Dave Goricki previews the state football finals with Detroit King coach Tyrone Spencer and QB Dequan Finn, as well as Madison Heights Madison coach James Rogers and QB Austin Brown. The Detroit News
David Goricki of The Detroit News breaks down Saturday’s football state championship games in Divisions 1, 3, 5 and 7.
No. 2 Chippewa Valley (13-0) vs. No. 11 Clarkston (11-2), Saturday, 1 p.m.
Road to the finals
Chippewa Valley was ranked No. 5 in The Detroit News Super 20 preseason poll, living up and surpassing expectations by opening the season with a 31-26 comeback win at Saline. Chippewa Valley won the MAC Red title before its impressive postseason run, which started with district wins over MAC Red rivals Utica Eisenhower (34-7) and Macomb Dakota (51-10), followed by a 42-7 rout in the regionals over a Dearborn Fordson team that beat No. 1 Detroit Cass Tech the week before, and a 28-16 state semifinal win over No. 4 Belleville.
Chippewa Valley coach Scott Merchant, in his 10th year with the program, has been waiting for this season with multiple Division I players, including Michigan State-bound linebacker/tight end Marcel Lewis, Indiana-bound cornerback/receiver David Ellis, cornerback/running back Ja’Von Kimpson (Miami of Ohio), along with physical running back/linebacker Andre Chenault and three-year starting quarterback Tommy Schuster.
Clarkston was ranked No. 11 in the preseason poll, but had lost 35 seniors and the bulk of its starters from last year’s state championship team that defeated OAA Red rival West Bloomfield, 3-2, at Ford Field.
Coach Kurt Richardson reloaded with first-year starting quarterback Jake Jenson, who did a nice job of taking care of the ball. The 1-2 punch of Jake Billette (801 yards) and Jacob Honstetter (750) have combined to rush for more than 1,500 yards behind a line anchored by 6-5, 265-pound sophomore Rocco Spindler, who already has offers from Michigan and Ohio State.
After a 21-14 regular-season finale loss to Oak Park, Clarkston regrouped and limited its four postseason opponents to a combined total of 16 points, beating Lake Orion (30-7) and Lakeland (26-6) in the district, followed by 13-0 shutout of Lapeer in the regional and a 21-3 state semifinal win over No. 8 Saline.
Players to watch
Tommy Schuster, QB, Chippewa Valley: Schuster, a 6-foot, 195-pound senior, has done a great job in his third year as a starter, taking care of the ball while making big plays in the comeback win over Saline in the season opener, and he had three TD passes in the semifinal win over Belleville. He has completed 106-of-158 passes for 1,654 yards and 24 TDs with just one interception. He has multiple weapons to work with, including Ellis, Kimpson, Martice Bunting and Lewis, who has several TD receptions from his tight end spot.
Rocco Spindler, So., OL-DL, Clarkston: Spindler, the son of former Lions defensive tackle Marc Spindler, was a two-way starter his freshman year when Clarkston won the state title last season. He plays both ways again this season, picking up his play on the defensive side of the ball to reach Ford Field once again, taking on double- and triple-teams to open things up for his teammates to make plays.
Why Chippewa Valley can win: Chippewa Valley hasn’t had problems putting points on the board with Schuster spreading the ball around while having the ability to pile up yardage on the ground with running backs in Chenault, Kimpson and Ellis. Chippewa Valley’s defense has also picked it up during the postseason since Merchant made a move to play four linebackers in Lewis, Chenault, Jonathan Zak and Courtney McGarity, with Ellis and Kimpson in the back end of the defense.
Why Clarkston can win: Clarkston has been there and done that, winning state championships in 2013, 2014 and 2017. Clarkston’s defense has never been better, giving up 16 points during the postseason while stuffing the run. It limited Saline to 58 yards (20 carries) while showing its ability to pound the ball on the ground, including 224 rushing yards in the semifinals.
Prediction: Chippewa Valley is on a mission, taking advantage of its opportunity to get to Ford Field for the first time. (Chippewa Valley won the Division 2 state championship at the Silverdome in 2001.) But West Bloomfield was on a mission last year, had defeated Clarkston during the regular season before falling in the rematch on the big stage. Clarkston 21, Chippewa Valley 17
No. 3 Muskegon (13-0) vs. No. 10 Detroit King (11-2), Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Road to the finals
Muskegon won the Division 3 state championship last year against Farmington Hills Harrison, finishing 14-0, now building the winning streak to 27 games. Its last loss came in the Division 3 state championship game in 2016 to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 29-28.
Quarterback La’Darius Jefferson graduated after rushing for 245 yards and four TDs in the title game and 2,095 yards for his senior season before moving on to Michigan State. But Muskegon Catholic Central transfer Cameron Martinez has taken over to make sure the offense hasn’t missed a beat. He has already surpassed Jefferson’s rushing yards of a year ago. Coach Shane Fairfield (100-18, nine years) also has a 1,000-yard back in 5-11, 200-pound Jeremiah Lockhart (1,157, 15 TDs) running behind a line that averages more than 310 pounds and is anchored by LSU-bound 360-pound tackle Anthony Bradford.
Muskegon had a scare in its first postseason game, a 42-35 predistrict win over East Grand Rapids before going on to earn wins over Grand Rapids Christian (49-17), Cedar Springs (34-18) and Zeeland East, 45-22.
Detroit King regrouped well from its Week 2 loss (24-21) at Muskegon when Martinez directed a 65-yard, eight-play drive, scoring on a 1-yard run with 1:22 remaining, then King turning the ball over at the Muskegon 20 with 30 seconds left on a fumble.
King has a balanced offense, led by Central Michigan-bound quarter Dequan Finn, a receiving group of Rashawn Williams, Dominick Polidore-Hannah, Darrell Wyatt and Jalen McGaughy, and running backs Peny Boone and Shondel Hardnett.
King had a huge test in its postseason opener, defeating No. 20 River Rouge, 7-6, before earning easier wins over Warren Woods Tower (34-14), Allen Park (54-15) and DeWitt (34-21).
Players to watch
Cameron Martinez, Jr., QB, Muskegon: Martinez, who received an offer from Michigan, has showed his ability as a dual-threat quarterback, already rushing for 2,316 yards (10.4 yards a carry) and 36 TDs, including a school-record 352 yards (23 carries) and six TDs in a 55-35 win over rival Mona Shores. He has thrown for 11 TDs without an interception. Martinez suffered a mild ankle bruise late in the first half of the semifinal game, but played during the third quarter and is expected to play in the title game.
Dequan Finn, Sr., QB, Detroit King: Finn, a dual-threat quarterback, has thrown for 1,936 yards and 22 TDs while rushing for 1,189 yards, averaging more than 20 yards a carry. Finn accounted for 363 yards and three TDs in the 24-21 loss at Muskegon, throwing for 264 yards before the turnover in the final minute while trying to lead King on a game-winning drive.
Why Muskegon can win: Muskegon already has beaten King earlier this season, rushing for 309 yards in that win. Muskegon has a high-powered offense, averaging 50 points and 410 yards on the ground, including a mammoth 429 yards and six rushing TDs in the state semifinal victory. Muskegon has a solid defense with a secondary, led by Kolbe Lewis, that could slow down King’s passing offense.
Why Detroit King can win: King has a balanced offense now that Boone, a transfer from Warren Fitzgerald, has felt at home in the offense, rushing for 250 yards in the district final win, then 148 yards in the state semifinals. King’s defense — led by Purdue-bound linebacker Marvin Grant — will be playing with pride after letting Martinez rush for 154 yards and two TDs in the first game between the teams.
Prediction: Muskegon has been one of the premier teams in the state the past several years, but the same could be said for King, which won Division 2 state championships in 2015 and 2016. Look for Finn, a three-year starter, to close out his career with a state championship, the same way he ended his first year operating King’s offense. Detroit King 28, Muskegon 27
Hudsonville Unity Christian (11-2) vs. Portland (13-0), Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Road to the finals
Hudsonville Unity Christian had to get past five-time defending state champion Grand Rapids West Catholic (41-22) in a predistrict game to make this run possible. It followed that major win up with a thrilling 40-37 district final win over Muskegon Oakridge before slowing down Kalamazoo United record-breaking quarterback Eric Wenzel — forcing two interceptions in first four drives — in a 39-14 regional final win, before moving on by defeating previously unbeaten Saginaw Swan Valley, 14-7, in the semifinals.
Unity Christian gets things done on the ground, averaging more than 300 yards rushing a game, led by 1,200-yard back Hayden Large (8.6 yard average).
Portland has an outstanding defense and strong running game, giving up an average of eight points a game while piling up more than 3,000 yards on the ground this season.
Portland opened its postseason run with district wins over Ovid-Elsie (33-19) and Lansing Catholic (17-13), followed by a 40-6 rout of Frankenmuth in the regional final and a 35-14 semifinal victory over Marine City.
Players to watch
Isaac TeSlaa, DB/QB, Hudsonville Unity Christian: TeSlaa is an impact two-way player, as a dual-threat quarterback while also showing his ability to be a playmaker on defense. In the regional final win over Kalamazoo United, he had two interceptions while having a hand in three TDs, two rushing and a 49-yard scoring toss to Caleb Heyboer.
Jacob Veale, RB, Portland: Veale showed he’s durable, carrying the ball 30 times for 133 yards in the state semifinal win over Marine City. He has rushed for 1,638 yards and 26 TDs this season, averaging more than 6.5 yards a carry.
Why Hudsonville Unity Christian can win: Unity Christian has already knocked off the two premier teams in Division 5, sending five-time state champion Grand Rapids West Catholic to the sidelines in the postseason opener, then upsetting a previously unbeaten Saginaw Swan Valley — considered to be the No. 1 seed in the field — which played in the state championship game last year. And to think Craig Tibbe was 4-32 at Unity Christian his first four years (2003-06) before turning the program around, going 35-13 the last four seasons.
Why Portland can win: Defense wins championships and Portland’s defense has played well, forcing multiple turnovers during the postseason, and Portland has displayed the ability to win close games against tough competition, including the 17-13 win over Lansing Christian. If Portland can win the turnover battle and slow down Large and Unity Christian’s running game, it will be in position to win that championship.
Prediction: TeSlaa has shown his ability to get things done in clutch situations, none bigger than in the state semifinal when he scored on a fourth-down, 2-yard run in the final seconds of the first half for a 14-7 cushion, then helped Unity Christian blank a Swan Valley team — which averaged 42 points — during the second half. Look for Unity Christian’s defense to continue to play well for the third straight weekend. Hudsonville Unity Christian 17, Portland 14
Madison Heights Madison (13-0) vs. New Lothrop (12-1), Saturday, 10 a.m.
Road to the finals
Madison — coached by former Michigan defensive back James Rogers — has won with a good defense and a great quarterback in senior Austin Brown, who helped Detroit Catholic Central reach the Division 1 title game in 2016.
Madison earned a pair of shutouts in the districts against Royal Oak Shrine (45-0) and Detroit Loyola (38-0) before defeating Riverview Gabriel Richard (44-7) in the regionals and Cassopolis, 37-34 in the semifinals.
Brown, a dual-threat quarterback, has multiple weapons to work with in 1,000-yard back Khyron Franklin (1,100 yards), and receivers Troye Williams and Isaiah Pollard.
New Lothrop has a 98-10 record during the last nine years but couldn’t find its way to Ford Field — until now.
New Lothrop had to knock off two-time defending state champion Pewamo-Westphalia to make it happen. New Lothrop defeated Elkton Pigeon Bay Port (55-12) and Cass City (44-20) in the districts before a 26-14 win over Pewamo-Westphalia in the regional final, followed by a 51-22 victory over Lake City in the semifinals.
New Lothrop’s offense is led by dual-threat quarterback Avery Moore (1,533 yards rushing, 22 TDs, 1,578 yards passing, 20 TDs), running back Will Muron and receiver/running back Aidan Harrison.
Players to watch
Austin Brown, QB, Madison Heights Madison: Brown, a three-sport standout who will play baseball at Marshall, has thrown for 2,012 yards and 22 TDs (6 INTs), and rushed for 1,831 yards and 33 TDs. He had a big game, and needed one, in the state semifinal win over Cassopolis, completing 13-of-15 for 294 yards (two interceptions) and rushing for 135 yards and four TD runs.
Aidan Harrison, WR/DB, New Lothrop: The addition of Harrison — a 6-3, 180-pound transfer from Flushing — put New Lothrop over the top in helping it reach the championship game after falling short in past years despite having outstanding seasons. The senior receiver rushed for 107 yards and four TDs in the state semifinal win and is headed to Missouri to play his college ball.
Why Madison Heights Madison can win: Madison showcases one of the elite quarterbacks in the state who can get things done with his strong arm or legs to help his team put up big numbers on the scoreboard. After throwing for 3,100 yards and 40 TDs to lead Madison to a state semifinal run last year, Brown became more of a dual threat to reach Ford Field. He now he plans to take advantage of his opportunity to play at Ford Field after missing the title game with Catholic Central due to a broken leg. Madison’s defense has shown the ability to force turnovers, led by Chauncey Ernest, who has 17 sacks.
Why New Lothrop can win: New Lothrop has waited a long time to play on the big stage and also has a very good dual-threat quarterback in Avery Moore, who has helped his team average 44 points and nearly 280 rushing yards a game, and an elite level two-way player in Aidan Harrison, who is an impact player on both sides of the ball. Moore rushed for 158 yards and two TDs in the state semifinal win while also intercepting a pass.
Prediction: After getting a big scare against Cassopolis in the state semifinals, expect Brown and Madison to get off to a great start in the championship game and keep its foot on the pedal. New Lothrop has talent, but Madison’s defense will step up with the state championship on the line. Madison Heights Madison 28, New Lothrop 14