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
Defense is a big reason Warren De La Salle has a great chance to repeat as Division 2 champion.
De La Salle — 11-2 and ranked No. 15 by The Detroit News — faces No. 7 Muskegon Mona Shores (12-1) and its explosive offense, which has averaged 48 points during the state playoffs, in the title game at 1 p.m. Friday at Ford Field.
De La Salle, which dominated Livonia Franklin, 41-6, in last year’s championship game, has limited its four postseason opponents to a total of 20 points. That's impressive considering one of those games came against Ohio State-bound quarterback Dwan Mathis and Oak Park, which showcases the nation’s top 2020 guard in Justin Rogers along with 1,600-yard back Phillip Stewart and junior receiver Maliq Carr, who recently received offers from Michigan and Notre Dame.
De La Salle has some stars of its own in defensive back Josh DeBerry and senior linebackers Devin Campbell (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and Jacob Dobbs (6-1, 215). All three had big games last year in the title game, with Campbell getting in on a game-high seven tackles, Dobbs six and DeBerry recording an interception.
De La Salle’s defense was never better than in a 28-0 state semifinal win over Birmingham Groves last weekend, allowing fewer than 100 yards of total offense while Dobbs returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown.
“It’s been a great season,” said Dobbs, who will play next year at Holy Cross. “We’ve had a lot of injuries, had a lot of adversity throughout the season and it shows how close we are as a team, that we battled through all that to get to this point.
“We play together as a defense. We do our one-eleventh, everybody contributes to our defense. I think our defense is so good because of our defensive coaches. Our scout team guys prepare us each week. They do a great job of running the offense that we’re going to see and that prepares us for the games.”
Third-year De La Salle coach Mike Giannone has an outstanding staff that includes defensive coordinator Brandon Bush and defensive line coach Mike Shortt. Ruben Simpson works with the safeties and Andy Crowley handles the cornerbacks. Mike Szatkowski is the defensive analyst.
Dobbs has done a great job of directing the defense and keeping the players buying into the one-eleventh motto. He is also excited to play his final game at De La Salle’s home away from home, playing at Ford Field for the fourth time in two years after going 3-0 with a pair of Prep Bowl (Catholic League championship) wins.
“My job is to get the defense lined up, control where the stunts are coming from and just kind of be the quarterback of the defense,” Dobbs said. “I’m so happy for us and our team. Everybody kind of said we got lucky last year. This year we’ve had a lot of adversity so to call us lucky would be understandable. We are lucky to be in the state championship game again.
“We’ve done it a couple of times (play at Ford Field) in the Prep Bowl, but the state championship game is a surreal experience, a once-in-a-lifetime thing and we get to do it twice.”
Giannone is thrilled to have a number of players back, including Dobbs, who missed three games due to a knee injury before returning for the postseason. Two-way lineman Daniel Motowski missed two weeks with an ankle injury and tight end/defensive end Mike McGinnity was out two weeks with a shoulder injury.
Giannone said last year’s captain, Brendan Madigan, started the “one-eleventh” slogan.
“Brendan Madigan kept saying, ‘One-eleventh, one-eleventh, you have to be part of it, you can’t be all of it,’" Giannone said. "The kids kind of bought into that, knowing if they do their jobs that things work out, and when they don’t do their jobs the defense breaks down."
DeBerry has played well on both sides of the ball, coming up with 35 receptions for more than 700 yards and nine touchdowns while intercepting five passes. He has 16 offers, including one from Northwestern. Motowski is a Central Michigan commit.
“This is really exciting, a very rare experience. Not a lot of people get to experience going to one state championship game, so we’re lucky enough to go to two and we’re trying to make the best of the situation,” DeBerry said. “We knew we had the potential since the beginning of the year, even after our (36-21 season-opening) loss to Muskegon. We just kept adding on to that and getting better and better every week, so now I think we’re at our peak. We just have to get a little bit better and hopefully get another ring.”
DeBerry could be going up against Mona Shores standout receiver James Gilbert, who has more than 60 receptions for 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns, grabbing TD tosses of 60, 50 and 26 yards from Caden Broersma in a 49-28 semifinal win over Midland.
“Hopefully I do get that one-on-one matchup and make it one last go,” DeBerry said of possibly facing Gilbert. “Our plan is to come in the same way we have the last few weeks — come in confident, not over cocky, just play our game and we should have the same result.”
Giannone knows how to win state championship games, guiding Macomb Dakota to consecutive Division 1 state titles in 2006 and 2007 and De La Salle to the Division 2 championship last season.
“This is special. You try to do it a second time at a different place and you didn’t know if this act could travel and the kids are buying in,” Giannone said. “We have a good coaching staff. It’s just special.”