Brighton — West Bloomfield wants what Clarkston has, a state championship trophy to put in its trophy case.
West Bloomfield dominated its OAA Red Division game with Clarkston earlier this season, 37-16, but the rematch is much bigger with the teams battling it out in the Division 1 state championship game Saturday afternoon at Ford Field.
Clarkston is known for its postseason success under the direction of legendary coach Kurt Richardson who has guided the school to a 244-86 record in the last 31 years, including consecutive state championships in 2013 and ’14 as well as a regional final appearance last season.
But, this long tournament run is new to West Bloomfield, which has won district and regional championships for the first time in school history.
Big things were expected of West Bloomfield (11-2) with Bowling Green-bound quarterback Bryce Veasley (3,273 yards passing, 25 TDs) having arguably the top receiving trio in the Midwest with Taj Mustapha (61 receptions, 831 yards, 6 TDs) and A.J. Abbott (53-1,061, 8) — both headed to Wisconsin — along with junior Tre Mosley (42-838, 10) who has multiple Division I offers.
However, West Bloomfield dropped its first two games before turning things around to earn a share of the OAA Red title, sparked by a Week 4 rout of Clarkston (11-2) when Veasley picked apart the defense by throwing for 325 yards and four TDs.
And, if the MHSAA playoffs were the same as the NCAA FBS playoffs, Clarkston wouldn’t even have a chance to make Ford Field since it finished in a third-place tie in its own division.
But, the MHSAA isn’t the NCAA and Richardson found a way to have Clarkston peaking at the conclusion of season, which has turned into a six-game winning streak. The school held three of its four postseason opponents to seven points or less, including a 28-0 district title shutout against Davison with Clarkston’s running back Josh Cantu (258 yards) taking the spotlight away from Davison all-state back Tariq Reid.
There’s no need to be worried about being overconfident, said West Bloomfield senior safety Nick Seidel who was practicing with his teammates at the Legacy Center’s indoor facility Tuesday afternoon in Brighton.
“Yes, we beat them earlier in the year and that was great, but you still have to remember it’s Clarkston and they are a powerhouse,” said Seidel, who has intercepted nine passes this season while making 134 tackles. “They have made it to the same place as we did for a reason. When we played them last year we were up on them 21-to-nothing and they scored 42 unanswered points and beat us.
“We’re definitely very confident and we all feel we’ll win, but we know we’ll have to play our A game, not take any plays off to come out on top. It’s great to have two teams from our own division in the state championship game, just tells you how tough our league is.”
Seidel talked about how special the ride has been, especially since West Bloomfield has had to overcome adversity to still be playing.
“It’s been magical,” said Seidel. “Losing our first two games, coming back from that, having the loss of Nick O’Shea’s father, and the loss of a few other players’ grandparents, it’s been something to overcome as a team and the fact that we overcame the life aspect and the football aspect of this has just been amazing.”
West Bloomfield upset defending state champion Detroit Cass Tech, 9-7, in a state semifinal Saturday with Seidel pouncing on a fumble inside West Bloomfield territory with the school leading 9-0.
Still, Seidel knows it was O’Shea who proved to be the difference maker, kicking three field goals. O’Shea lost his father Dan O’Shea, 52, to a heart attack on Oct. 10.
“He truly has ice in his veins, doesn’t care about the situation, doesn’t look at it as the game’s on the line, just has fun doing what he loves to do, which is put the ball through the two yellow goal posts like he always does,” said Seidel of O’Shea. “It was huge, for all people to have that type of game after all he’s gone through makes it more special.
“We’re all brothers and love to hang out as a team. It’s important to be around your best friends all the time, and having that was huge for our team, like being able to rally around him and be there for him and that kept us all going.”
O’Shea, who has made 12-of-17 field goals, said his father played college soccer and didn’t know much about football.
“He’d be the first to admit he didn’t know much about football, but he told me you have to become comfortable in uncomfortable situations and that’s what I like,” O’Shea said. “I like the big stage and I like playing when there’s something on the line. Now, we’re going to Ford Field and the best thing about that is there’s no wind.”
O’Shea is thrilled to have his teammates and head coach Ron Bellamy supporting him.
“The guys and my Coach (Bellamy) have been everything, not only to me, but my family too, mom and sister,” O’Shea said. “They’ve been so supportive, came over that night when I found out. They’ve been with me through the whole thing, made sure that I knew that nothing was expected, didn’t need to play that week, didn’t need to practice, just focus with family. But, I wanted to play not only for myself but for them. I know my dad would want me to play too. He’d want me to keep working on my goal as well as the team’s. I want to help us win the state championship, then kick in college.”
O’Shea more than likely will be in the spotlight Saturday, but so will that star-studded offense, along with that strong defense that has played well throughout the season.
“Going into the season no one really talked about our defense, but it’s been the backbone of our team,” Seidel said. “Our D-line’s ability to put pressure on the quarterback has been huge. Our linebackers have been phenomenal, Cornell Wheeler and Lance Dixon are playing amazing football, and our DBs, we’ve been locking people down, making interceptions and big plays, just having everything clicking has been huge, especially to set up our offense, putting them in good position.
“Our receivers are unreal, they’re the best competition we’ll see and the fact we get to see them in practice every day just makes us so much better because we’re not going to see a better quarterback, we’re not going to see a better single receiver than any of them, let alone a trio like that, it prepares us for anything we could ever go against.”
FOOTBALL STATE FINALS
All games at Ford Field
Division 8: Ottawa Lake Whiteford (13-0) vs. Saginaw Nouvel (13-0), 10 a.m.
Division 2: Warren De La Salle (11-2) vs. Livonia Franklin (11-2), 1 p.m.
Division 6: Ithaca (13-0) vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (11-1), 4:30 p.m.
Division 4: Grand Rapids Catholic Central (13-0) vs. Edwardsburg (12-1), 7:30 p.m.
Division 7: Pewamo-Westphalia (12-1) vs. Saugatuck (10-3), 10 a.m.
Division 1: Clarkston (11-2) vs. West Bloomfield (11-2), 1 p.m.
Division 5: Grand Rapids West Catholic (11-2) vs. Saginaw Swan Valley (12-1), 4:30 p.m.
Division 3: Muskegon (13-0) vs. Farmington Hills Harrison (10-3), 7:30 p.m.