Detroit Country Day ends Ford Field slump, wins first state championship at Lions home
Detroit – Brandon Mann and Danny MacLean made sure Detroit Country Day put aside its past frustrations at Ford Field with a 13-0 victory over Cadillac Friday night to come away with the Division 4 championship trophy.
It was a great accomplishment for Country Day (9-2) which last won a state title at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1999, but came up short in all previous five state championship game appearances at Ford Field, including a 44-0 loss to Grand Rapids Catholic Central a year ago and a 10-7 loss to GR Catholic Central in the 2016 title game.
MacLean, the son of Country Day head coach Dan MacLean, and Mann, son of receivers and secondary coach Steve Mann, who had watched their fathers step on Ford Field with great excitement and anticipation of success in past years only to leave with the frustration of yet another loss on the big stage.
MacLean and Mann were going to make sure their fathers left in celebration this time around.
"This is just surreal, last year losing 44-0, and then this, with the year that we had and everything, and to get it for my Dad during my senior year, it's just the best feeling in the world," MacLean said.
"It's been a crazy year, but we did it. I think that pause motivated a lot of guys. We didn't know if we'd get a chance to finish and when we did we got back to practice and we were strictly business. The guys bought in and we had one goal in mind and came out tonight and executed."
Country Day — which couldn’t play in two games during the regular season due to COVID-19 issues — actually was the lone team in the state to play more postseason games (six) than it had regular-season games (four).
And, after the eight-week shutdown due to the pandemic, Country Day returned and shut out all three of its opponents, starting with a 38-0 regional final blanking of North Branch Jan. 9, followed by a 12-0 state semifinal win over Williamston and then the state title game win, limiting Cadillac to 150 total yards, all coming on the ground on 38 attempts.
"The kids showed so much perseverance, I'm just so proud of everybody," Coach MacLean said. "I thought I couldn't win at Ford Field, I was like, can we get the Silverdome back, but it was just one of those things, so it was very good to be back and get this (state) championship.
"You slay the dragon a little bit and hopefully we can do this again, but this is wonderful to do this with this group of kids in particular. I've said it many times this week, I was a single guy when I started at Country Day 36 years ago and this is my youngest child (Danny) of five now so it's a joy, it's wonderful."
And, on that defense?
"We've been riding our defense all year, and they just have a tremendous amount of pride and they just do their job," MacLean said. "We have a great staff in John Wilson, Steve Mann, Dave Furlong and Jake Topp, and Jake was really instrumental tonight because he's more of an offensive guy in certain ways, but he designed that scheme to stop the option because we haven't seen it and they did a terrific job and the kids executed."
Country Day had trouble putting points on the board this season and it continued in the first half Friday despite Country Day moving the ball.
Mann, a physical, 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior, led a 17-play, 71-yard drive on Country Day's opening series, which led to Graham Doman’s 19-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Country Day’s initial drive started early in the first quarter with Mann by converting on four third-down plays, which including a 10-yard pass to MacLean and a 19-yard pass to Luke Grove on another.
Midway through the second quarter, Kaelen Cooper returned a punt 10 yards to give Country Day a short field to work with at the Cadillac 47.
Jackson Norman broke loose for 14 yards on a jet sweep to the Cadillac 10, but on third-and-goal, Joe Miller dropped a perfectly thrown ball by Mann and again Country Day had to settle for a field goal, this time a 26-yarder by Doman with 3:42 left.
Country Day played strong defense throughout the first half, limiting Cadillac — which was making its first state championship game appearance — to 88 total yards, all on the ground.
Cadillac (8-3) did advance into Country Day territory late in the half, reaching the 45 before MacLean, a 6-foot, 205-pound senior safety, made an outstanding interception, getting a foot inbounds on the overthrown pass by Aden Gurden with 1:41 left in the half.
Mann (11-of-14, 106 yards) made sure Country Day would find the end zone when it took the second-half kick, then started the drive from its own 30.
Mann was 3-for-3 on the drive, finding MacLean for 9 yards on the first play, later picking up a first down on a fourth-and-1 running play for 2 yards to the Cadillac 31, then finding Jacob Yarberry for 7 yards on a third-and-5 to the Cadillac 19, followed by Mann’s 15-yard run to set up Gabe Winowich’s 4-yard TD run to open a 13-0 cushion.
"They kept it close the whole time, and honestly when we went in the locker room we knew if we came out fast and just scored off that first drive we'd be good throughout the rest of the game, trust our defense, trust our coaches to get over the hump," Brandon Mann said.
Cadillac advanced to the Country Day 35 early in the fourth quarter, only to have Gurden tackled after a short gain on third and long, followed by Gurden’s pass — on fourth-and-6 at the 32 — fall incomplete to end the threat.
Country Day’s defense couldn’t have played better since the eight-week pause ended with regional play on Jan. 9.
Nick Wachol had nine tackles, including three tackles for lost yardage, two sacks for Country Day, which also received nine tackles and the interception from MacLean.
"They were extremely physical up front and then very fast in the back end and they played really good, sound defense," said Cadillac coach Cody Mallory.
Said Gurden: "We just couldn't execute anything. We couldn't get anything going. They were just always there. You turn your head and they are right there. It's got to be quick. Running a play if you make a mistake it's over."
And, Country Day's losing streak is over, too.