In Play with Tom Markowski


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River Rouge not just a basketball power

By: Tom Markowski, November 13, 2014, 3:15 pm


River Rouge – Despite its image as a basketball school, River Rouge continues to have success with its football program.

The Panthers have won a state record 14 boys basketball titles but don’t froget about its football program. Coach Corey Parker hasn’t.

River Rouge made its first playoff appearance in 1999 and qualified for each of the next three years, winning its first playoff game in ’01.

Shortly after the program hit the skids. The Panthers won nine game during a five-year stretch (2004-08). In ’09 Parker was hired as coach and things started to change, gradually. River Rouge was 2-7 in Parker’s first season and the Panthers have made the playoffs every year since. In 2012 they reached the Division 5 semifinals and lost to Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, 16-6.

The Panthers are back in a regional final and looking to reach another semifinal. River Rouge (10-1) will play at Almont (11-0) in a Division 5 region final on Friday at 7 p.m. Two years ago these schools met in a district final and River Rouge won 44-22.

River Rouge doesn’t play a demanding schedule so it’s difficult to assess, even for Parker, the level of play his team is able to compete.

“I always expect us to do well,” he said. “We have more practice days than we do have game days so we challenge ourselves to get better each day. We beat Ida (42-14 last week in a district final) and many didn’t expect that.

“We won our second district title in three years so I must be doing something right. I’m having fun with the kids.”

It was a tough sell for Parker when he first arrived. Most of the good athletes wanted to play basketball. Few gave football a second thought. But that’s changed. Parker has 45 players on varsity and 28 on the junior varsity. He said that next year he expects to add a freshmen team. River Rouge hasn’t fielded a freshmen team since 1999.

 Three of Parker’s players play basketball including junior tackle Julius Laidler. Laidler is 6-5 and weighs 310 pounds, and Parker said Laidler might start for coach Lamonte Stone on the basketball team. That’s when pull-up jump shots are advisable. 

Offensively the Panthers like to run the ball. Wingback Jajuan Kemp is used on the jet sweep. Quarterback Antoine Burgess has thrown 1,000 yards and run for 1,000, and tailback Alexander Carter is one of three freshmen in the starting lineup.                   PICK: Almont by 8. 


Division 1

Walled Lake Central (9-2) at Clarkston (11-0), Fri., 7: Three years ago Central upset Clarkston, 45-26, in a district final. That was before quarterback D.J. Zezula became a starter at Clarkston. Central coach Bob Meyer likes his Nick Krumm, his senior quarterback. Both are dual threat quarterbacks.           PICK: Clarkston by 7.

Canton (9-2) at Saline (10-1), Fri., 7: These teams like to run the ball, Canton out of the tight T-formation and Saline runs the spread. Earlier in the season Canton lost to Hartland, a team that likes to run the ball out of the spread. Canton rushed for 648 yards last week.           PICK: Canton by 4.


Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (8-3) at Detroit Cass Tech (11-0), Sat., 1: Aside from running back Mike Weber, Jr., Cass Tech’s offense has struggled at time. Weber is a load. To have a season he has had with an inconsistent passing game is a credit to his perseverance.             PICK: Cass Tech by 6.

Hudsonville (7-4) at East Kentwood (10-1), Sat., 1: If it wasn’t for the O-K Conference Red Division representatives from this division on the state’s west side would be non-existent. But we’re glad there IS the Red Division because we get rematches like this.            UPSET SPECIAL: Hudsonville by 3.


 Division 2

Battle Creek Lakeview (9-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (10-1), Fri., 7: This appears to be a breather for Mona Shores after the teams they played the last three weeks. That’s when a team like Lakeview, which smoked Stevensville Lakeshore (27-0), a team that lost to Zeeland West by just two, can bite you.               PICK: Mona Shores by 7.

Southfield (8-3) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (9-2), Fri., 7: Here are teams that had so-so regular seasons but are making hay in the playoffs. Under a microscope much of last season, Southfield is right where it wants to be: flying under the radar.              PICK: Southfield by 8.

Warren De La Salle (8-3) vs. Birmingham Brother Rice (11-0) at Hurley Field in Berkley, Sat., 11:30 a.m.: Back to the scene of the crime. It was still grounding. It’s a new year and much more is at stake in this game. De La Salle coach Paul Verska said he and his team wanted to play Brother Rice this week. In the words of Marvin Gaye, ‘Let’s Get It On’.                  PICK: Brother Rice by 10.

Flushing (9-2) at Farmington Hills Harrison (9-2), Sat., 1: So Harrison gets a home game after all. A little late, don’t you think? Harrison’s defense won last week’s game (10-9 over Walled Lake Western) and this unit will be the best on the field again.              PICK: Harrison by 6.


Division 3

Lowell (10-1) at Zeeland West (11-0), Fri., 7: Both teams love to run the ball. West’s offensive line should be able to control the line of scrimmage.               PICK: West by 8.

Petoskey (9-2) vs. Muskegon (10-1) at Holton High School, Sat., 1: Everyone in Petoskey is overjoyed that Muskegon moved down from Division 2 to 3.                 PICK: Muskegon by 18.

Redford Thurston (8-3) at New Boston Huron (10-1), Fri., 7: Between 1997 and ’04 Huron won five games. The Chiefs won their first playoff game two weeks ago and now are gunning for a semifinal appearance. Thurston has won seven straight and is also looking for its first semifinal appearance.          PICK: Huron by 2.

Mason (8-3) at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (9-2), Sat., 1: St. Mary’s should have more of a challenge this week (49-15 victory over Warren Woods Tower last week). Mason features a strong run game but St. Mary’s can prepare for that.            PICK: St. Mary’s by 18.


Division 4

Whitehall (9-2) vs. Grand Rapids South Christian (9-2) at Byron Center, Fri., 7: Jon Wassink is a dual threat quarterback and he’s led South Christian to nine consecutive victories. Make that 10.            PICK: S. Christian by 19.

Eaton Rapids (8-3) at Edwardsburg (10-1), Fri., 7: Something’s got to give here. Eaton Rapids is giving up 12 points per game. The Eddies are scoring 44 per game.              PICK: Edwardsburg by 12.

Detroit Country Day (7-4) at Chelsea (9-2), Fri., 7: Take away a 2-7 season in 2013 and Chelsea has made the playoffs every year since 1998. But the Bulldogs have never reached the semifinal round. Country Day’s four losses came to teams that have a combined record of 44-0.             PICK: Country Day by 4.

Richmond (10-1) at Lansing Sexton (11-0), Sat., 1: Sexton is on a mission and it won’t end until it reaches Ford Field.               PICK: Sexton by 18.


Division 5

Reed City (9-2) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (11-0), Fri., 7: West Catholic quarterback Travis Russell might not be as good as Wassink, but he’s close.             PICK: W. Catholic by 15.

Flint Powers (8-3) vs. Lansing Catholic Central (11-0) at Holt Junior High, Fri., 7: This might be closer than one might think. Powers’ three losses came to Class A schools that made the playoffs.            PICK: Lansing CC by 7.

Freeland (10-1) at Menominee (11-0), Sat., 2: The single wing lives on and on and on.             PICK: Menominee by 13.


Division 6

Leroy Pine River (8-3) at Boyne City (11-0), Fri., 7: Boyne City made it to the semifinals just once, in 2001. It’s already set the school single-season record for points (456) and will approach 500 after this game.        PICK: Boyne City by 14.

Madison Heights Madison (9-2) at Ithaca (11-0), Fri., 7: Ithaca continues its course to a fifth consecutive state title.           PICK: Ithaca by 14.

Watervliet (10-1) at Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (10-1), Fri., 7: Tempted to go with an upset here but not after Christian whipped Ravenna (37-0) last week.                   PICK: Christian by 14.

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (10-1) vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (11-0) at Jackson Withington Stadium, Sat., 7: Lumen Christi’s Khari Willis has run through every defense he’s faced this season. St. Mary CC’s defense will be put to the test and keeps this one close.            PICK: Lumen Christi by 4.

Division 7

New Lothrop (11-0) vs. Detroit Loyola (11-0) at U-D Jesuit, Fri., 6: This could be close. One would hope an unbeaten team can stay with Loyola. Just not sure.                PICK: Loyola by 18.

Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (10-1) at Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (11-0), Fri., 7: Quick. Which school has more letters in its name? No fair counting now. It’s too late. Lutheran Seminary wins the letter game and …                 PICK: Lutheran Seminary by 6.  

Bridgman (8-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (9-2), Fri., 7:30: P-W played Madison tough in its opener, and Madison is a good D-6 team. Just don’t think Bridgman’s schedule stacks up.            PICK: P-W by 11.

Traverse City St. Francis (9-2) vs. Ishpeming (11-0) at Northern Michigan, Fri., 8: Ishpeming can’t be stopped.             PICK: Ishpeming by 10.

Division 8

Baldwin (10-1) at Beal City (9-2), Fri., 7: Beal City’s schedule prepared it well for the playoffs.            PICK:      Beal City by 12.

Mendon (10-1) at Muskegon Catholic Central (11-0), Sat., 1: Wouldn’t it be great if Muskegon CC was in D-7 and played Loyola? How many people would be happy with that? Show off hands now. Sorry, I can’t count them all.              PICK: Muskegon CC by 21.

Morenci (10-1) at Harbor Beach (11-0), Sat., 2: Just think of all those Morenci fans driving to the shores of Lake Huron and feeling that nice, warm breeze.               PICK: Harbor Beach by 12.

Munising (10-1) vs. Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-1) at Northern Michigan, Sat., 7: How odd. These U.P. teams have never played before. It could be closer than one might think.                PICK: Forest Park by 2.       


Last week’s record: 11-4

Season record: 70-50