Predictions for State Finals: West Bloomfield to make a big impression in first state final, picked to beat Clarkston
West Bloomfield – Never before have teams from the same league or conference played for a state title in the largest classification or division.
That fact will change when Clarkston and West Bloomfield play for the Division 1 title on Saturday at Ford Field at 1 p.m.
Beginning with the 2004 season, the both teams have been members in the same division of the Oakland Activities Association. From 2004-06 it was the OAA Division I. Since then the division has been known as the Red Division. Before 2004, West Bloomfield was a member of the OAA Division II.
West Bloomfield has played Clarkston more than any other school. Clarkston leads the series 28-21-1. As division rivals Clarkston is 11-3.
Recently it’s been more of an even matchup. The teams have split the last four games and 10 weeks ago West Bloomfield handled Clarkston rather easily, 37-16.
But Sept. 15 seems like a long time ago for both programs. Offensively, Clarkston struggled mightily and West Bloomfield was just finding its footing. Clarkston entered that game 3-0 and West Bloomfield was 1-2. Three weeks after that loss Clarkston lost to Rochester Adams, 21-14, a loss that cost the Wolves a share of the Red Division title. A 23-12 victory over Division 3 finalist Farmington Hills Harrison in week nine was an indication of the type of team Clarkston would be in the playoffs. Clarkston (11-2) just one close game in its previous four playoff games and that was a 29-22 victory at Holland West Ottawa in a region final.
And Clarkston has strong history of playoff success. In 1999 and ’00 the Wolves reached a Division 1 semifinal. They reached a semifinal again in 2009 before winning back-to-back title in 2013 and ’14. Romeo knocked the Wolves out of the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
Until this season, West Bloomfield hadn’t come close to a state title. Last season was the first time the Lakers reached a district final. Coach Ron Bellamy and his staff have done much to change the culture.
The centerpiece of West Bloomfield’s climb out of playoff obscurity is senior quarterback Bryce Veasley. Veasley had a good season in 2016. He’s been one of the best quarterbacks this season.
He’s thrown for 24 touchdowns and rushed for 14.
“Veasley has done a remarkable job,” Bellamy said. “He’s lining us up right and making the right throws.”
An often overlooked area for West Bloomfield is the play of its defense. In a 28-25 victory over Utica Eisenhower, the Eagles drove to the West Bloomfield 4-yard line and the Lakers stopped a third-and-goal situation. When Eisenhower missed a field goal it led to West Bloomfield’s winning touchdown drive with a minute left.
Last week West Bloomfield defeated defending state champion Detroit Cass Tech, 9-7, as linebacker Makari Paige sealed the victory with an interception on the West Bloomfield 10. In its victory over Clarkston the Lakers led 37-8 with five minutes left.
“Our defense has played well all season,” Bellamy said. “We lost to Walled Lake Western, 19-14, in the opener and in our 28-24 loss to Bloomfield Hills, we led 24-7 and we imploded in the last six minutes.
“We’re clicking in all phases. Clarkston will try to shorten the game. Two years ago we led them 21-0 then they tied it 21-21 at halftime. They ended up winning, 42-21. We have confidence but we have to refocus.” Pick: West Bloomfield by 7.
All games are at Ford Field.
Saginaw Nouvel (13-0) vs. Ottawa Lake Whiteford (13-0), 10 a.m.: Whiteford has scored 696 points and has played defensively as well. Nouvel likely won’t win a high scoring game. The Panthers will need to hold Whiteford to 30 points or so to win. Pick: Whiteford by 8.
Livonia Franklin (11-2) vs. Warren De La Salle (11-2), 1: Franklin held Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central to one first down in the first half last week. The Patriots will lean heavily on its ground game, led by senior Isaac Moore, to chew up yards and time on the clock. It’s been a remarkable run for Franklin, making its first final appearance since 1975, the first season the playoffs were held. De La Salle caught a break when a botched extra point attempt held the Pilots defeat two-time defending state champion Detroit King last week, 14-13. The poor weather conditions also played a part in a botched short field goal try by De La Salle. Conditions won’t be a factor this week and look for a balanced offense from the Pilots to be the difference. Franklin would be wise to kick away from Nick Badalamenti who has 508 yards and two TDs on 16 kickoff returns. Pick: De La Salle by 7.
Ithaca (13-0) vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (11-1), 4:30: On the surface this would be one of the most intriguing matchups. Lumen Christi has won nine titles; Ithaca five. Lumen Christi won the title last season, Ithaca won it the year before. Pick: Ithaca by 4.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central (13-0) vs. Edwardsburg (12-1), 7:30: Catholic Central is going for its second straight title and has one of the state’s top rushers in Nolan Fugate. Fugate scored three TDs last week as Catholic Central controlled the line of scrimmage. Edwardsburg, making its first final appearance, trailed River Rouge 21-12 before coming back for a 32-21 victory. Catholic Central is expected to have more difficulty controlling the line of scrimmage this week as the Eddies sport a formidable offense line and a power run game. Team speed could be a factor here. Catholic Central would appear to have the edge here. Pick: Catholic Central by 6.
Pewamo-Westphalia (13-1) vs. Saugatuck (10-3), 10 a.m.: Pewamo-Westphalia lost in the 2011 and ’15 final before breaking through for the title, its first, last season. Quarterback Jimmy Lehman accounted for three TDs in last season’s title game. Entering last week’s semifinal, Lehman had accounted for 31 TDs in 12 games. Saugatuck counters with its senior, Jackson Shriver, at quarterback. Junior Bradley Dunn is its top running back. Pick: Pewamo-Westphalia by 16.
Grand Rapids West Catholic (11-2) vs. Saginaw Swan Valley (12-1), 4:30: West Catholic looks to win its fifth consecutive title, which would tie the state record held by East Grand Rapids and Farmington Hills Harrison. Gaetano Vallone started each of the last two seasons and the West Catholic senior is a dual threat quarterback. Receiver Nick Dorato is averaging 22 yards per catch. Running back Emmett Boehler is Swan Valley’s main offensive threat. Swan Valley is making its first final appearance. Pick: West Catholic by 5.
Farmington Hills Harrison (10-3) vs. Muskegon (13-0), 7:30: Historically, this game has the most appeal. John Herrington is the winningest coach in state history and his Harrison team has won a state record 13 title and is appearing in their state record 18th final. Ovie Oghoufo is one of the state’s top players and is known more for his play at linebacker but is also a fine receiver, one of the team’s best. Harrison’s defense is one of the best and has a number of playmakers including defensive back Roderick Heard. Muskegon hasn’t won a state title since 2008 (Division 2). The Big Reds are making their fifth final appearance in the last six seasons. La’darius Jefferson is a Mr. Football candidate and he’s more of a runner than a passer although he’s thrown for 21 TDs. This team is loaded. Muskegon has two of the state’s top linemen (Anthony Bradford, Antwan Reed, Jr.) and a slew of fast receivers/slot backs/defensive backs notably Davion McCall, Willie Shanks, Jr., and Clinton Jefferson, Jr. Don’t sleep on fullback Lonnie Clark, Jr. He can break a long run, too. Pick: Muskegon by 15.
Last week’s record: 11-5
2017 record: 128-62