In Play with Tom Markowski


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Romeo, back by a strong community showing, leads from start to finish, defeats Cass Tech 41-27 in the Division 1 final

By: Tom Markowski, November 28, 2015, 7:09 pm



Detroit – The people in the towns of Romeo and Washington Township, two a sprawling communities in northern Macomb County, threw a party on Saturday. Instead of choosing their usual spots they held it in downtown Detroit. But after the afternoon festivities the party continued in the Romeo area, on 32 Mile Road, inside the school and elsewhere.

This was Romeo’s first state final appearance and the Bulldogs treated the throngs of their faithful fans, dare we guess 5,000 or so, to a feast. The Bulldogs were well prepared and not intimidated whatsoever by the surroundings, the magnitude of the game or the athleticism of Detroit Cass Tech.

Romeo never trailed and defeated a powerhouse from the Detroit Public School League, 41-27, to take home the Division 1 championship trophy.

Cass Tech was the team which was expected to play like champions. After all it was the Technicians that won the title in 2011 and ’12. This is a team that had won six consecutive regional titles and has a plethora of players who have been offered scholarships by Division I schools.

Cass Tech is accustomed to playing at Ford Field. It won the PSL title here in 2014 and this season lost in the PSL championship game to Detroit King.

It was Romeo that pulled out all of the tricks from a successful onside kick attempt to the hook ‘n ladder. The Bulldogs were the aggressor. They blocked a punt and, when other teams might have played conservatively, attempted four passes, all of which were completed, three for first downs, on a drive that started at their 25, lasted 12 plays and ended with Brad Tanner’s touchdown run that gave Romeo a 41-27 lead with 1:16 left.

Tanner a senior who plays a variety of positions, was the unofficial MVP as he had 130 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 13 carries.

This title had its beginnings in the early 1990s when Jason Couch and Curt Rienas, the program’s co-head coaches, played on some of Romeo’s best teams in this era for coaches Dennis Zbozen and Greg Ganfield. As a senior, Couch started at center for the 1992 team that lost to Walled Lake Western in the Class A semifinals. Rienas, then a sophomore, played linebacker and fullback that season.

Fast-forward to 2002 and Ganfield’s last season as head coach. Romeo opened the playoffs at Saginaw. Saginaw was ranked No. 1 in Division 1 and Romeo pulled off the upset of that season’s playoffs, 7-6.

“That started it,” Ganfield said. “The players believed then they could play with the best.”

When Ganfield left the program after that season a number of coaches applied, including Couch and Rienas. The process narrowed the choices to two, Couch and Rienas.

“It came down to just the two of us,” Couch said. “And I said, what do you think? We pitched it.”

So it was born. Romeo had co-head coaches. Couch and Rienas had come full circle. Both played in college, Couch at Alma College, Rienas at Grand Valley State. Both became friends as players and have remained best of friends since.

“We communicate all the time,” Couch said. “My wife jokes that we talk more than she and I do.”

Couch handles the offense, Rienas the defense and they share responsibilities off the field with parents and the community.

“We needed each other,” Rienas said.

There are no egos. Coach said he doesn’t need the title as head coach. To him and Rienas that’s all it is – a title.

What is important is an award called the Steve Spicer Memorial Team Leadership Award, given annually by the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association. Romeo has been the recipient three of the last eight years.

The program also sponsors an annually pink game, which raises funds for, and brings awareness to cancer research.

Romeo’s title is the first for any of the boys’ programs. Other than Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, Macomb Dakota and Warren Woods (now Woods Tower), Romeo is the only other public high school in Macomb County to win a state title in football.

“I’ve had a lot of text messages from players on our 2003 team, Curt’s and my first,” Couch said. “Many of them said don’t you remember what you told us, coach? You said (Sterling Heights) Stevenson and (Utica) Eisenhower made it to the finals. Why not Romeo?”

Well, Romeo did more than that. The Bulldogs won it all. Stevenson and Eisenhower got to the finals but never won a title.