Oak Park is hitting its stride heading into the stretch drive of the regular season.
Oak Park has won five straight since a 24-7 Week 1 loss to Utica Eisenhower, a team which is ranked No. 3 in The Detroit News’ Super 20 poll and was a Division 1 state semifinalist a year ago.
Now, Oak Park (5-1, 5-0) is set to play at Farmington Hills Harrison (4-2, 4-1) in a showdown for first place in the Oakland Activities Association White Division on Friday, trying to prevent John Herrington from sharing the state’s all-time winningest coach title with Al Fracassa, who retired from Birmingham Brother Rice in 2013 with 430 wins.
Oak Park and Harrison have developed an outstanding rivalry as of late, with the teams splitting the last six meetings. Oak Park blanked Harrison, 27-0, in 2014 and Harrison returned the favor with a 24-0 win in 2015. Oak Park won the most recent meeting last season, 14-9.
“We always play great games against Harrison, such a great program and there’s a lot on the line, first place in the league,” Oak Park seventh-year coach Greg Carter said. “We have so much respect for what they do. We have to go there so we’ll have our hands full.
“It’s a great high school rivalry. They’re going to play hard and we’re going to play hard and Coach Herrington and I will be friends whether we win or whether we lose. I really enjoy the rivalry because you have to be at your best.”
Oak Park has outscored its opponents 220-14 since the loss to Eisenhower, posting four shutouts in the last five games.
“I like our team, liked our team even after that loss to Utica Eisenhower because I felt we played them as good as anybody that’s going to play them at that point of the year with a veteran quarterback (Max Wittwer) and an established program,” Carter said. “We’ve been playing better and better every week.”
Junior dual-threat quarterback Dwan Mathis, who recently committed to Michigan State, has played well, but Carter feels that the offensive line and running game is Oak Park’s strength.
“We have a veteran offensive line, got a couple of guys back from injury last year, and we looked for them to come back and take off from where they left off and they have,” Carter said. “I think we have some tremendous young running backs.
“Our senior running back is Cashual Goldsmith, who has been a really good player for a couple of years, sophomore and junior years played through injuries and now has had a few 100-yard games this season. Junior Torriano Richardson, younger brother of John Kelly (Tennessee), is running the ball well, also starting at defensive back, just a special player. Really, we have four talented running backs.”
The offensive line includes Kentucky-bound four-star guard Marquan McCall, who missed the majority of last season with a knee injury, sophomore tackle Justin Rogers, who received an offer from Ohio State this summer, three-year starting guard Drew Elly and junior center Shelby Givens.
No doubt, McCall anchors the line, but Rogers could end up being the best of the bunch.
“He’s technical. He’s tough every play,” Carter said. “He realizes his assignments this year, and I think that was a problem early on as a ninth grader. He understands our system a lot better and he’s playing phenomenal, both run blocking and pass protection, one of the best.”
So, how has Mathis played?
“Dwan’s doing great all-around, making better decisions and we knew it was going to come with experience,” Carter said. “I don’t think there’s a quarterback in a long time that had the schedule that he had in his first year playing for us when we played (Detroit) Cass Tech, Clarkston and (Detroit) King, Southfield, (Birmingham) Groves. We played a tremendous schedule.
“Even in that first game (against Eisenhower) you could see the maturity setting in. He’s doing what we’ve asked. He’s running the ball when he needs to run the ball. He’s throwing the ball and he’s delivering the ball well, just doing a great job for us.”
Mathis (6-foot-5, 190 pounds), who is in his second year as Oak Park’s starter after playing his freshman year at Belleville, feels confident in leading the offense.
“I feel my strength is just making plays and I feel really where I’ve grown is patience in the pocket,” said Mathis, who has put on 25 pounds since his freshman year. “When I first came to high school I used to rush, tried to get it out quick, but now I learned that if I sit in the pocket and wait, guys will get open.”
Mathis credits Carter and Carter’s son, Adam, who is the offensive coordinator, for his development. It also helps Mathis feels he has a lot of weapons to work with.
“We have Maliq Carr, Kevin Bradley, Gary Gayle, Kolby Mack, I’m a weapon, too, and so is Corey Graham, who plays quarterback when I’m playing receiver,” Mathis said. “Maliq’s like 6-5, 6-6 and he’s a great weapon to have. When I see a smaller corner 1-on-1, I’ll just throw it up to him.”
Adam Carter played for his father at Detroit St. Martin de Porres before playing receiver at Wisconsin and then Wayne State. Adam has been an assistant coach under his father for the last nine years.
After guiding de Porres to four state championships and Inkster to three state title game appearances, Carter is still in search of his first regional title at Oak Park. He feels his team has a strong shot this season.
“If we stay healthy we can play with anybody,” Carter said. “We’re trying to learn how to be champions here. We want to experience late playoff games where our younger kids can see what it takes to be a champion. There has to be a group that takes that step and then I think the program will really feel comfortable and confident that they can win a championship.”
Madison, Brown show resolve
Former Michigan cornerback James Rogers has Madison Heights Madison off to an impressive 6-0 start, including a 28-24 come-from-behind win over a perennially strong Marine City team in a Week 5 battle of unbeatens.
Madison now has a big test this weekend when it travels to Warren Fitzgerald for its homecoming game. The showdown will be for first place in the Macomb Area Conference Silver Division.
Madison defeated Fitzgerald, 17-15, last season, winning on the final play. Madison finished 6-4, losing to Detroit Loyola in the opening round of the state playoffs in Division 7.
Quarterback Austin Brown, who helped Detroit Catholic Central reach the Division 1 state championship game last year, led a comeback from a 24-7 halftime deficit against Marine City, throwing for 308 yards and a touchdown, and also rushing for a score.
Zyaire Croskey rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns, while J’Quan Jones had four receptions for 118 yards and Joseph Austin ran for 93 yards and a score.
“At halftime we made some major adjustments and then our offense scored and that turned the momentum in our favor,” Rogers said of the win over Marine City. “We stopped them on a fourth down, then got that touchdown to pull within 10 at that point and after that our defense was rolling. At the end, Kaylen Jackson had a huge sack, we basically freed him up from the edge and he had a sack that won the game for us.”
Jackson had nine tackles to help lead the defensive effort. Dominik Rowell led the charge with 13 tackles and a forced fumble, Chauncey Ernest added 12 tackles, Daniel Lenox had 11 tackles and a sack, and Adam Long chipped in 10 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Madison followed up its Marine City win by edging out St. Clair Shores Lakeview, 21-20, last Friday.
Rogers has high praise for Brown, who has accounted for 24 total touchdowns this season.
“He’s getting the communication skills down and the connection with our receivers,” Rogers said. “He’s one of those kids who can make plays happen with his feet, even when the pocket collapses. He’s a great quarterback that he knows how to scramble around the pocket and reset back up and find receivers downfield.”
Brown has a half dozen Division 1 offers, including Toledo, Akron, Miami (Ohio). He took a visit to Michigan State to watch the Spartans play Notre Dame two weeks ago.
Rochester Adams veteran coach Tony Patritto hates to punt and won’t have his team do it unless there’s no other option.
And it’s obvious Adams’ players love Patritto’s gambling and have his back, keeping drives alive with fourth-down conversions the majority of the time.
Case in point was in Adams’ 38-14 rout of Southfield A&T last Friday when Cole Patritto caught a pass to keep the drive alive on a fourth-and-5 from Adams’ 40 early in the third quarter. Adams went on to score a touchdown and make it a two-score game.
“We converted four of five fourth-down plays,” Tony Patritto said. “We kind of decided that if we have a reasonable chance we’re going for it.”
It was a big win for Adams, which bounced back from a 17-16 loss to West Bloomfield when Patritto went for a two-point conversion in the final minutes and was unsuccessful.
Now, Adams (5-1, 4-1) will host Clarkston (5-1, 4-1) on homecoming Friday for first place in the OAA Red.
“We’ve had great battles with Clarkston over the years,” Patritto said. “It will be a great challenge for the guys.”
Adams defeated Clarkston, 12-7, in 2013 with Clarkston coming back to earn a 56-28 regional final win that same season on its way to the Division 1 state championship. Clarkston won, 31-14, last season.
Adams, which had more than 300 yards rushing in the win over Southfield A&T, has another weapon with Ben Patton kicking three field goals of 22, 36 and 37 yards. He kicked a field goal in the loss to West Bloomfield, as well.