Predictions for the third round of the state playoffs: Ithaca-Montague is a monster matchup in Division 6
Ithaca – All that’s left in the state playoffs is the best of the best. Sixty-four teams in eight divisions have reached the regional finals and once again with have Ithaca.
We’ve become accustomed to this. Since 2009 when Ithaca lost in a Division 6 semifinal to Montague, 47-16, the Yellowjackets have played for a region title and, until last season, they won a region title. Last season, in Division 5, Ithaca lost to Frankenmuth, 28-20.
On Saturday Ithaca (11-0) will play Montague (11-0) in a Division 6 region final at Montague at 1 p.m. It’s the only region final matching two undefeated teams.
“We know it’ll be a challenge,” Ithaca coach Terry Hessbrook said. “They’re really good.”
So are the Yellowjackets. Joey Bentley is a two-year starter at quarterback after playing receiver as a sophomore. Jake Smith started the previous two seasons at quarterback and he’s the starting quarterback at Harvard.
“(Bentley) had a chance to learn from one of our best,” Hessbrook said. “It’s really neat to see a kid work hard and do well. He’s a humble kid, polite and unassuming. But he’s a fierce competitor.”
Bentley (6-2, 190) is 113 of 174 passing this season for 1,796 yards, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s also rushed 119 times for 1,200 yards and 20 touchdowns. He’s has a 4.0 grade-point average but has not received much attention from colleges on the offensive side. Hessbrook did say some Division I coaches have Bentley on their radar as a safety.
Bentley also runs track and is a four-year varsity player in basketball.
His counterpart at Montague, junior Sebastian Archer, has thrown 17 touchdown passes and three interceptions.
Of the 31 varsity players who began the season on the roster for Ithaca, 20 are seniors. Hessbrook has since moved up an additional 18 players from the junior varsity. He said the fact that his program is able to move up the underclassmen for the playoffs the past several seasons helps immeasurably the acceleration of the growth of these players.
Ithaca’s other top players include Nick Jones, a three-year starter on the defensive line, Hessbrook’s nephew, Zach Hessbrook at inside linebacker and place kicker-punter-receiver Adam Culp. It’s uncertain where but Culp will be a collegiate kicker. Fifty of his kickoffs have gone for touchbacks this season and he’s 69-of-70 on point after tries. Pick: Montague by 6.
All games are Friday at 7 p.m. unless noted.
Clarkston (9-2) at Holland West Ottawa (10-1), Sat., 1: The way Clarkston plays defense the Wolves could keep the score down in this one. West Ottawa continues to be the surprise team in this division and the Panthers could have one surprise left. Pick: West Ottawa by 3.
Detroit Catholic Central (7-4) at Canton (10-1): Canton has had a tough road to travel in the playoffs. C.C. not so much. These teams have played five times and C.C. has won them all. Not this time. Pick: Canton by 7.
Detroit Cass Tech (8-2) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (10-1): The good news for Chippewa Valley is that Mike Weber is carrying the ball for Ohio State. There’s more good news for the Big Reds. This is not a vintage Cass Tech team. Pick: Chippewa Valley by 5.
West Bloomfield (9-2) vs. Utica Eisenhower (11-0) at Utica High: Eisenhower pulled one out in the final two minutes last week in a 10-6 victory over Rochester Adams. Eisenhower will need to score 20 or more points to keep pace with the Lakers. Not sure the Eagles can muster that much offense. Pick: West Bloomfield by 6.
Traverse City Central (8-3) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (11-0): This is just the third time Forest Hills Central has reached the third round. Traverse City Central is in the third round for the first time since Traverse City High split into two school, Central and West, in 1997. Pick: F.H. Central by 8.
Flushing (9-2) at Livonia Franklin (9-2): Two years ago Franklin won its first region title and now the Patriots are a victory away from getting back to the semifinals. Few could see this coming. Franklin had just one part-time starter returning on offense and started the season 2-2. Flushing won just its third district title last week, quite an accomplishment considering the Raiders were underdogs in their first two playoff games this season. Pick: Franklin by 6.
Oak Park (9-2) vs. Warren DeLaSalle (9-2) at Wayne State: Both teams lost their opener at Wayne State and have played exceptionally well since. DeLaSalle has given up just 20 points in its last four games. If Oak Park can stay away from making mistakes and have the edge in turnovers the Knights can win this game. Pick: DeLaSalle by 7.
DeWitt (10-1) vs. Muskegon (11-0) at Grand Haven, Sat., 1: Seems odd for two programs that seemingly make the playoffs every season that this would be the first time they would play. Should Muskegon win its first title since 2008, the Big Reds will look back on this game as one of their major hurdles. DeWitt has a well-balanced offense and could give Muskegon problems. The Big Reds like to run the ball and there’s more to their offense than just quarterback La’darius Jefferson. Pick Muskegon by 9…
East Lansing (9-2) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (11-0): East Lansing’s defense has been awesome recently. Harper Creek won regional titles in 2011 and ’12 but has never played East Lansing before. Pick: East Lansing by 6.
Riverview (10-1) at Dearborn Divine Child (10-1): Interesting contrast in styles here. Riverview runs the T-formation and Divine Child uses the spread offense. If the wind picks up Divine Child’s offense could be limited. Pick: Divine Child by 4.
Farmington Hills Harrison (8-3) at Linden (9-2): Linden is the second team (Flushing is the other) from the Flint Metro League to win a district title. The edge Harrison has in its quickness defensively. Pick: Harrison by 10.
Williamston (7-4) at Escanaba (9-2): Escanaba won a district title last season and this could be its best team since 1981 when it won the Class A title. Williamston has bounced back after losing its last two regular season games. Pick: Escanaba by 5.
Belding (9-2) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-0): Catholic Central looked to be the clear-cut favorite to win the state title before the start of the playoffs but the Cougars have given up an average of 31 points a game in the last five games. Belding is averaging 52 points in its last three games. Pick: Catholic Central by 4.
Lansing Sexton (8-3) at Edwardsburg (10-1), Sat., 1: Edwardsburg has a November (T-formation) offense. Wind does not affect a handoff. Pick: Edwardsburg by 10.
River Rouge (9-2) at Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood (10-1), Sat., 1: River Rouge got past a major hurdle last week (Chelsea). This is not a good matchup for Cranbrook Kingswood. Pick: River Rouge by 14.
Menominee (8-3) at Reed City (10-1), Sat., 6: This is not a vintage Menominee team. Reed City has won 10 straight. Pick: Reed City by 8.
Muskegon Oakridge (9-2) at Saginaw Swan Valley (10-1), Sat., 1:30: Give the edge to Oakridge here because of the schedule it plays. Pick: Oakridge by 7.
Grand Rapids West Catholic (9-2) at Portland (10-1): Portland has four shutouts in its last five games. This could be its best team since 2012 when it won the title. That was the last time West Catholic didn’t win a title as it lost to Portland in the final. Pick: W. Catholic by 5.
Algonac (10-1) at Frankenmuth (11-0), Sat., 1: These teams have never met. It’s not so strange when given the fact that Algonac has made the playoffs just five times. Pick: Frankenmuth by 10.
Traverse City St. Francis (10-1) at Millington (10-1): Just once has St. Francis competed in this division. It normally competes in Division 7. Pick: Millington by 7.
Jackson Lumen Christi (9-1) at Watervliet (11-0), Sat., 1: Should Watervliet win it would be the biggest win in school history, I know. Watervliet reached a state final in 1979 but this is Lumen Christi. Pick: Lumen Christi by 13.
Breckenridge (10-1) at Lake City (11-0), Sat., 1: Breckenridge, huh? This program hadn’t won 10 games in a season until now. Lake City was 2-7 last season and 2-7 in 2014. Great turnarounds for both. Pick: Lake City by 8.
Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (7-4) at Madison Heights Madison (11-0): Quarterback Austin Brown has made a big impact on Madison this season. St. Mary C.C. started the season 1-3 and have turned its season around. Pick: Madison by 4.
Frankfort (8-2) at Iron River West Iron County (10-1), Sat., 12:30: Frankfort scored 53 points last week against a Gaylord St. Mary team that was undefeated. Frankfort played a better schedule than many of the teams in this division. Pick: Frankfort by 6.
Climax-Scotts (9-2) at Mendon (11-0), Sat., 1: Offensively Climax-Scotts has been efficient but something tells me this is a mismatch. Pick: Mendon by 17.
Last week’s record: 12-7
2017 record: 95-47