Grosse Pointe South is off to its best start since 1984 when it opened the season with a 7-0 record before dropping the final two games to miss the state playoffs.
However, South (5-0) — ranked No. 19 in The News' Super 20 poll — can assure itself a state playoff appearance with a win this Friday against New Baltimore Anchor Bay (2-3).
Without a doubt, South’s strength has been its defense, which has posted three shutouts and allowed just 17 points all season.
“It’s a really, really disciplined bunch who play their responsibilities,” said South head coach Tim Brandon, who is in his 12th year at the helm. “They all swarm to the ball and there’s a lot of team speed on that defense, too.”
So, who are some of the key players?
“Our defensive end and our three tech are two of the stalwarts — Terrance Lane is a defensive end and Owen Chen is our three tech, a two-year starter who is only a junior,” Brandon said of Lane (6-foot-3, 250 pounds), who is also the left tackle, and Chen (6-foot, 245).
“We also have three of four defensive backs from last year, so our backside is really good as well. Scott Rosati, our free safety, is 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, a quick free safety who led the White Division last year in interceptions with seven and already has four. He’s outstanding and is good at cover, but our safeties are alley players and he really flies to the football. Owen Bollaert is our strong safety and Grant Hart is a corner, both players who started last year as sophomores.”
South is 3-0 in the Macomb Area Conference White Division and is trying to win the league title for a third straight season.
“This is one of the best defenses I’ve ever seen,” Brandon said. “We're really solid all over the field. We have two position groups that rotate because we can’t keep a kid off the field. We have three corners that rotate and we have three defensive ends that rotate.
"They get a lot of rest and the great thing is we can coach them up. If there’s something we see we can get one off the field for a possession or series and coach them up and send them back in there.”
Not to be outdone, South’s offense is averaging 35 points per game.
“Our quarterback, Ryan Downey, threw four TDs against Port Huron and he runs well, too,” Brandon said. “Our tailback is outstanding. We have a 1,000-yard rusher in Conor McKenna back from last year and we have so many weapons on offense that we can’t give him the ball enough to get a 100-yard game.
“He (McKenna) is still running the ball well, but we’ve got weapons on the edge, got a really good tight end so we’re spreading the ball around. A.J. Benson, a junior, is a stretch the field receiver who runs a 4.4 (40-yard dash), then we have a couple of possession guys underneath in Patrick Dougherty and tight end Riley Francis. Teams try to stop one thing and we just go to another.”
South hopes to ride its momentum to another division crown and a long state postseason run.
South lost to Detroit Cass Tech in last year’s Division 1 pre-district, but advanced to a Division 2 regional final in 2016 and a Division 2 state semifinal in 2010.
Callahan's second Loyola stop
John Callahan is making some progress in his return to Detroit Loyola after spending last season as head coach at New Haven.
Callahan, 72, had guided Loyola to a tremendous six-year run from 2011-2016 when Loyola had a 72-9 record and four state championship game appearances at Ford Field in five years, winning the Division 7 title in 2014.
Callahan led Loyola to an 11-3 record and state final loss to Pewamo-Westphalia in 2016, then moved on to New Haven while Loyola struggled to a 2-6 record in 2017.
Callahan has made sure Loyola (3-2, 2-0) has already surpassed its win total of a year ago and now has its sights set on the Catholic League AA Division title following its 28-16 win over defending division champ Dearborn Divine Child on Friday.
“I feel we’ve turned the corner now and we’re looking forward to seeing what’s ahead for us,” Callahan said. “We played terrible against Country Day (28-12 loss on Sept. 14), didn’t play anywhere near our potential. Our seniors came into my office later that night and that made a huge difference.
“Yes, the seniors, who had played for me before, talked for about an hour that night after the game and everyone called out everybody and what needed to be done and what wasn’t being done. A couple of kids that were here when I was here before spoke up and said how it was when I was here and why they were successful so that leadership came out and that’s big.”
Loyola’s win over Divine Child — the coaches' preseason favorite to win the division title — was a statement win.
“It was a good game, just played well, battled and never quit and that was the key,” Callahan said. “There were a couple of kids who got banged up and a couple of weeks ago would have taken themselves out, but when we went to sub this time around they waved us off so it’s coming back.
“Will we be back all the way this year? I don’t know, but we have the best sophomore class that I’ve ever had, just have some great sophomores. One is two-way lineman Derrick Harmon, who is 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds. I’m not talking about the future though, just excited about right now.”
Callahan has reason to be optimistic since it will be competing in Division 7 in the postseason, but has matchups with Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood (4-1, 1-1) and U-D Jesuit (3-2, 2-0) the next two weeks with the AA Division title up for grabs.
Senior running back D’Vaun Bentley, who has 4.6 speed, has rushed for 800 yards this season, including 207 yards and a touchdown against Divine Child. Sophomore tailback Kiem Moore has also played well as has sophomore slot back Marquise Henderson and his twin brother, defensive end Marquez Henderson, who had 10 tackles against Divine Child.
Harmon is joined on the line with seniors Cameron Hutchison (5-11, 245), Damany O’Neal and Darwin Green.
Schuster shines for Chippewa Valley
Clinton Township Chippewa Valley head coach Scott Merchant knows all about the Chippewa Valley-Macomb Dakota rivalry, and that’s why he searched through the dozens of players and fans that remained on the field to find his senior quarterback Tommy Schuster after Friday's 24-17 win.
It was Chippewa Valley’s third straight win in the rivalry and Merchant knows how difficult it is to earn a win in the series since Dakota (4-1, 2-1 MAC Red) had won 16 straight before Merchant guided Chippewa Valley (5-0, 3-0) to a district final win over Dakota in 2014.
“Three wins in this series, that’s three wins,” Merchant said to Schuster while giving him a congratulatory hug.
Schuster, a three-year starter, tossed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Michigan State-bound linebacker Marcel Lewis, who doubled as a tight end, to give Chippewa Valley a 10-0 first-quarter lead.
“We came in here my sophomore year and hadn’t won the Superintendent’s Trophy in 10 years, so we had a goal to turn that around and we’ve done it,” Schuster said.
Schuster found Lewis again to set up Andre Chenault’s 37-yard touchdown run for a 17-7 third-quarter cushion.
Schuster also had a long run to set up Chippewa Valley’s final score.
Metro Blue showdown
Something will have to give when River Rouge (4-1, 2-0) faces Harper Woods (4-1, 1-0) this weekend in the Michigan Metro Athletic Conference Blue Division showdown.
River Rouge crushed Harper Woods, 86-0, last year en route to the Division 4 state semifinals.
Well, Harper Woods is a far different team after bringing in former Detroit East English head coach Rod Oden to lead the program.
Oden has already helped Harper Woods surpass last year's win total (3-6). Harper Woods has outscored its opponents by a 233-47 margin, while River Rouge is outscoring its opponents 233-50.