Predictions for the state semifinals: Escanaba, in its first semifinal since 1981, will play defending champion GR Catholic Central
Escanaba – Early Saturday morning coach Dave Howes and his Escanaba team will head east on I-2, the only interstate in the Upper Peninsula, to the Mackinaw Bridge, head south, then southwest to Traverse City to play defending Division 4 champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
Escanaba (10-2) is the only U.P. team to make this trip this season. The other U.P. team that advanced to the semifinals is Iron River West Iron County and the Wycons will remain home, so to speak, to play Saginaw Nouvel in a Division 8 semifinal, the lone Friday night semifinal, at the Superior Dome in Marquette.
It’s been awhile since Escanaba has been to a state semifinal. In 1981 the Eskymos defeated Dearborn Fordson, 15-14, to advance to the Class A final where they defeated Fraser, 16-6, for the school’s lone football state title.
Few give Howes’ team a chance to defeat Catholic Central (12-0) in a game to be played at Thirlby Field, which is home to Traverse City Central, Traverse City West and Traverse City St. Francis.
Howes, in just his third season as head coach, understands. Once again Catholic Central is loaded. The Cougars have one of the state’s leading rusher in Nolan Fugate. Fugate rushed for a Grand Rapids-area record 477 yards in a 57-50 victory over Comstock Park earlier this season. They also have one of the state’s top lineman in Jalen Mayfield (6-5, 280), who committed to Michigan. They also defeated a team, Grand Rapids West Catholic that has won the last four Division 5 titles and is favored to win a fifth on Thanksgiving Day weekend at Ford Field.
Escanaba played Catholic Central in the playoffs last season and lost, 34-0. The Eskymos trailed at halftime, 13-0, before their defense grew fatigue and the offense sputtered.
“They have athletes all over the field,” Howes said. “They’re deep. (Mayfield) is the best player I’ve seen on film. We can’t find a lot of holes in the defense. We have to match their intensity.
“It was good we played them last season. Some of our kids were in awe that day.”
There is hope for the Eskymos. This team is comprised mostly of seniors and there is every reason to assume that this team is better, physically and better prepared as a group.
This game will also be played on a neutral field. Last season Catholic Central was the host team.
Offensively, Escanaba will use a Power-I at times and feature senior Logan Carroll, a 5-10, 230-pound tailback. Howes will switch to a wing-T at times and use Carroll’s backup, senior Scott Wunder (5-10, 175), as well as fullback Cody Vandermissen (6-2, 235), in the same backfield. Just to give the opposition a different look, Escanaba will also try to run the ball out of the spread formation.
The different formations use the same blocking concepts and it is all designed to chew up yards on the ground and keep Escanaba’s defense, led by Vandermissen at middle linebacker, off the field. So far that game plan has worked well.
“Our time of possession has been great to this point,” Howes said. “And we’ve played against some good offenses, like Williamston’s. Their quarterback (Jackson Pollock) was really good. We play fast and physical.”
Catholic Central will mix it up more on offense, weather permitting. Jack Bowen is an able quarterback and Nate Trudeau has been a big-play receiver at times. Pick: Catholic Central by 13.
All games are Saturday at 1 p.m. unless noted.
Detroit Catholic Central (8-4) vs. Clarkston (10-2) at Walled Lake Western: Told you Division 1 was up for grabs. After C.C. lost back-to-back games to Warren De La Salle to end the regular season a long playoff run didn’t seem to be in the Shamrocks’ future yet here they are. And after Clarkston got schooled by West Bloomfield, 37-16, on Sept.15 the season didn’t look promising for the Wolves. And here they are. These programs have met just once and Clarkston won, 32-14, in the 2013 Division 1 final. This has got to be one of the more difficult games to predict. Pick: C.C. by 2.
Detroit Cass Tech (9-2) vs. West Bloomfield (10-2) at Troy Athens: No semifinal could possibly feature more Division I players than this one. Cass Tech is the defending state champions but the Technicians haven’t always played the part this season. The only thing holding West Bloomfield back is the fact that the Lakers have never played in a game as big as this. Pick: W. Bloomfield by 3.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (12-0) vs. Livonia Franklin (10-2) at Grand Ledge: Franklin coach Chris Kelbert must have a bunch of rabbits in his hat. He continues to amaze anyone and everyone who have followed the Patriots this season. Central is solid on both sides of the ball and is not a team that commits many mistakes. Pick: Central by 10.
Detroit King (11-1) vs. Warren De La Salle (10-2) at Hazel Park: De La Salle won ugly last week and it was a good thing quarterback Luke Pfromm (8-17, 127 yards) played well in the final six minutes in the Pilots’ 14-7 victory over Oak Park. Since a sub-par first half against Detroit Central (a 46-34 king victory), King has played as well as any team. Its running game is working, Dequan Finn is managing the offense at quarterback and making big plays on his own the defense has been awesome. Pick: King by 12.
Muskegon (12-0) vs. Battle Creek Harper Creek (12-0) at East Kentwood: There are few teams that can play with Muskegon, and there might not be one in this division. Pick: Muskegon by 19.
Farmington Hills Harrison (9-3) vs. Riverview (11-1) at Rochester: Harrison is attempting to reach its 18th state final. Riverview is going for its third. Those numbers have nothing to do with this game, however. Riverview can win this game and to pull off the upset the Pirates can’t make many mistakes. Harrison’s strength this season has been its defense and that unit will be tested here. Pick: Harrison by 4.
River Rouge (10-2) vs. Edwardsburg (11-1) Jackson Withington Stadium: These programs have never met and it’s uncertain if that fact benefits one team or the other. River Rouge has faced a few teams that run the T-formation offense, such as Riverview last season, and River Rouge won that game, 35-10. Edwardsburg has never been to a state final and it just seems like the timing is right. Pick: Edwardsburg by 5.
Reed City (11-1) vs. Saginaw Swan Valley (11-1) at Greenville: This is Swan Valley’s fourth semifinal appearance and, like Edwardsburg, Swan Valley has never made it past this round. Thing is, this is all new to Reed City. The Coyotes had never won a region title until last week. Before this season Reed City had won just two district titles. There’s going be some new faces inside Ford Field. Pick: Swan Valley by 7.
Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-2) vs. Frankenmuth (12-0) at Fenton: What a machine. West Catholic has won at least 10 games each of the past nine seasons and the Falcons are gunning for their fifth consecutive state title, which would tie a state record. In what is a common occurrence in this round, these programs have never met. Frankenmuth has been to a semifinal five times and the Eagles are looking for their first taste of a state final. Pick: W. Catholic by 9.
Ithaca (12-0) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (11-1) at Mount Pleasant Community Memorial Stadium: These teams played in a semifinal in 2015 and Ithaca won, 28-19. That’s the only time they’ve met. Ithaca has won five state titles; St. Francis six. St. Francis has not won a title in this division, however. Pick: Ithaca by 7.
Warren Michigan Collegiate (12-0) vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (10-1) at Chelsea: Michigan Collegiate might be the best team you’ve never heard of. This is the Cougars’ 10th season as a varsity program. They’ve made the playoffs each of the last nine reaching a state semifinal once before (2010). Lumen Christi has made the playoffs 27 times including the last 20 in a row. The Titans are the defending champs and have a considerable edge in experience. Pick: Lumen Christi by 11.
Pewamo-Westphalia (11-1) vs. Lake City (12-0) at Clare: Lake City’s first playoff victory came in 2012. From 2014-16 its record was 9-19. Pewamo-Westphalia is the defending champions and the Pirates lost in the state final two years ago and in 2011. Pick: Pewamo-Westphalia by 13.
Saugatuck (9-3) vs. Madison Heights Madison (12-0) at Lansing Catholic Central: Few expected Saugatuck to get past Cassopolis last week. In fact, after losing to Fennville, 40-7, in the regular season finale and long playoff run didn’t seem possible. Madison has made the playoff 13 consecutive seasons and when quarterback Austin Brown transferred in from Detroit Catholic Central there were many who picked another run to a state final. Pick: Madison by 14.
Saginaw Nouvel (12-0) vs. Iron River West Iron County (11-1) at the Superior Dome in Marquette, Fri., 7: Nouvel plays an independent schedule and West Iron County did defeat a good Norway team but Nouvel has won three state titles since 2005. Pick: Nouvel by 9.
Mendon (12-0) vs. Ottawa Lake Whiteford (12-0) at Howell: This is worthy of a state final. Whiteford is a scoring machine. Whiteford, which reached it first final last season, has scored a school-record 645 points including 60 last week. Mendon is just the opposite. The Hornets have given up just 78 points. Pick: Mendon by 3.
Last week’s record: 22-10
2017 record: 117-57