Beverly Hills – Ahlon Mitchell was happy with the opportunity to practice in Detroit Country Day’s indoor Shilling Field House Wednesday afternoon, especially since nearly a half a foot of snow hit the area earlier in the week.
Country Day’s football field had been plowed earlier in the day, but it was still icy, and Mitchell suffered a knee injury late in the season, which sidelined him for a game. He returned to help lift his team to a 17-12 Division 4 district final win over Harper Woods last weekend.
“It felt great to be back out there last weekend,” Mitchell said. “It’s my senior year so I’m treasuring every game I have left. I sprained my MCL and had a bone bruise on my knee. I played with a brace on it and now I’m good.”
Mitchell said Country Day is motivated to make a deep postseason run after coming up short the last two years, including a heartbreaking 13-10 district final loss to Farmington Hills Harrison in 2018.
Country Day, which has never had an unbeaten season, will put its perfect 11-0 record on the line Saturday at 1 p.m. when it plays host to Milan, also 11-0, in a Division 4 regional title game.
Milan is a familiar opponent for Country Day athletic director and longtime head football coach Dan MacLean, who guided the Yellowjackets to the Division 5 state title at the Pontiac Silverdome 20 years ago.
Milan head coach Jesse Hoskins led the Big Reds to a 21-20 predistrict win over Country Day in 2000 as the team’s quarterback.
The teams also played with regional titles on the line in 2007 and 2015; the Yellowjackets won both – 24-6 in ‘07 and 20-13 in ’15.
“It was a tough ball game,” MacLean said of the 2015 game. “Then, back in ’07 we had Jonas Gray (Notre Dame) and Kenny Demens (Michigan, Arizona Cardinals). Demens had 27 tackles and that was a hard-fought game as well.”
Milan senior dual-threat quarterback Tristen Hines, an Eastern Michigan commit, has rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
On Milan’s first play from scrimmage in a 56-22 district final win over Romulus Summit, Hines scored on a 61-yard run, then scored on a 37-yard run for a 14-0 lead before the game was three minutes old.
Hines also threw a pair of TD passes to Kendrick McBride and returned a kickoff 70 yards for a TD.
“I know Hines, he’s been talking about us a lot, he’s saying he can run all over us by himself, but I feel like if we just come out and play the way we’re capable we will shut them down easily,” said Country Day senior receiver/defensive back Marcus Sheppard, a Bowling Green commit.
The Shilling Field House was put to good use Wednesday with football teams from Birmingham Seaholm, Detroit Loyola and Royal Oak Shrine also using the facility, as did Country Day’s competitive cheer team. The Yellowjackets’ softball team was using the batting cages on the mezzanine level, which overlooks the field.
“It’s unbelievable,” MacLean said. “It’s about as close as you could hope for as being a regulation field. We’ve played middle school football games in here, lacrosse, soccer.”
Country Day has taken advantage of the 88,000-square-foot facility since it was built in 2010 for $4.3 million. The Yellowjackets have made two trips to Ford Field to compete in the Division 4 state championship game – a loss to Grand Rapids South Christian in 2012 and a loss to Grand Rapids Catholic Central in 2016 – along with state semifinal runs in 2014 and 2015, and regional final appearances in 2013 and again this season.
“This is great, don’t have to worry about the elements and can just focus on what we need to get done,” Mitchell said. “This game is to put our program back on the map. We want to win a state title.”
Added Sheppard: “This is great because most schools have to practice out in the cold and can’t do all of the punting and passing like we can inside. We have this great facility and we’re ready to go. It keeps us safe, so we don’t have to worry about the elements. We can just focus on football.”
While Country Day is used to playoff football in mid-November, the same can’t be said of Seaholm (8-3), which earned its first district title since 2001 with a shocking 42-7 upset win over crosstown rival Groves. Groves had defeated Seaholm the previous seven meetings, including 35-14 in Week 8.
“It was a great feeling, beating your rival and everything, so it was a big deal,” said Seaholm eighth-year head coach Jim DeWald. “They beat us pretty good the last seven times we played them, but our kids did a good job and executed really well.
“We’re a veer team so we run the ball a lot. I think we rushed for over 400 yards against Groves. We average about 388 yards rushing. Our top guys are Chaz Strecker and Jackson Vance, two wrestlers who are good at running back. Our offensive line moves people off the ball and they run the ball well.”
Seaholm will play host to Port Huron in a Division 2 regional final Friday at 7 p.m.
“I told our team that we have two very similar teams playing each other,” DeWald said. “They lost to their rivals (Port Huron Northern) and had to come back (in districts) and beat them and so did we with Groves. We just have to execute. We don’t chase plays, we chase execution.”
As for practicing indoors at Country Day, DeWald said: “We’re pretty lucky. It was really nice of Dan and his staff to let us use this facility. At this point of the year you kind of try to lessen the physical part of it and try to up the mental, and with this climate-controlled environment at least the mental focus to have a good practice is there.”
Said Vance: “This is very exciting. I don’t really want to work out in the cold. This is a very cool place to be. We’re blessed to have this opportunity.”