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Wednesday, November 23, 2011
A guide to your MHSAA football title games

By By Christopher Parish

Another exciting season is just about in the books, and now it's time for the state championship games. We'll give you our preps pick'em previews later this week, but let's break down the matchups and learn about the players in the championship games.

Division 1: Detroit Catholic Central (12-1) vs. Cass Tech (10-3)

You can't help but look back to Week 1 when you think about Cass Tech this season. It was a season of high expectations. In our first POWERADE Michigan Rankings, we had Cass Tech firmly at No. 5. It was a team with loads of talent, a team spurned by some unlucky breaks the year before, and a team with a brand new season in front of it. One week later, we were struggling with how to rank a team with such promise after a 43-7 shellacking at the hands of top-seeded Harrison. The Technicians slipped to 10th They moved up to No. 4 in the rankings yet again but fell after a loss to Crockett. But just when everyone had counted them out again, here they are.

Detroit Catholic Central, meanwhile, has had tribulations of its own. Always the bridesmaid in a state with juggernaut Harrison — a team now out of contention — Detroit C.C. sat at No. 2 in our rankings for the overwhelming majority of the season. The Shamrocks also never looked truly dominant. They beat De La Salle by four, U of D Jesuit by seven and Brother Rice by two. Something wasn't right. Then the team lost to St. Mary's Prep, 14-13. The pressure of staying perfect seemed to do the team some good. One week later, the Shamrocks exacted revenge against the Eaglets and ran the table, edging Rockford last week in a one-point thriller to make the title game. In a way, Detroit C.C. is exactly where we expected them to be. But the road there wasn't quite as simple. Division 2: Brother Rice (9-4) vs. Lowell (12-1)

Speaking of teams that have endured a litany of setbacks, Brother Rice only qualified for the state tournament on an invitation, not winning the required six games needed to earn an auto berth. But still, it wasn't hard to see why this team struggled for victories — the Warriors played as tough a schedule as anyone in the state. Head coach Al Fracassa needed multiple tries for his 400th career victory. Then, just as it looked like Brother Rice would cruise to the state title game, semifinal opponent Detroit King made a late run. A failed two-point conversion was all that kept Brother Rice's incredible postseason run alive.

Now the Warriors will take on a Lowell team that has been among the state's best, but it's a team that doesn't get the love it necessarily deserves away from the hustle and bustle of Eastern Michigan. Lowell's a city under the shadow of Grand Rapids. The Red Arrows have one of the state's best quarterbacks — Gabe Dean, who's headed to Toledo — but without the pomp and circumstance of a team like Brother Rice. In many ways these teams are very similar.

Division 3: St. Mary's Prep (11-2) vs. Mt. Pleasant (13-0)

The St. Mary's Prep Eaglets lost just one in-state game all season (the other loss was to St. John's Jesuit of Toledo, Ohio). The sole loss was against Detroit Catholic Central — one week after St. Mary's handed the team its first loss of the year. The defense has been stellar and the offense, led by seniors Spencer McInnis and James Ross, has been electrifying at times.

But Mt. Pleasant has had a brilliant run, capped by a stellar effort in the D-3 state semifinal as the Oilers outlasted East Grand Rapids, 38-37. And it's been a sophomore, running back Michael Tweh, who has 1,868 yards and 25 touchdowns this season, who has led the charge all season long. Senior quarterback Ryan Elliott has also been stellar under center. But questions will remain about whether or not the heart-stopping semifinal sapped the team of its energy for the final.

Division 4: Marine City (13-0) vs. Zeeland West (13-0)

Two unbeaten teams square off in this outstanding matchup, and it's two teams that finished the regular season as the No. 9 and No. 10 teams, respectively, in the POWERADE Michigan Football Rankings. Marine City is a ground-and-pound team that averages nearly 300 yards per game compared to only 70 yard passing. Senior rusher Anthony Scarcelli has been a stellar back (1,804 yards, 32 TDs) and senior Jamie Salisbury has a chance to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in the title game (he's just 41 yards away). Defensively the the Mariners love to get pressure on the quarterback and it shows; they've recorded 35 sacks this season (led by senior DL Alex Kroll with 8.0 sacks).

Marine City's defense will have to hold back an outstanding offense at Zeeland West; it's a team that has scored an average of 42 points per game in the postseason, which is only down slightly from the team's average of 43.46 points per game this year. It's another team that knows how to get it done on the ground, but not quite in the same way. The Dux use a straight-T formation with the quarterback (junior Clay Coatney) running the show with his feet. These teams have been in or near the title game multiple times over the last six seasons but have yet to meet. Now it's time for the showdown.

Division 5: Powers Catholic (9-4) vs. Lansing Catholic Central (13-0)

Judging just by the records, this one shouldn't be close. But keep in mind, there's a reason why Powers Catholic is here in the first place. On Sept. 30, the Chargers headed home a lowly 2-5, having just suffered a tough 6-0 loss to Davison. They haven't lost since. They've allowed just 8.2 points per game during the seven-game winning streak, and the offense has found its groove. The Chargers might be the hottest team in the division right now.

But Lansing C.C. has looked just as good all season long. It's been an offensive show for the Cougars, and even a remarkably difficult postseason slate hasn't slowed down the team. But if the Cougars have a weakness, it's a defense that is good but not great. Slow down the offense and you can score on Lansing C.C. It's just that pesky problem of slowing down the offense, and not one team this season has managed to get it done.

Division 6: Constantine (11-2) vs. Ithaca (13-0)

In a 45-44 contest against Ecorse, it was a safety that proved to be the difference as Constantine moved to the D-6 title game this season. It's a pretty big flip from earlier in the season when Cosntantine was 1-2 and merely hoping to return to .500, much less thinking about a state title. Running back Ben Mallo has been a workhorse for the Falcons, and the team will rely on him heavily in the title game.

Ithaca, meanwhile, has been purely dominant all season. The Yellowjackets have outscored opponents by more than 400 points this season and have been a stellar defensive unit, recording four shutouts including a 28-0 blanking of Iron Mountain in the state semifinal. Sophomore QB Travis Smith has passed for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for more than 900 yards offensively for the team, and he'll be a focal point of the Constantine defense.

Division 7: Pewamo-Westphalia (13-0) vs. Saginaw Nouvel (12-0)

Nouvel Catholic has allowed only 94 points this season. 94 points! Only four teams have scored in double digits and no team has scored more than 14 points. It's one of the most impressive defenses in the state, and it's led by sophomore Tyler Jacqmain (74 tackles, 52 solo). The Panthers are at their best when they are chewing up clock, letting senior running back Bennett Lewis control the game on the ground (1,606 yards, 31 TDs) and letting the defense do the rest.

They'll face a similar defense when Pewamo-Westphalia takes the field this weekend. The Pirates have been equally as stingy, scoring consistently and letting the defense do the rest. Expect this one to be a very low-scoring contest with senior Alex Thelen working a similar strategy - keep the clock running and let the defense do the rest. The Pirates are also playing with heavy hearts after senior teammate Brendon Nurenberg passed away following a car accident earlier this month.

Division 8: Mendon (13-0) vs. Fowler (11-2)

By the time the state title game is over, Mendon will in all likelihood have three rushers over the 1,000-yard plateau. The Hornets already have two — junior Tyler Harris and senior Tanner Cook — and senior QB Chance Nightingale needs only seven yards. Together the trio has combined for 62 rushing touchdowns (Nightingale also has 14 passing TDs) and the defense has surrendered only 97 total points.

That's a tough task for a Fowler team that started 1-2 but has run the table since then. It seems like each week the Eagles have gotten better, and last week the team was dominant against St. Ignace La Salle in the state semifinals. Junior Tyler Koenigsknecht and senior Mitch Thelen have combined for nearly 2,600 yards and 29 touchdowns.