Prep notes: Semifinals feature cast of Cinderellas, state powers
It has come down to this.
Final Four teams are set in all eight divisions, with those teams competing in state semifinal games on Friday and Saturday across the state for the right to advance to Ford Field to play for state championships during Thanksgiving weekend.
And who would have thought that Birmingham Seaholm (9-3) would be still in the field, going up against powerhouse Detroit King (10-2) in a David vs. Goliath Division 2 matchup at Novi?
“We’re definitely in rare air,” Seaholm coach Jim DeWald said of his team, which earned its first regional championship since 1997 and has never played in a state title game.
“Offensively, we’re executing at a high level. Our offensive line is getting off the ball very hard, our quarterback (Caleb Knoer) is reading the veer pretty well right now and Chaz Strecker is really running the ball hard, so things are going well for us.”
Seaholm, which has just 23 players on its roster, finished third in the Oakland Activities Association White Division with one-sided setbacks to division champion Oak Park (41-21) and second-place Birmingham Groves (35-14). Seaholm avenged the loss to Groves with a 42-7 district final win before lifting the regional trophy after a 44-28 win over Port Huron.
So, how has Seaholm advanced to the state semifinals with just 23 players?
“I believe it’s the way we practice,” DeWald said. “We have a bunch of guys that believe in each other, work hard and don’t care who gets the credit.”
DeWald was thrilled to get his son, 6-foot, 200-pound offensive lineman/linebacker James DeWald, back on the field after he missed the district final due to a knee injury. DeWald, who has 75 tackles, has multiple Division II offers and a preferred walk-on offer by Western Michigan.
Seaholm runs the veer offense with Knoer, a first-year starter, throwing just 31 passes all season. Seven of those passes have gone for touchdowns, including a 39-yard scoring toss to Strecker on a fourth-down play on the opening series against Port Huron.
“We only throw the ball twice a game, usually in play action and Caleb has done a good job with it,” DeWald said.
Strecker, who has rushed for 1,493 yards and 20 touchdowns, ran for 119 yards in the regional final win.
And who saw Sterling Heights Stevenson’s run to a regional championship coming after finishing fifth in the Macomb Area Conference Red Division with a 1-4 record? Stevenson, which entered the postseason with a 5-4 record, will play Davison (10-2) in a Division 1 matchup.
No doubt, the upsets and Cinderella runs make high school football so fun and interesting, but there’s still plenty of powerhouses alive in No. 1 Muskegon (Division 3), No. 2 Belleville (Division 1), No. 10 Walled Lake Western (Division 2) and No. 12 King (Division 2).
King is in search of its fourth state title in the last five years after winning consecutive Division 2 titles in 2015 and 2016 and the Division 3 championship last season.
King fourth-year coach Tyrone Spencer has been getting tremendous production out of freshman phenom Dante Moore, who has completed 35 of 48 passes for 643 yards and 10 TDs during three postseason games, along with receiver Marshawn Lee and Maryland-bound running back Peny Boone, who has rushed for 441 yards (35 carries) and six TDs during the playoffs.
“King is really a team that doesn’t have any holes,” DeWald said. “They have a young quarterback and for a freshman he throws the ball very well. They have a stud tailback, a big back who runs very well. They are big up front on the offense and defensive lines, but we’ve seen it before and the way we run our offense it helps us going up against a bigger team.
“We try to keep the ball away from the other team as long as possible and limit their possessions. We’ll try to do the same thing this week, but they are well coached and a very good team.”
Stevenson's remarkable run
Sterling Heights Stevenson coach Justin Newcomb made his third quarterback change of the season in Week 6, going with sophomore Biagio Madonna. The move paid off with Madonna leading his team to a 6-1 record, including a 9-7 Division 1 regional final win over Detroit Cass Tech on Friday.
That’s right. Madonna was Stevenson’s third quarterback of the season with sophomore Jordan Ramsey starting the first two games before suffering a concussion. Junior Dylan Kleinedler took over in Week 3 before the move to Madonna.
And it’s not like Kleinedler and Ramsey haven’t played big roles in Stevenson's postseason run.
In fact, it was Kleinedler who took a pass in the left flat from Madonna, then looked down field and lofted a perfectly thrown 14-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Kwiatkowski with 5:49 left in the third quarter for the difference in the win over Cass Tech.
Ramsey is healthy and showed that he is 100 percent by the way he chased down Cass Tech running back Donny Scott at the 3 after a 57-yard gain in the second quarter. Then, Stevenson kept Cass Tech off the scoreboard with an impressive goal-line stand.
Ramsey also got behind the secondary and grabbed a 29-yard pass from Madonna on a third-and-16 play from the Cass Tech 49 to set up the trick play TD.
When Cass Tech advanced to Stevenson’s 23 in the final seconds, Ramsey intercepted a pass to end the game.
“Cass Tech lost to Romeo in the state finals and we made sure to remind our team of that,” Newcomb said of the 2015 Division 1 state title game. “They just got to believe. It’s that magic. Playing in the MAC Red, it’s a tough division and unless you’re in it you don’t understand it. You’re prepared for games like this way back when you’re going up against the schedule we’ve got.”
Stevenson’s defense forced two fourth-quarter turnovers, one in the red zone and the final one when Cass Tech was trying to get in position for the winning field goal or TD.
“When you get into that red zone you have to be spot-on offensively and defensively and our defense was on it,” Newcomb said. “State semifinals, nobody gave us a chance when we were sitting 1-4 in the Red, the toughest division in the state. We had to win out, starting in Week 8 and the kids got more momentum each week and they are playing their best football at the right time of the year.”
Stevenson will play Davison at Troy Athens. Davison won its first regional title since 2008 with a 35-7 win over Utica Eisenhower, Stevenson’s MAC Red rival.
Newcomb knows he needs to try and find a way to slow down Davison’s talented junior quarterback Brendan Sullivan, who has offers from Central Michigan and Ball State. He has thrown for more than 2,500 yards and 30 TDs, but Davison proved it can also run the ball by piling up 254 yards on the ground against Eisenhower.
Belleville scored 27 unanswered points to wipe out a 15-0 first-half deficit and defeat No. 4 West Bloomfield in a regional final Saturday in what could have been the top two teams in the state in Division 1.
West Bloomfield — which lost to Belleville, 13-10, in last year’s regional final without four-star running back Donovan Edwards — won the battle of field position in the first half to build the 15-point lead with Edwards on the field this time around.
But Belleville's third-year starting quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid found his rhythm during a 12-minute stretch late in the second quarter and carried into the third.
Dhue-Reid, who misfired on five of his first six tosses and then his final eight of the game, connected on 6-for-8 during the pivotal stretch for 136 yards and three TDs against a tough West Bloomfield defense that had given up 28 points the previous six games.
Belleville’s defense did a good job against Edwards, limiting him to 62 yards on 19 carries with a long run of 10 yards.
Look for balls to be flying all over the field when No. 10 Walled Lake Western (11-1) plays Muskegon Mona Shores (10-2) Saturday at Okemos.
Western junior quarterback Zach Trainor has completed 70 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 2,867 yards and 36 TDs with Northwestern-bound receiver Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen being his primary threat (76 receptions, 1,546 yards, 18 TDs).
Mona Shores advanced to Ford Field to compete in the Division 2 state championship game last year, losing to Warren De La Salle.
Mona Shores, which had to battle back from a 20-7 first-half deficit to defeat Portage Northern in a regional final, showcases 6-foot-3 quarterback Caden Broersma, who has an offer from Central Michigan.
Spencer said he felt Detroit Denby would make a deep run in the playoffs and possibly win a state championship after his team defeated Denby in the PSL title game, 27-6.
Denby is making Spencer look good, earning its first regional title in program history with a 40-18 win over Dearborn Heights Robichaud with Toledo-bound Latrell Thompkins leading the way.
Thompkins had 11 tackles, including two sacks, and returned a kick for a touchdown. Marquez Bridges had 237 all-purpose yards and two TDs, and Karl Foster got in on 10 tackles and three sacks.
Denby (10-2), which lost to Marine City in a Division 5 regional final last year, will play unbeaten Almont at Walled Lake Central.