something that we haven’t had in the past couple of years,” Peoples-Jones said. “He kicks it from the 40, makes a 50-yard field goal and anybody can use that. We definitely can use it and we’re glad he came out to play for us.”
Peoples-Jones talked of what it’s going to take to make it back to Ford Field.
“We definitely executed everything that we’ve been working on for the past couple of months, but we just have to cut down on the penalties, moving forward we have to cut down those penalties, for sure,” he said.
Cass Tech will have a big test in the pre-district when it hosts No. 12 Dearborn Fordson (8-1).
Expect Macomb Area Conference Red champion Utica Eisenhower (9-0) and Catholic League champion Detroit Catholic Central (9-0) to also make long runs.
And, Saline (9-0) is confident following a dominating 38-3 rout of then-No. 12 Birmingham Groves, where quarterback Zach Schwartzenberger completed 17 of 18 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown.
Thirty-eight 5-4 teams made the field, including seven in Division 1. Novi, at 5-4, upset an unbeaten West Bloomfield team last year. West Bloomfield, now 5-4, will play at unbeaten Bloomfield Hills this weekend.
Walled Lake Western (8-1) is the favorite in Division 2, showing in its 37-7 Kensington Lakes Activities Association Lakes Conference championship rout of Brighton it is ready to make a long run after advancing to the semifinals a year ago.
Western is ranked No. 2 and has several Division 1 players, showcasing MSU-bound receiver Cody White, Purdue-bound tackle Rob Hudson and quarterback Johnny Tracy, a transfer from Birmingham Brother Rice who also can throw to Kam Ford, Justin Thomas and Jack Dodge.
“Johnny Tracy is playing solid, completed 20 of 28 for 310 yards and four touchdowns against Brighton,” Western coach Mike Zdebski said. “Everyone played well. Cody had nine catches and Justin Thomas had six and we still had Kam out there scoring touchdowns, too.
“We’re ready to go, feeling like we’ve been in every type of situation, opening up at Michigan and playing in that environment, then playing at Canton early on (coming back from a 27-14 deficit for a 33-30 win) and then taking on a hot Brighton team and playing the way we did in that stadium where there’s a big crowd — that gets us ready to make a run, playing in that type of environment.”
Expect defending champion Detroit King (7-2) and Lowell (9-0) to also make long runs in Division 2. King defeated Lowell, 40-38, in the title game on a 39-yard TD pass on the final play and is led by four-star receiver/defensive back Ambry Thomas, who had three TD receptions in the PSL championship loss. Both King losses came at the hands of Cass Tech.
No doubt, Muskegon (8-1) is the team to beat in Division 3, possibly dethroning two-time defending champion Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, which enters with a 5-4 record, including a 17-14 loss to No. 3 Detroit Catholic Central in the Catholic League title game Saturday night.
Muskegon averages 55 points and is led by Virginia Tech-bound quarterback Kalil Pimpleton, standout receiver Jacory Sullivan, hard-hitting linebacker Andrew Ward and four-star junior tackle Antwan Reed, who returned after starting the season at IMG Academy in Florida. Reed has offers from Michigan, MSU, Tennessee, Florida and Penn State.
“We feel we have just as good a chance to make a long run as anyone as long as we take care of the ball,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. “We start off with KP (Pimpleton) with all of his explosiveness and he’s a remarkable leader and having La’Darius Jefferson splitting time at quarterback, it allows us to use KP in the slot and at running back, as well, plus we have a big weapon in Jacory, who is 6-2 and 213 pounds.”
Pimpleton has rushed for 979 yards (11 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns and thrown for 640 yards and a school-record 14 TDs while also returning three kicks for scores. Jefferson has accounted for 14 TDs.
Division 4 should be wide open with Detroit Country Day (9-0) entering play battle-tested after defeating U-D Jesuit (28-21) and Temperance Bedford (21-20) the last two weeks.
River Rouge (8-1) has to be considered a front-runner with Jairus Grissom at the controls. It advanced to the Division 5 title game last year, losing to three-time champion Grand Rapids West Catholic, 40-34.
River Rouge defeated Chelsea, 34-16, in the season opener, but had to forfeit the game for playing with a sophomore who competed in the JV game earlier in the week. River Rouge went on to win its next seven games without allowing a point before Friday’s 35-12 rout of Riverview.
And, don’t forget an unbeaten Benton Harbor team which won its first playoff game in school history last year after suffering consecutive winless seasons the prior two years.
Grand Rapids West Catholic enters as the three-time defending Division 5 state champion, but a new kid on the block will be competing in that division this year: Ithaca.
Ithaca (9-0) moves up to Division 5 after winning five Division 6 state championships in the last six years, including a 27-20 win over Clinton last season.
Defending champion: Romeo
State final prediction: Detroit Cass Tech over Detroit Catholic Central
Toughest district: Region 3 District 2 with top-ranked Detroit Cass Tech having to get past a No. 12 Dearborn Fordson team with a possible district final matchup against No. 10 Dearborn.
Toughest region: Region 3 with Cass Tech having to first get past Fordson, then possibly Dearborn before moving on to regional play with a potential matchup against either 9-0 Saline or a Canton team which has won seven straight since an 0-2 start.
Notable: Seven 5-4 teams made the field with a 5-4 West Bloomfield team from the OAA Red, the toughest division of the conference, traveling to play a 9-0 Bloomfield Hills team which competes in the OAA Blue, the third-toughest division of the conference. West Bloomfield quarterback Bryce Veasley has thrown for 2,200 yards and 21 TDs and has a big weapon in Garrett Winn. And, don’t forget 5-4 Novi which earned a state playoff spot with the same record last season before going on to upset a 9-0 West Bloomfield team.
Defending champion: Detroit King
State final prediction: Walled Lake Western over Detroit King
Toughest district: Region 3 District 2 with a strong 6-3 Oak Park team needing to get past Scotty Nelson and U-D Jesuit for the opportunity to face Detroit King in the title game.
Toughest region: Region 1 with state runner-up Lowell having a potential district-final matchup with Traverse City Central (8-1) and a possible regional-title game against a Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central team that pushed Lowell to the limit in Week 7, falling 41-37.
Notable: Just three 5-4 teams in the field and one of those teams, Portage Northern, will be playing at Portage Central in a rivalry game. Portage Central won the first meeting, 55-27, in Week 7.
Defending champion: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
State final prediction: Muskegon over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
Toughest district: Region 4 District 2 with Downriver League champion Allen Park possibly facing Trenton in the district-title game, which would be a rematch from a 23-10 win in Week 6.
Toughest region: Region 3 with Orchard Lake St. Mary’s first having to get past a 7-2 Bay City John Glenn team in the pre-district before possibly facing an 8-1 DeWitt team in the regional final for the chance to move on to the semifinals.
Notable: Just two 5-4 teams made the field with St. Mary’s being the main one with all of its losses against quality competition, two to Detroit Catholic Central and the others to Macomb Dakota and Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn.
Defending champion: Zeeland West
State final prediction: River Rouge over Benton Harbor
Toughest district: Region 3 District 2 with a potential final showdown between unbeaten Detroit Country Day and Marysville.
Toughest region: Region 4 with River Rouge and its talented quarterback Jairus Grissom having a potential matchup against Milan and its strong running game led by Trace Lindeman, who has topped 5,000 yards for his career.
Notable: Eight 5-4 teams made the field, including a Grand Rapids South Christian team which will play at unbeaten Benton Harbor, a program which had consecutive 0-9 seasons in 2013 and ’14 before winning its first playoff game in school history last year. Benton Harbor defeated South Christian, 28-21, in Week 2.
Defending champion: Grand Rapids West Catholic (three-time)
State final prediction: Ithaca over West Catholic
Toughest district: Region 3 District 1 with unbeaten Portland facing a potential district-final showdown against the winner of Grand Rapids West Catholic-Lansing Catholic. Portland defeated Lansing Catholic, 36-35, in Week 4.
Toughest region: Region 2 with unbeaten Ithaca having a potential district-final game against Muskegon Oakridge, with unbeaten Freeland and Frankenmuth possibly advancing to the district title for the right to face Ithaca. Freeland defeated Frankenmuth in a defensive battle, 7-3, this past weekend.
Notable: Just three 5-4 teams made the field, including a Stockbridge team led by record-breaking quarterback Mason Gee-Montgomery.
Defending champion: Ithaca (five of last six years)
State final prediction: Schoolcraft over Negaunee
Toughest district: Region 4 District 1 with favored Schoolcraft having to get past a pair of teams it defeated during the regular season, first against rival Constantine (20-10) with a potential district-final meeting with Watervliet (51-30).
Toughest region: Region 1 with Negaunee having a potential district-final game against Calumet before possibly taking on 8-1 Roscommon in the regional championship.
Notable: Six 5-4 teams made the field, including a Houghton Lake team which pushed Roscommon to the limit in Week 5 before falling 36-34. Houghton Lake will play at Roscommon in the pre-district.
Defending champion: Ishpeming (three of last four years)
State final prediction: Pewamo-Westphalia over Detroit Loyola
Toughest district: Region 4 District 2 with Detroit Loyola first having to get past a strong Madison team before a possible title-game showdown with unbeaten Grosse Pointe Liggett.
Toughest region: Region 1 with Pewamo-Westphalia and 7,000-yard rusher Jared Smith having a possible district-title showdown with unbeaten Saugatuck and quarterback Blake Dunn, the winner more than likely facing unbeaten Traverse City St. Francis for the right to move on to the semifinals.
Notable: Pewamo-Westphalia will try to take the next step after falling to Ishpeming, 22-16, in the title game last year with Smith limited to 149 yards and a TD on 27 carries to have him finish the season with single-season state records for rushing yards (3,250) and TDs (53).
Defending champion: Muskegon Catholic Central (three-time)
State final prediction: Muskegon Catholic Central over Climax-Scotts
Toughest district: Region 4 District 1 with unbeaten Climax-Scotts having a possible district-title matchup with perennial power Mendon if Mendon can get past 8-1 St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic Central.
Toughest region: Region 1 with unbeaten Lake Linden-Hubbell and Norway the favorites in one district with St. Ignace (8-1) possibly playing the winner for the regional title.
Notable: Five 5-4 teams made the field.