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Cranbrook gives Harrison a game in D4 postseason opener, but Hawks play on

Cranbrook gives Harrison a game in D4 postseason opener, but Hawks play on
BY: MATTHEW B. MOWERY Oct 27, 8:35pm

FARMINGTON HILLS — For a while now, the Farmington Hills Harrison Hawks have played along knowing that it was all soon going to come to an end.

And, each time it’s come to one of those potential program-ending games, the Hawks have figured out a way to play on.

Same thing with Saturday’s Division 4 predistrict game, when a Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood team, intent on proving it can play with the big boys, was spoiling for an upset.

The Cranes played with Harrison for a half, before a couple of special teams plays created some separation, and the Hawks came through with a 24-10 win to extend the program’s life at least one more game.

“Don’t say it like that,” legendary Harrison coach John Herrington said, followed by that trademark booming laugh of his. “I guess so. Every game has been our last game for three years, it seems like. Is this the last game ever on Harrison’s field? Who knows, if we win next week, and then we play Chelsea or something, then we could be back. I just worry about one game at a time. And Cranbrook was tougher than I anticipated. They did a good job. They were physical. Physical.”

With Harrison set to close its doors at the end of the school year, everything’s been pointing toward one last hurrah before the school’s headline athletic program is finished playing. The Hawks had to beat district rival Farmington in Week 9 to ensure they’d make a 34th postseason appearance — without leaving it up to making it in as a 5-4 team on playoff points — and now every game brings the possibility of finality, if they lose.

The Hawks (7-3) will face Birmingham Detroit Country Day (7-2) on the road in next weekend’s district final, then could potentially host a regional contest, if Chelsea beats Milan on the other side of the bracket.

Harrison is 6-0 all-time against Country Day, but the two schools — which met each year in Week 9 for a short span — haven’t played since 2001.

“They look real good to me. I watched them last night, and they killed Center Line,” Herrington said. “They’ve got a lot of good athletes, but they don’t have a whole lot of depth, like all those teams in (Division) 4. But they’ve got good players. It’ll be a good game.”

Cranbrook (6-4) gave the Hawks a plenty good game, too.

Harrison led just 3-0 at the half, on the strength of a 31-yard David Hiser field goal.

“I told them, the first game of the playoffs is always difficult, and everybody comes and gives you their best. We did have our problems with them, no doubt. I think their coaching staff did a great job of getting them ready for us. They had Rod (Heard) pretty much stopped,” Herrington said. “They played really good defense on us. They mixed up the defenses between a 40 and a 50 (fronts), and we couldn’t get Rod loose. It was tough.”

Heard, who had 1,195 and 19 touchdowns in the regular season, was held to 98 yards on 28 carries, just the fourth time this season (along with Oak Park, Rochester Adams and Birmingham Groves — all losses) that he was held below 100 yards. His longest run all afternoon was just 8 yards.

“I’m sure every team that’s played them has had a focus on him, and we did. We felt very confident that our kids were prepared with their schemes and their progressions, and I thought that showed today. I think we were in position most of the time today,” Cranbrook coach Scott Steward said. “I think the times he did get loose, I don’t think it was a schematic thing, I think maybe we missed a tackle. He’s a very good athlete, so he’s tough to bring down.”

The game turned on the second half kickoff. Literally.

After an illegal procedure penalty on the Hawks, they kicked off again, and Cranbrook’s returner slipped at the 1 yard line, pinning the Cranes against their own goal line. A three-and-out and a line-drive punt, returned by Alan Roberson down to the 15 set the Hawks up with a grand chance. Five plays later, Heard cashed in on a 4-yard touchdown run, his 20th on the season, to make it 10-0.

Cranbrook answered with a five-play scoring drive, culminating in a 22-yard scoring pass from Jack Fairman to Torrell Williams, cutting Harrison’s lead back to 10-7, but special teams cost the Cranes again.

On the ensuing kickoff, Heard bobbled the catch at the 10, then got it under control, and zipped 90 yards the other way for a touchdown, re-establishing Harrison’s 10-point lead at 17-7.

Andrew Brown forced a fumble on the third play of the fourth quarter, and Michael Alford recovered, setting the Hawks up on another short field. This time, it was quarterback Keel Watson who ran it in from 13 yards out for the game’s final score.

“I think our trademark now is that we play hard. I think we played hard today; we just make a couple mistakes in special teams, which were the difference,” Steward said. “It’s just — it’s frustrating, because you know that if you played a little bit cleaner in special teams, who knows how it would’ve turned out?”

For Cranbrook, it was a second straight season taking on powerhouse teams, trying to prove that they belong. Last season, they knocked off Detroit Mumford, 7-0, to win a district title, then lost to River Rouge by just a touchdown in the regional final.

“We’re excited about the way we play football. We play a physical brand. We moved up in the Catholic League to a much tougher division, and we held our own, played well there. It’s no longer about growing to become a physical team, I think we are a physical team, and we’re just looking to take the next steps,” Steward said. “Obviously the history, you’re going against a team that’s had 13 state championships, so we knew that would be a challenge. But we also felt like last year we played good teams, and they were a good team, that we were capable of playing with them, and potentially beating them. I think most importantly, our kids believed that. And I think that goes to our assistant coaches, and the preparation. We feel so prepared, and so ready, that they have a belief they can play with anybody.”