It was a weekend of upsets in the district finals with Dearborn Fordson sending top-ranked Detroit Cass Tech to the sideline while Saline ended No. 5 East Kentwood’s season and Warren De La Salle defeated Ohio State-bound quarterback Dwan Mathis and No. 6 Oak Park.
It’s not like Fordson, Saline and De La Salle were huge underdogs going in, with Fordson ranked No. 12 in the Detroit News Super 20 poll, Saline No. 8 and De La Salle — the defending Division 2 state champion — No. 15.
Fordson (10-1) had lost to Cass Tech seven straight times in postseason play, including 27-22 last season.
But this time around Fordson beat Cass Tech in the trenches, rushing for more than 200 yards while shutting out its opponent during the second half in a 41-14 victory.
“The last few times we played them they were pretty good ball games and ultimately the kids understood that and some of them were a part of it last year and they said, ‘Hey, we can do this,’” Fordson coach Walker Zaban said.
“We told them they are capable of doing this, of beating them and they needed something positive to happen early on to kind of reinforce that in them and it happened.”
Fordson scored first and never trailed. Senior Hussein Ajami completed 11 of 16 passes for 183 yards and four TDs, including 9-for-13 for 158 yards and four TDs in the first half to give Fordson a 27-14 lead.
Mohamed Elzayat had two interceptions in the second half for Fordson.
“On that field (at Cass Tech) ultimately you have to win up front and I thought we were able to run the ball effectively,” Zaban said. “We rushed for more than 200 yards, but we threw the ball well too. Hussein (Ajami) was outstanding and that once again is due to the battle in the trenches. They (Cass Tech) really didn’t get to him and he was protected. We kept him clean so that was huge.”
So, where does this win rank for Zaban, who is in his 12th year as Fordson’s head coach?
“This has to rank up there because of obviously our struggles with them and them knocking us out of the districts and not being able to move on,” said Zaban, who guided Fordson to a Division 1 state semifinal appearance in 2008. “There were many times we thought if we get past them that we can maybe get a run going where they got the run going (Cass Tech won state titles in 2011, ’12, ’16).”
Fordson moves on to face No. 2 Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (11-0) Friday night in Clinton Township.
Chippewa Valley dominated Macomb Area Conference Red Division rival Macomb Dakota, 51-10.
Saline’s Morrison stars
At Saline, junior linebacker Alex Morrison stepped up and made a big play early in the third quarter, which sparked Saline inits 42-7 rout of East Kentwood.
Saline led 14-7 at halftime and it could have been much larger if not for a long TD run that was called back due to a penalty, then a fumble after a reception inside the East Kentwood 10 with a minute remaining in the half.
Saline also fumbled inside East Kentwood’s 5 early in the third, but Saline’s defense pinned East Kentwood back and a third-down pass from its own 1 was intercepted by Morrison and returned seven yards for a TD.
“The secondary covered well, the D-line put some pressure on him and I just dropped to my spot and the ball was right there,” said Morrison, explaining the pivotal TD.
“It was a big momentum shift for us. Then, we got the (fumble off) kick and scored off of it. We had all the confidence in the world after those two plays.”
Saline recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and scored again, leading to three TDs during a six-minute span to open up a 35-7 third-quarter lead. Morrison scored on 55-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.
“I just dropped to my zone, the D-line pressured him, secondary covered well and I had to work for this one a little bit,” said Morrison of his second TD return. “I got it and the D-line turned into offensive linemen, made some big blocks and I just ran it in.
“We play like one heartbeat on defense. We’re so close. It’s a special group of people, an amazing group of guys to play with.”
Saline plays host to Rockford (7-4) Saturday afternoon.
DeBerry stirs intrigue
It’s obvious why Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is starting to show interest in De La Salle cornerback Josh DeBerry.
The Spartans have yet to offer DeBerry, but don’t be surprised if Dantonio comes calling soon.
DeBerry, a senior, had the challenge of trying to shut down Oak Park 6-foot-6 junior receiver Maliq Carr with Mathis at the controls of the offense.
“Our coaches prepared us really well and all we had to do was go out and execute and that’s what we did and it showed on the scoreboard,” said DeBerry of De La Salle, which defeated Oak Park, 14-7, in last year’s regional final before moving on to win the state championship.
“We knew we had to stop the run and contain the quarterback and get them to throw the ball, which they did and our defensive backs did a good job of breaking up the ball and getting a couple of picks.”
DeBerry finished with an interception and five pass breakups.
De La Salle led 21-0 at halftime and had success running the ball while shutting down Oak Park’s running game, which was led by 1,000-yard rusher Phillip Stewart.
DeBerry has yet to commit, saying he plans to take his official visits after the season. He says he has 16 offers with Iowa, Wake Forest and Cincinnati at the top of the list.
“Michigan State talked to me a little bit now so hopefully something like that (offer) does come a long because they are a great school, Big Ten, close to home so that would be great,” DeBerry said. “We’re looking to win another state championship. We have a great opportunity in front of us. Coach G (head coach Mike Giannone) talks about it all the time, how we experienced it last year and we all know what it takes to get back there again.”
De La Salle (9-2) will play at Port Huron Northern (10-1) in a regional final.
Boone sparks King
No. 10 Detroit King has been known for its passing attack, led by Central Michigan-bound quarterback Dequan Finn and a receiving corps led by four-star junior Rashawn Williams.
But 6-1, 217-pound junior running back Peny Boone is making his presence felt, piling up 250 yards on the ground while scoring three TDs in King’s 34-14 win over Warren Woods Tower.
“It does a lot for us, opens up a lot of things for the offense,” said King coach Tyrone Spencer on the importance of Boone’s production.
“It’s important to have a running game in November with the conditions like it is and he did a great job for us, thrilled that he’s been able to click and play well at the right time.”
Boone visited Kentucky this past weekend, watching the game vs. Georgia. He also has offers from Boston College, Iowa, Iowa State and Kansas.
King (9-2) is looking to earn its third state title in the last four years and will play in a Division 3 regional final Friday night at Allen Park (9-2).
Harrison at home
Farmington Hills Harrison will be closing its doors at the end of the 2018-19 school year, but Rod Heard made sure Harrison would get the opportunity to play one more home game.
Heard took a bad snap as the holder on a would-be field-goal attempt in overtime, got up and tossed a TD pass to Max Martin for the difference in a 13-10 Division 4 district final win at Detroit Country Day.
“Our holder got hurt earlier so we said let Rod do it, he does everything else and I’m glad we put him in there,” said Harrison legendary head coach John Herrington, who increased his all-time win total to 443. “I always said big players make big plays in big games and that’s what he did for us two weeks in a row, big kickoff return and now this play.
“And, Max (Martin) made the catch too. Max had to play quarterback with an injury to (Keel) Watson, who we expect to be back next week. It was quite a game.”
Harrison (8-3) hosts Chelsea (8-3) Saturday afternoon.
“I joked that this will be our 18th final home game at Harrison,” Herrington said. “We didn’t expect to get any home games (in playoffs) and to have two is great, and to play a quality team like Chelsea is really good.”
If Herrington has any hopes of winning the regional title, Harrison will have to slow down Chelsea’s passing attack, led by quarterback Quinn Starkey and Hunter Neff, who has 982 receiving yards and 14 TDs.
Wenzel sets record
With five-time defending state champion Grand Rapids West Catholic eliminated, the Division 5 state title is up for grabs.
Kalamazoo United — a combined team of players from Kalamazoo Hackett and Kalamazoo Christian — was sent to the sideline by West Catholic in last year’s districts despite racking up 397 total yards.
Kalamazoo United is 11-0 this season, led by state-record breaking quarterback Eric Wenzel, who has multiple Division 1 offers.
Wenzel, a 6-1, 195-pound senior, has 54 TD passes this season, breaking the former record held by Mason Gee-Montgomery of Stockbridge (51, 10 games in 2015).
Wenzel threw six TDs and ran for another score in Friday’s 46-35 district final win over Hopkins.
“He’s a very special player, great athlete and what really makes that kid special is his leadership,” said United coach Jesse Brown of Wenzel, who is a four-star athlete, playing basketball, baseball and running track.
“The Kalamazoo Christian community and Hackett community looks up to him and it’s awesome.”
Wenzel has completed 65.4 percent of his passes (191-of-292) for 3,554 yards and the 54 TDs with seven interceptions.
Wenzel completed 25-of-29 passes for 379 yards and six TDs, including four to 6-5 Andrew Widger (eight receptions, 190 yards) in the win over Hopkins.
Wenzel has multiple weapons to work with, including Widger (51 receptions, 919 yards, 18 TDs), Heath Baldwin (47 receptions, 867 yards, 17 TDs), Christian Bartholomew (59 receptions, 1,089 yards, 12 TDs) and Aaron Verkaik (19 receptions, 263 yards, four TDs).
Kalamazoo United hosts Hudsonville Unity Christian (9-2) Saturday at Vicksburg.
And, Detroit Denby earned its first district title since 2006, avenging last year’s 22-20 predistrict loss to Ida with a 28-22 victory.
Denby (9-2), led by 2,000-yard rusher T’Shawn Wilkes, plays at Marine City (9-2). Marine City upset Harper Woods 41-27.