Prep notebook: Stoney Creek raises money for charity, buzz during hot start
Nick Merlo has done an outstanding job at Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, taking over a program that went 8-19 the previous three years before to his arrival and has helped his team get off to a 3-0 start and No. 15 ranking in The News' Super 20 poll.
No doubt, there’s excitement within the Stoney Creek program and tremendous pride in watching former Stoney Creek lineman Eric Fisher play in the NFL for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Fisher, who played at Central Michigan and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, grabbed a touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes in last week’s win over the Ravens.
Stoney Creek finished 3-6 in Merlo’s first season in 2018, then took a major step last season with a 5-5 record and state playoff spot. The team played competitively in the majority of its losses, including a 20-13 defeat to a Birmingham Seaholm team that reached the Division 2 state semifinals, a 28-23 loss to Birmingham Groves, a 21-14 loss to Rochester Adams and a 21-14 playoff loss to Lake Orion.
Stoney Creek has used that experience to get off to its impressive start, opening the season with a 37-13 rout of Seaholm and going on to earn lopsided wins over North Farmington, 42-14 — which had an unbeaten regular season last year — and Farmington, 55-0, on Friday.
And Merlo has done a classy move in the process, having his program raise money for a different charity during a four-year period.
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“We’re really proud of our kids,” said Merlo, who was Rochester High’s defensive coordinator before taking over the head job at Stoney Creek. “We’re playing really well. We had our commitment to our cause game (on Friday). Every year we play for a charity and this year’s charity was the Yellow Ribbon Fund. We were able to raise over $7,000 for them in over a short period of time, and we had an opportunity to honor some veterans at the game.
“We donned some red, white and blue uniforms that were given to us from an anonymous donor and made by Addix, a Michigan-based company out of Lowell. Those jerseys will be given to the veterans who are rehabbing and going through surgeries at the Walter Reed Veterans Hospital (in Maryland) at their Christmas party and our kids are writing letters to them. The cheer team did a great job of helping raise funds, too. It was just a really special night for our kids.”
So what is the Yellow Ribbon charity?
“The Yellow Ribbon Fund is a national charity which helps to support post-9/11 veterans that had been injured during war,” Merlo said. “They help in a multitude of ways, with medical bills, helping the family who have to stay in Walter Reed, just so many ways they help our veterans.”
Stoney Creek averaged just 10 points per game in 2017, the year prior to Merlo’s arrival. Stoney Creek is now averaging nearly 45 points out of its pro-style offense.
“We give out weekly awards to our kids and Year 1 it was hard to pick kids because we were struggling. In Year 2 we had a couple of standouts, but now it’s hard to pick kids because everyone is playing well,” Merlo said. “Cam Burford, our running back, has run the ball super hard and our offensive line in Austin Jordan, Aden Smith, Josef Engelhardt, Garrett Joye and Matthew Daines are playing great, too. Our quarterback Ryan Eckhout is leading us, taking care of the football, being efficient in the passing game and running well.
“Our defensive line is anchored by Cole Luhmann, John Rayba, Grant Lowery, Kevarr Ellis and Michael Lamberta and is doing a really nice job. We had three interceptions (against Farmington) and Brendan Davis had two, including a pick-six.”
Burford has rushed for more than 450 yards to go along with 10 touchdowns, while Eckhout has completed 82% of his passes.
“The kids are really just playing hard and I’m truly proud of the start. Our motto is for the year, ‘So what, keep working,’ and we have a really good Adams team to prepare for,” Merlo said.
Stoney Creek has the second half of the regular season to focus on with Adams (Oct. 9), Southfield A&T (Oct. 16) and Groves (Oct. 23) on the schedule before postseason play begins.
Stoney Creek High was established in 2002 and last year’s state postseason appearance was just the program’s fourth in program history.
And on Fisher, Merlo said: “He helped us get a grant last year for some safety equipment for some tackling dummies through the NFL. He’s a great guy and we hope to honor him soon."
Back in MAC Red race
Clinton Township Chippewa Valley put itself in position to earn its third straight MAC Red championship with a 42-27 win over then-No. 7 Sterling Heights Stevenson.
What made the win so impressive was the fact Stevenson had allowed just 10 points in the opening two weeks with victories over Utica Eisenhower, 7-3, and Macomb Dakota, 12-7.
Junior quarterback Ryan Schuster threw for 201 yards and four touchdowns. He opened the scoring with an 18-yard touchdown run, then tossed a 40-yard TD pass to Quillen Howze and a 17-yard TD pass to Zack Ernat to help Chippewa Valley take a 28-21 halftime lead.
“We have a four-way tie atop the MAC Red, so we control our own destiny heading to the second half of the season which is how you want to have it,” said coach Scott Merchant, who guided Chippewa Valley to the Division 1 state title in 2018.
“It’s crazy times since we’re already halfway through, but it’s a crazy year, crazy time. We had a parent collapse in the middle of the game. Luckily, he was fine, but it was a 15-minute delay right at the start of the second half and no one knew what was happening. He had a seizure, hit his head, but just had a bump on his head and was resting comfortably at home later that night. It was scary. (Stevenson coach) Justin (Newcomb) was great, asked me how my player was, talked to the kid (whose father suffered the seizure) after the game.”
Chippewa Valley (2-1, 2-1) climbed to No. 10 in the rankings and will host No. 20 Grosse Pointe South on Friday. South is coming off a 21-7 loss to Macomb Dakota, which defeated Chippewa Valley in the season opener, 29-20.
Merchant is thrilled to have his offense rolling. Schuster is the younger brother of Tommy Schuster, now the starting quarterback at North Dakota. Junior Trey Harris, the younger brother of twins Myles and Myren Harris — both now at Wayne State — rushed for 152 yards on 11 carries and had five receptions for 74 yards in the win over Stevenson.
“I think the nicest thing the last two weeks is how much our offensive line has improved because if you can’t protect your quarterback, it doesn’t matter if you got guys out there that you can throw to because you can’t get the ball to them,” said Merchant, who had to replace all five starters up front. “Those guys did a great job (Friday night). We ran for 260 yards and threw for 200.”
Brooks rallies Churchill
Gavin Brooks threw a pair of touchdown passes to Jordan Garcia during the final six minutes to rally Livonia Churchill (3-0, 3-0) to a 47-36 win over KLAA East Division rival Livonia Franklin.
“They scored to go up 36-26 with seven minutes to go and we scored three touchdowns in the next six minutes, so we had our backs to the wall a little bit and then started throwing the ball around,” Churchill coach Bill DeFilippo said. “Anytime you beat a crosstown rival like Franklin, who is a good program as well, and last year’s game they beat us 49-48 in triple-overtime, so our kids were fired up to go on the road to win that one.
“Gavin was outstanding, threw a 35-yard TD pass to Jordan Garcia. Our defense, which had been struggling against their run game, came up and got a stop, and then our very first play we scored on another touchdown pass to Jordan Garcia, a 50-yarder for a 40-36 lead. Our defense forced a fourth-down stop and we scored on a 60-yard run by Boston (Clegg). We rushed for 253 and threw for 308, so we had 561 yards of offense.”
Brooks was outstanding, completing 17 of 21 passes for 308 yards and five TDs. He also ran for 80 yards, including a 45-yard score.
And while DeFilippo has to feel great about his Churchill team heading into Friday’s game against Dearborn Fordson, the same can’t be said for Franklin coach Chris Kelbert going into another rivalry game with Livonia Stevenson.
It was the second straight fourth-quarter collapse for Franklin, which suffered a 35-31 loss in Week 2 to Westland John Glenn after holding a 31-13 lead.
Clarkston claws back
Clarkston showed again why it is a state title contender in its 24-21 overtime win over then-No. 2 West Bloomfield in an OAA Red showdown.
West Bloomfield held a 245-77 advantage in total yards while building a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter. And things had to look dim for Clarkston (3-0, 3-0) when it pounced on the ensuring kickoff at its own 3-yard line.
But Clarkston’s dominant offensive line — anchored by four-star linemen Rocco Spindler (Notre Dame) and Garrett Dellinger (LSU) — finally showed up from that point on, opening holes for sophomore Ethan Clark (98 yards, 19 carries) and junior quarterback Mike DePillo (101 yards, 18 carries) to pull even at 21 to force overtime. They went on to win the game on Stephen Rusnak’s 31-yard field goal.
“He’s a great kid (Clark), all he does is play and doesn’t say boo,” said Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson, who is now 262-95 with Division 1 state championships in 2013, 2014 and 2017.
Clark was the catalyst during the pivotal 15-play, 97-yard drive when he rushed for 52 yards, including a 31-yard run from the shadow of his own end zone.