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
The perfect Saturday for Madison Heights Madison coach James Rogers would be to guide his unbeaten team to the Division 7 state championship in the morning, then watch Michigan defeat Ohio State in the afternoon.
Madison (13-0) takes on New Lothrop (12-1) Saturday at 10 a.m. at Ford Field for the state title.
Rogers was a cornerback for the Wolverines during the final year of Lloyd Carr’s UM tenure – playing in the Citrus Bowl win over Tim Tebow and Florida – and then the start of Rich Rodriguez’s stay in Ann Arbor.
“It’s one of those games where it doesn’t matter what the records are, all of that stuff is out of the window and it’s just you line up and we line up and we’re going to find out who the better athlete is that day,” said Rogers of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.
“Obviously, Michigan is looking great this year and I do believe this is our year. I do believe we’re going to pull it off and I’m definitely rooting for my boys in blue this weekend. Since we’ve had a long season, as well, I haven’t made any games yet this year. So if they win I’m going to head down to Indiana for the Big Ten championship game (Dec. 1 in Indianapolis).”
Madison has been on a mission to make it to Ford Field for the chance to play for the state title since losing in the state semifinals last year.
“It’s been our goal since last season, actually starting in December once we started our training,” Rogers said. “We knew what our goal was going to be and that was to get to Ford Field. We fell short last year and our kids definitely had that taste in their mouths and that was something that they didn’t want to live with this year. So we did everything we could to prepare and make sure to get to this position and make the best of it.”
Senior quarterback Austin Brown directs Rogers’ team. Brown helped Detroit Catholic Central reach the Division 1 state championship game in 2016, but didn’t play in the title game loss to Detroit Cass Tech after breaking his leg in the semifinal game.
Brown transferred to Madison – where his father Jimmy Brown is athletic director – prior to his junior year. He threw for 3,100 yards and 40 TDs last season, then has become much more of a dual-threat this season, having a hand in 55 TDs, throwing for 2,012 yards and 22 TDs (6 INTs) and rushing for 1,831 yards and 33 TDs.
Brown was spectacular, and needed to be, in a 37-34 semifinal win over Cassopolis, completing 13 of 15 for 294 yards and rushing for 135 yards and four scores.
When former Detroit Catholic Central coach Tom Mach made Brown his starter as a freshman, Theo Day – now at Michigan State – transferred to finish his career at Dearborn Divine Child.
“He’s a great quarterback and has an amazing arm, so the thing that we needed to do with the way teams played us and our personnel was to use that to our advantage,” Rogers said. “So this year we definitely focused a lot more on our run attack and it’s been working huge for us, rushed for over 3,000 yards.”
Said Brown: “It wouldn’t be possible without the guys up front (four junior starting offensive linemen each with two years of experience) and the guys on the wings, the wide receivers, they make it a lot easier than what it should be and I play off them. They open things up for me.
“We have Troye Williams, one of the most underrated players in the state; Makai Johnson, Anthony Fuller, Khyron Franklin and Isaiah Pollard. We have a whole bunch of kids who can play some ball.”
Franklin has rushed for 1,100 yards. Williams has 36 receptions for 600 yards and 7 TDs, and Pollard had a 46-yard TD catch in the win over Cassopolis.
Brown is looking forward to playing in the title game at Ford Field.
“I just have to make sure I stay calm, cool and collected, but it’s a dream come true, especially for the school,” Brown said. “I’ve always wanted to do this my whole life and it’s a big opportunity and I think we’ll be ready to roll.”
In a time of specialization, Brown is a three-sport standout, offered by Toledo to play football. He is also an all-state basketball player and is set to play baseball at Marshall on scholarship.
“I’m a seasonal player and whatever season it is that’s my favorite sport,” Brown said. “It kind of makes me love each sport that much more, so when I’m on the football field I’m missing basketball and when I’m playing basketball I’m missing football.”
But Brown’s focus Saturday will be on the state title game, trying to do his part to make sure Rogers has a perfect day.