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Prep notebook: Stoney Creek gets first taste of postseason success

David Goricki
The Detroit News

High school football has reached the final third of the season, where district championships will be earned, followed by regional titles and finally state crowns.

Rochester Hills Stoney Creek — 7-0 and ranked No. 12 in The News' Super 20 — earned its first state playoff win in its 19-year program history with a 28-21 district semifinal win over Clinton Township Chippewa Valley. Stoney Creek received a first-round bye when Utica opted out of the tournament due to COVID-19 issues.

COVID continued to cause havoc this past weekend with eight teams forfeiting district semifinal games, including a 5-1 Zeeland West team in Division 3, a 7-0 Hudsonville Unity Christian team in Division 4 and Rochester Adams to defending Division 1 state champion Davison.

Upsets? You bet. No. 18 Grand Blanc knocked off No. 3 Clarkston, 42-35; Romeo pushed its record to .500 with a 15-14 win over No. 9 Macomb Dakota, and North Farmington defeated previously unbeaten Fenton — ranked No. 4 in Division 2 by Associated Press — 44-28.

Nick Merlo has built Stoney Creek into a physical, smashmouth program built on pounding the ball on the ground and keeping possession of the ball.

Rochester Hills Stoney Creek running back Camron Burford

Stoney Creek senior running back Cam Burford rushed for 246 yards and two touchdowns on 45 carries, including a 2-yard score out of the wildcat with 8:13 left that proved to be the difference against Chippewa Valley.

After Stoney Creek’s defense stopped Chippewa Valley’s next drive, Burford had four consecutive first-down runs in the last six minutes to run out the clock.

“It’s a big win for our program," said Merlo, now in his third year as Stoney Creek’s head coach. "Fox Sports Detroit was there so that was cool and the game wasn’t too big for our kids. They just played their game and had fun with it. 

“Coach (Scott) Merchant does a really great job with his kids at Chippewa Valley. He's a class act over there, won the state title in 2018, had an unbeaten regular season last year and in their three losses this season they had the ball late with an opportunity in each of them.

“I’m really proud of our kids. We played our style of ball. We ran the football. We stopped the run. We pride ourselves in being tough and physical, running the football well and stopping the other team’s run. I think in time of possession was like 39 minutes to nine, something insane, and more importantly our kids believe in it. We have a quarterback that had a great game but is only asked to throw the football a handful of times and he’s fine with that.”

More: Michigan high school football playoffs schedule: District finals

Stoney Creek held a 73-22 advantage in plays with the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Burford accounting for the majority of them. Burford has rushed for 1,300 yards and 18 TDs.

“He’s a great runner and we’ve always known what we have with Cam. I hope some colleges took some notice in him,” Merlo said. “Yes, he’s not the biggest, but it doesn’t matter. He plays hard and has one of those personalities where he’s one of those teammates that makes everyone else plays harder. His O-linemen love blocking for him because he’s a great person, just loves football.

“Obviously, he gets the majority of our carries but situations happen. Jon Fogler left the game with a lower-body injury late in the first quarter, so Cam took most of the carries and he intercepted a pass, too.”

Stoney Creek will host Romeo, the 2015 Division 1 state champs, in a district title game Friday night.

Stoney Creek and Romeo are familiar with each other. They usually hold preseason scrimmages, aside from this year with COVID in play, and held a combine back in February where the players took part in drills, speed work and weightlifting competition.

Stunning finish

Is Romeo this year’s version of Sterling Heights Stevenson?

Stevenson finished fifth in the MAC Red last season, then advanced to the Division 1 state semifinals where it lost to eventual champion Davison.

Romeo was in a fifth-place tie with Utica Eisenhower at 1-4 before going on a three-game winning streak, avenging a Week 5 regular-season loss to Dakota with a 15-14 district semifinal win.

Things didn’t start out well for Romeo when it fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, leading to an early Dakota score.

Dakota built its lead to 14-3 before Romeo pulled within 14-9 and had a game-winning 78-yard drive, fumbling on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1. But this time, fullback Luke Rolfs pounced on the ball in the end zone for the touchdown.

“At the end of the game they had the ball with the lead and if they made a first down they could have run out the clock to win," Romeo coach Curt Reinas said. "But we stopped them, forced a punt and went down the field and scored.

“We moved 78 yards and ran the clock right down to three seconds and I called timeout. It was fourth down and we were either going to win or lose the game. We ran a power play straight ahead, it looked like our running back got in and they were dragging him back. One of their defenders ripped the ball out, it flew into the end zone and one of our kids landed on it for the touchdown.”

Braden Goralski led Romeo’s ground game with 89 yards on 10 carries with the majority of his runs coming on jet sweeps. He also had a touchdown reception off a pass from junior Logan Rolfs, Luke’s twin brother.

Joey Kostrubiec had seven tackles and two interceptions to help Romeo win the turnover battle, while defensive end Michael Heldman had two sacks to push his sack total to 16½ this season.

Marching on

The old coaching staff from Farmington Hills Harrison is at it again while trying to lead North Farmington to its first district title in program history.

North Farmington advanced to the Class A state championship game in 1978, but postseason play began with regionals back then.

John Herrington became the state’s all-time winningest coach during his long career at Farmington Hills Harrison. And when Harrison’s doors closed for the final time after the 2018-19 school year, Herrington’s assistant coach Jon Herstein became a first-time head coach at North Farmington and brought the majority of the staff along with him, including Herrington, defensive coordinator Dave Thorne and Mill Coleman.

More: Former metro Detroit prep stars Hayes, Ogundeji play pivotal roles in Irish upset over Clemson

North Farmington had an unbeaten regular season and won the OAA Blue title in Herstein’s first year last season, which ended with a Division 2 predistrict loss to U-D Jesuit.

North Farmington moved up to the competitive OAA White this season, finishing in a three-way tie for third at 2-3, before earning a 44-7 district quarterfinal win over Waterford Kettering and an upset victory over Fenton.

“We’re pretty fired up with the win (against Fenton),” Herstein said. “I think the kids were well prepared and I thought our defense played really good against them. Our defensive coordinator (Thorne) did a great job and our kids executed on offense between the passes and the runs, just a great team win.

“Our quarterback Jacob Bousamra played well, threw for over 250 yards and three touchdowns. Aaron Rice had two touchdown receptions and went up and made some big catches to keep some drives going. Justin Bryant also had a touchdown catch and did a good job on defense as well. Justin Whitehorn rushed for more than 100 yards and had a few touchdown runs.”

North Farmington (5-3) will try to earn its first district title when it plays at South Lyon (6-2) on Friday.

Record setter

Christian Dhue-Reid tossed three touchdown passes in No. 1 Belleville’s 34-0 district semifinal win over Northville on Friday to give him 32 touchdowns for the season and 127 TD passes for his career, breaking the former record of 124 held by Stockbridge's Mason Gee-Montgomery (2014-16).

“It’s an amazing accomplishment,” Belleville coach Jermain Crowell said. “He’s been very good since he got here. I played him late in games this year and I know if I did that his freshman year he’d have that record a long time ago. He can make all the throws. I’ve been blessed to have both the quarterback and great receivers. A lot of times you don’t get both.”

Dhue-Reid was 21-for-23 passing for 303 yards and the three scores against Northville.

Belleville, the KLAA East Division champion, will play at unbeaten Canton, the KLAA West Division champs, for the district title on Friday.

Canton defeated Livonia Stevenson, 35-28, last week, holding Harvard-bound running back Caden Woodall to 280 yards and four TDs on 25 carries. Woodall broke loose for scoring runs of 75 and 70 yards.

After Woodall’s 70-yard touchdown run to open up the second half, Canton went on a 14-play, 69-yard drive that lasted nearly 10 minutes. Then after Woodall’s final TD with 6:44 left pulled Stevenson within one score, Canton made sure he wouldn’t get another carry, running the ball effectively to pick up first downs and end the game.

How impressive was Woodall’s season? He finished with 2,203 yards and 34 touchdowns, averaging 275 rushing yards per game. Those totals came in just eight games because of the COVID-shortened season.

Jared Smith of Pewamo-Westphalia holds the state’s single-season rushing record (3,250), averaging 232 yards per game back in 2015. Alex Grace of Saginaw Swan Valley ran for 2,962 yards in 2013, averaging 246 yards per contest.

Grace, who went on to play linebacker at Western Michigan, had eight consecutive 200-yard games. Woodall ended his career with seven straight 200-yard games.

Woodall’s 275-yard average is the most since Unionville's Roger Reinhardt ran for 2,601 yards in eight games 60 years ago.

Adams KO'd by COVID

Rochester Adams coach Tony Patritto was hit hard by COVID back in July, spending two weeks at Troy Beaumont Hospital. He went on to miss the first day of practice for the first time in 30 years.

On Friday, Adams’ season came to an end due to a COVID positive case, forcing a forfeit in a district semifinal against Davison.

“It was real brutal for the kids, especially for the seniors," said Patritto, whose team defeated previously unbeaten Rochester, 39-7, in a district quarterfinal.

"You don’t want to go out not playing a game, but you have to look at the positive part of it. We got lucky to get seven games in and we won our last game."

Adams finished 3-5 this season.

david.goricki@detroitnews.com