Prep notebook: Warren De La Salle, Oak Park to add another chapter to playoff rivalry
Oak Park has reached the state semifinals in football for the first time in program history, pulling out a 30-23 victory over Livonia Churchill on Saturday by scoring a touchdown in the final minute of the Division 2 regional championship game.
Now, Oak Park has to play a Warren De La Salle team that has not only made multiple trips to Ford Field for the Division 2 state championship game, but has won it numerous times (2014, 2017-18).
And to think, this showdown wouldn’t have taken place in any other year.
Oak Park finished 0-6 in the regular season while De La Salle struggled with a 2-4 mark, which included lopsided losses to DeWitt (43-3) and Detroit Cass Tech (35-0) before the postseason.
In past years, Oak Park and De La Salle would have been on the sidelines while the state playoffs were being played. But the MHSAA allowed all teams to be eligible for postseason play this season with the COVID-19 pandemic in play.
De La Salle has been Oak Park’s roadblock in the playoffs in past years, defeating then four-star quarterback Dwan Mathis and Oak Park, 14-7, in a Division 2 regional final in 2017 and, 35-7, in a district final in 2018.
Dan Rohn is in his first year as head coach at De La Salle, taking over for Mike Giannone after last season ended with the hazing controversy that prevented the team from competing in the playoffs.
De La Salle has won 14 straight postseason games, which is currently the longest active winning streak in the state.
After playing in the tough Catholic League Central Division, along with the non-conference games against DeWitt and Cass Tech, De La Salle was ready for postseason play. It has outscored its four opponents by a 174-23 margin, including a 36-0 district final win over Port Huron on Nov. 13 and a 45-3 rout of Warren Mott on Saturday after the eight-week pause to the season due to the pandemic.
“It felt a little bit more like a Game 1. It was kind of odd to not have a few more fans in the stands (since only limited number were allowed), but our kids had a tremendous last eight weeks, really stayed focused on what the big picture is and that’s competing at the highest level,” said Rohn, who guided Grand Rapids West Catholic to Division 5 state titles in 2010 and 2013-15 before joining Tony Annese’s staff at Ferris State.
“We did a great job with our coaches communicating with them and having Zoom meetings, bringing in some good speakers (Drew Stanton, Annese and former NFL long snapper and magician Jon Dorenbos) and keeping our kids in tune and ready in case we started things back up. When we started things back up, we kind of hit the ground running. Like last week when we started practice right after testing, our kids were as focused as I’ve ever seen them.
“I will say that the last couple of days of practice were a little sloppy. It was like the kids were saying, ‘We’ve had enough of practicing against each other,’ and 57 days between your last game is a long time. But it gave our young kids some time to grow up and we feel like we’re doing that right now.”
Rohn said 6-foot-4, 190-pound sophomore quarterback Brady Drogosh has grown up, completing 9 of 17 passes for 221 yards and three total TDs (two passing, one rushing) against Mott while splitting time with senior JC Ford.
“I have to give a lot of credit to (running back/safety) Brett Stanley, (receiver/safety) Tyler Gerling, (defensive lineman) Dylan Weaver and (Anthony) McCollom our left tackle," Rohn said. "Our seniors have done a tremendous job. They’ve gone through a lot between the pandemic and everything that happened last year and the shutdown and restart. They’ve just done a great job of keeping our kids together, playing well and being leaders.
“I think our sophomores are playing more like juniors and seniors. They played against a tough schedule and then they had some time to grow. Brady Drogosh is starting to come into his own. Brady is starting to throw the ball and is starting to demand to be leader, and when you’re a sophomore and you’re 15 years old and you’re playing Catholic Central, Brother Rice, DeWitt and Cass Tech, that’s awfully tough when you don’t get an offseason. Brady and I didn’t get an offseason together, didn’t get an opportunity to do 7-on-7s and come in and take over the team."
Oak Park was dominated at times during the regular season with multiple high-profile players out with injuries.
However, Oak Park has displayed the ability to win close games during the postseason, starting with a 35-27 win over Grosse Pointe South followed by victories over U-D Jesuit (27-21), Wyandotte (27-14) and Churchill all on the road.
Oak Park now has tremendous confidence with four-star lineman Rayshaun Benny, a Michigan State commit, healthy and playing at a high level as an edge rusher, along with an offense led by Michigan State-bound running back Davion Primm and quarterback James Burnley, who found receiver Amari Harris for the winning TD toss with 41 seconds remaining against Churchill.
What would it mean for Rohn to get back to Ford Field, this time with De La Salle?
“I think it would mean a lot for me personally because I feel I want it so bad for our kids and our community at De La Salle,” Rohn said.
“You throw COVID on top of everything that’s happened to our community over the last 14 months, and for us to rally and to be in this position, to play and put ourselves in a state championship. You’re talking about some turmoil and issues that the school has dealt with, and the school and community has rallied so hard and supported me and my staff, so it would mean a lot to me and I couldn’t be more excited.”
Position switch pays off
River Rouge coach Corey Parker made a big move when he put receiver David Martin in at running back and Martin used his speed to make several big plays in a thrilling 33-30 win over Detroit King in a Division 3 regional final.
River Rouge (8-1), the defending Division 3 state champs, was led by Western Michigan-bound quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski’s 133 yards rushing (22 carries), including TD runs of 43 and 11 yards. Martin rushed for over 100 yards in his first game at running back.
Hrabowski was also 7-for-7 passing for 128 yards, including a 9-yard TD toss to Martin.
“Mareyohn Hrabowski was just relentless running and throwing the ball, but we also moved David Martin to give us a change of pace with a little more speed," Parker said. "He was able to turn it on, made a lot of big runs for us that King wasn’t prepared for because all of our runners are more bigger guys and he's more of a speed guy. He gave them some problems and was able to break away on some long runs."
River Rouge will play at No. 20 Chelsea (10-0) Saturday in a state semifinal. River Rouge defeated Chelsea, 14-7, in last year’s semifinal before going on to defeat Muskegon in the state title game.
Edwards sticking around
Michigan-bound running back Donovan Edwards shook off the rust from a long layoff and rushed for a career-high 235 yards (19 carries), including TD runs of 15, 7, 86 and 8 yards in a 52-14 Division 1 regional final win over Romeo.
Edwards had 112 yards on 10 carries at halftime to help West Bloomfield take a 24-7 lead.
It would be safe to say Edwards has put together his best two-game run in his career, although the games were eight weeks apart.
In a 63-6 district final win over No. 7 Sterling Heights Stevenson back on Nov. 13, Edwards rushed for 146 yards and scored six TDs in the first half, with half of his TDs coming out of the wildcat formation.
Edwards, who now has 1,256 yards rushing and 21 TDs, will play in Saturday’s state semifinal game at No. 1 Belleville. West Bloomfield’s season came to a halt in regional final losses to Belleville the previous two years.
Volleyball playoffs resume
Now, it’s volleyball’s turn to get back on the court to compete with a lot at stake.
State quarterfinal matches will be played throughout the state on Tuesday. Winners in Divisions 2 and 3 will move on to state semifinal matches at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek on Thursday and victors in Divisions 1 and 4 will play at the same site on Friday.
State championship matches in all four divisions will be held Saturday at Kellogg Arena.
“We’re a bit rusty, but as the week wore on we began to get some rhythm back,” said Pontiac Notre Dame Prep coach Betty Wroubel whose 36-9 team will play Warren Regina in a Division 2 quarterfinal at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Macomb L’Anse Creuse North. “We certainly are nowhere near where we were when we played Country Day and North Branch (Nov. 13) in five-set thrillers. Offensively, timing and blocking are the last skills to get back.
“Girls from many teams, Notre Dame included, are conflicted over club and high school commitments. There are two issues since some kids are choosing to move on to a club tournament next weekend and different systems. The girls who practiced with their club teams most likely play a different system than we do and that causes a bit of a problem, confusion as they mix the two.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to finish out, and that with the testing that the season wasn’t further delayed. We’re excited that there won’t be too much of an overlap with the winter sports as I want them to have a season too.”