East-West matchups offer variety, competition
~~Muskegon – Regardless of the outcome of the game between his Big Reds and Detroit Catholic Central on Friday Muskegon Coach Shane Fairfield said it was “a win-win situation” for his team and the program to compete against a school that has one of the top programs in the state.
No. 2-ranked Muskegon did win, 21-14, at Hackley Field but that wasn’t the point Fairfield was trying to make. The fact that these two programs, steeped in tradition, played for the first time had a positive impact on his players and those at C.C., as well as to both communities.
The opening weekend of the high school football season was laden with east-west contests and the Muskegon-C.C. game was the marquee matchup.
Canton, perennially one of the top teams in Wayne County, travelled to Ottawa County and defeated Holland West Ottawa, 31-21.
Muskegon Mona Shores went to Washtenaw County and surprised many by defeated Saline, 31-28.
Kent County’ best team, Rockford, hosted Utica Eisenhower of Macomb County and bested the Eagles 28-10.
Detroit Loyola, a finalist in Division 7 the last two seasons, went to Zeeland East and pulled off shocker, 42-14, and Zeeland West hosted Detroit Country Day on Thursday and routed the Yellowjackets, 47-20.
Most teams will enter league play this week or in week three. The season opener offers teams the chance to play a team that it might have never played before and travel to a part of the state the players have never seen.
Coach Shane Fairfield said his players, his community, look forward to playing different schools especially those from the southeastern part of the state.
“There are a lot of state champions there,” Fairfield said. “They have a lot of kids that go on to play at Division I schools. We enjoy the excitement of the road trips. It helps come playoff time. You have common opponents. We’ve played every team in the (Catholic League) Central Division except U-D (Jesuit). I don’t mind playing a D-1 school because you won’t see them again.”
Detroit C.C. lost in the Division 1 final each of the last three seasons. Because of its enrollment Muskegon competes in Division 2. It lost in the final to Birmingham Brother Rice each of the past two seasons. Fairfield said he tried to get Brother Rice for week one this season but Brother Rice had already signed a contract for a first-game opponent.
Next season Muskegon will open at Detroit C.C. In the past it has had openers with Macomb Dakota, Detroit King and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
For Canton Coach Tim Baechler the chance to play a team from the tough O-K Conference, which boasts members like Muskegon, Rockford, Lowell and others, in a home and home series, despite the three-hour trip for the visitors, was an opportunity worth taking. Canton defeated West Ottawa 28-21 last season.
Next season, due to scheduling by its league (Kensington Lakes Activities Association) Canton will open with Salem.
“When you’re not in school it’s doable,” Baechler said. “I do like it. It’s fun for the players. It’s a good test. It’s also good for team-bonding.”
As is the case with most teams in the upper divisions, if a team qualifies for the playoffs often a team it already has played awaits in the district. Baechler said this can become monotonous and that playing a team like West Ottawa can be refreshing.
“We go through the league schedule then, bang, we meet in the playoffs,” he said. “It becomes like a basketball district. In the early 2000s (before the playoffs expanded from four to five weeks) we were all over the place playing teams (in the first round) and we really liked that.”
Last year Canton was 8-1 and played a first round game at fellow KLAA member Walled Lake Western and lost, 44-41.
On the other side of the coin some season openers match teams from the same school district and often are quite competitive and combative.
Rochester Hills Stoney Creek hosted Rochester Adams on Thursday and Adams had eon the previous five meetings including a 17-6 victory in the first round of the Division 1 playoffs last season.
Stoney Creek fell behind 14-0 and it appeared it was headed for another loss to Adams.
“We’ve had some adversity,” Stoney Creek Coach Brad Zube said. “But there was no panic mode. I told them after the game, you scout that veer (offense) and you take some punches. You can’t simulate it. (Adams Coach) Tony (Patritto) does a great job with that offense.”
Joe Platz ran 30 yards for a touchdowns and Stoney Creek trailed 14-7 and just before halftime quarterback Jack Allen threw a touchdown pass to Scott Reader and Stoney Creek trailed 20-14.
Adams wouldn’t score again.
“We made some adjustments to slow them down,” Zube said. “We brought pressure and stopped them. Allen threw to Reader that get us to the one and then Allen took it in and we led 21-20.”
Then with 2:30 left and Stoney Creek leading 28-20 Zube went for a trick play on a fourth-and-5.
“We ran a jet punt,” Zube said. “Reader can either run, pass or punt. He completed the pass to Kyle McBride and that was that.”
Stoney Creek won a total of three games in 2010 and ’11 before Zube took over. The Cougars went 5-4 in 2012 and 6-4 last season.
“It’s a big win,” Zube said. “We had a big win against Lake Orion last year. We took over at the right time. The culture has definitely changed. I’m looking at the student body and the stands were packed three minutes before kickoff. That wouldn’t have happened before.”