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Prep notebook: Coronavirus cancellations leave Country Day with 'no margin for error'

David Goricki
The Detroit News

The shortened six-game high school football regular season — due to the COVID-19 pandemic — is heading into its stretch drive with league championship games set and division titles on the line.

The MHSAA has allowed all schools to participate in the state playoffs for the first time this season, as long as teams have competed in four of the six games.

Sounds easy, right?

Well, not so fast. Multiple schools are in position to possibly miss postseason play, including Detroit Country Day, who could be contending for the Division 4 state championship.

Subscription: Detroit News high school football rankings: Week 5

Country Day (2-1) had to forfeit Friday's game against Armada when someone in the football program tested positive. It also canceled its season opener the night before it was supposed to play Macomb L’Anse Creuse North.

Country Day has to play its final two games — at Paw Paw on Saturday and at home against Birmingham Brother Rice on Oct. 23 — to be assured of a postseason appearance.

Country Day coach Dan MacLean

“It’s tough, just really tough. We got information that we could have a problem (with a positive test) at 11 p.m. Thursday night,” said Country Day coach Dan MacLean, whose son Danny plays on the team. “There’s so much going on with the testing, the rapid testing and the other testing.

“It’s so tough on the kids, just heartbreaking. We kind of made that game at Armada — it was a great get for us because we had lost a game originally — then we had a great week of practice. It’s tough that you have to talk with the kids a second time and tell them we can’t play. I got the kids together at 2 p.m. on Friday and told them. We were supposed to be on the bus at 4:45 p.m. It was just sad.”

No doubt, coaches are under so much stress with the pandemic in play. If they can just get to Friday night’s kickoff it already feels like a win for them.

Country Day — which lost to Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the Division 4 state title game last year at Ford Field — is led by Northwestern-bound tackle Caleb Tiernan, two-way lineman Will Leggon and a talented quarterback in 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior Brandon Mann.

“I think our protocols are really strict,” MacLean said. “We’re trying to take a lot of precautions, doing everything possible to stay safe and still something can happen. We’re taking an abundance of caution.

“I’m thinking of calling the MHSAA to talk with (executive director) Mark (Uyl). I’ve heard from someone else that they (MHSAA) may be rethinking that and I’m certainly hoping they do because we have no margin for error. We really have to play these last two games.”

MacLean, who is also the school’s athletic director, said Country Day has 85% of its kids taking classes face-to-face.

After a Week 2 win over U-D Jesuit, MacLean said two of his tailbacks who also start at cornerback were placed on the COVID Disabled List, but not because they tested positive. Rather, they were around students who had, therefore forcing them to be quarantined for two weeks.

More: Detroit News high school football scoreboard: Week 4

Country Day defeated Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in Week 3 and MacLean was excited for the Armada game. One reason was because Kyle Rowley — son of former legendary Oxford coach Bud Rowley — is Armada’s head coach, and another reason was because four players were coming off of quarantine to get the opportunity to play.

“We have a good group back, just need to play more to get the kinks out,” MacLean said. “You could tell we have a good nucleus and we play good defense. Another thing is we’re not playing with a full complement of all our best kids. When they start getting back in it’s kind of exciting to see because the potential is there, for sure.”

MacLean has to feel good about the fact the MHSAA executive committee recently voted to give Uyl the authority to waive the current four-game requirement to enter the playoffs on a case-by-case basis.

MacLean plans to have his team return to practice Monday and hope for the best from there.

Cass Tech-King Round 2

Dozens of fans were watching through the fence at Detroit Cass Tech during the Week 1 showdown against Detroit King.

And it was a battle to remember when Cass Tech scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and had as many red-zone stops to pull out a 34-26 win.

King — 3-1 and No. 5 in The Detroit News' Super 20 rankings — enters Saturday’s noon PSL final against No. 2 Cass Tech (4-0) at Detroit Northwestern as the defending PSL champion. Cass Tech failed to make the PSL playoffs last year.

More than a dozen Power Five-caliber players were on the field in Week 1 when 15-year-old sophomore Leeshaun Mumpfield made his debut at quarterback for Cass Tech, throwing for 317 yards and three TDs, with all the scoring tosses going to Penn State-bound receiver/cornerback Kalen King.

More: Oak Park's Rayshaun Benny 'committing soon,' has UM, MSU in top 4

King sophomore quarterback Dante Moore, who already has an offer from Michigan, hit on 18-of-30 passes for 276 yards and connected with standout junior receiver Lynn Wyche-El on scoring plays of 17, 50 and 86 yards.

“We’re defending our championship and playing a team that we lost to in Week 1, so it’s meaningful for us because we definitely felt like we could have won that game in Week 1," King coach Tyrone Spencer said.

"At the same time, we want to defend our championship so it will be a fun game for the kids, get a chance to play another competitive game. We were three times in the red zone (in season opener) and came up empty. We left points on the field and Dante’s gotten much better since then.”

MAC Red title race

Grosse Pointe South was picked to finish last in the MAC Red Division by the league coaches after making the move up following a four-year run as MAC White champs, a 20-0 record in those division games.

Well, South (3-1, 3-1) — ranked No. 19 — is now in position to earn at least a share of the Red title with a win at No. 10 Sterling Heights Stevenson (3-1, 3-1) on Friday. South could win the title outright with a win, coupled with a Romeo (1-3, 1-3) upset of No. 11 Macomb Dakota (3-1, 3-1).

South is in control of its own destiny after rallying from a 14-0 halftime deficit to defeat two-time defending Red champion Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, 21-17, on Friday. 

“I think that every time you win a game in the MAC Red it’s a great accomplishment,” South coach Tim Brandon said. “This is probably one of my best teams, if not the best, and the great thing about this team is they are so young. We have four sophomores starting on offense, so the best is yet to come.

“Our defense is flying to the ball. We limited a (Chippewa Valley) team that scored 42 on Stevenson the week before to only 17, so that shows where our defense is at right now.

“We noticed that Dakota had a little bit of success against Chippewa out of the wildcat, so we practiced it all week for the first time. We put Will Johnson in and scored off of it two times, the first one on Will keeping it and running up the middle and the second score with Egan (Sullivan) on the rocket sweep.”

Loyola makes Prep Bowl

Kevin Rogers is one of the top young head coaches, guiding Detroit Loyola to a Prep Bowl appearance in his first year as a head coach.

Rogers, 31, was offensive coordinator at Detroit Central in 2017 and held that same job at Belleville in 2018 and 2019 before taking over at Loyola.

Loyola (4-0) became the Catholic League AA champion when defending division champion U-D Jesuit forfeited the game Saturday due to COVID-19.

“I was informed (Saturday morning),” Rogers said. “They said they received an email at 10 p.m. Friday night. I’d rather lose playing for the title than have it handed to us.

“We wanted that challenge against U-D because they dominated the division last year and they are a Division 2 team, so we were waiting to really test ourselves. My philosophy is since we’re Division 7 and if we play those guys — win, lose or draw — and see we can compete, we can certainly compete on our level for a state championship.

“Now we’re going to play (Detroit) Catholic Central in two weeks, Oct. 24. I’ve heard it’s going to be at Ford Field.”

Catholic League executive director Vic Michaels said he is hoping Ford Field will host the Prep Bowl, saying, “We’re waiting for Ford Field to get spectator clearance.”

Junior quarterback Anthony Garrett has completed 76% of his passes out of Loyola’s spread offense for 981 yards and 10 touchdowns with an interception, and junior Shenard Foster has 24 catches for 395 yards and five TDs.

Rogers brought two coaches from Belleville with him: Christopher Martin, who is now offensive coordinator, and Jaron Embry as defensive coordinator.

david.goricki@detroitnews.com