In Play with Tom Markowski


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State final predictions: Romeo’s success had its beginnings last season

By: Tom Markowski, November 25, 2015, 11:49 am



Romeo – The football program at Romeo had their post-season banquet on Monday, five days before the last game of the season.

Instead of being with their families on Thanksgiving Day morning the players and coaches will be at practice for two hours.

Coaches Jason Couch and Curt Rienas can’t keep up with their text messages and Facebook accounts.

And their defensive linemen have earned the nickname “heel clickers” because of their unorthodox method of cleaning their cleats.

This state championship, Ford Field thing is all new to Romeo. The Bulldogs have never made it to the state finals before and it shows.

Couch and Rienas are learning on the fly and as hectic as their lives are they wouldn’t have it any other way.

At 1 p.m. on Saturday Romeo (12-1) will play a Detroit Cass Tech team familiar with trips to Ford Field. Last month Cass Tech (11-2) lost to Detroit King in the Detroit Public School League championship game at Ford Field. The Technicians won the PSL at Ford Field last season. In 2011 and ’12 Cass Tech won the Division 1 title at Ford Field.

“I want to shut off my phone so I can watch film,” Couch said. “But I can’t shut off my email because I have to have my computer on to watch film. When I turned my phone back on I had all these messages.

“Sideline passes have to be worked out.   

 “Sleep? It’s not happening much. But that’s all right. We’re happy to be playing for a state championship. We can deal with all the rest.”

Romeo is unaccustomed to making long playoff runs. Couch and Rienas played on the only other Romeo team that reached a semifinal. That was in 1992 and they were coached by Dennis Zbozen. The Bulldogs last to Walled Lake Western in a Class A semifinal that year.

To find out how Romeo got here one can trace the yellow brick road back to the third game of the 2014 season. That’s when the coaches went to juniors Hunberto Flores, Jake Hernden and Joey Meyers to start on the defensive line. They range in height from 5-7 to 5-8, and in weight from 170 to 180 pounds. Chuckle if you want to but without these three it’s quite likely that Romeo would have held their banquet this past Monday after their season was over.

“They are scrappy fellows who are relentless,” Coach said. “Leverage can make up for (the lack of) weight and body strength. I played center in high school and four years of college (Alma College). I would rather go against a big guy more than I would Flores.

“Those three are special. It’s their speed off the ball. It’s how low they play. Low man wins.”

But heel clickers? Apparently the name stuck after Flores, who’s also a wrestler, collected a huge chunk of mud on his cleats at practice. One of the coaches went for a tool to remove the caked-on mud but Flores said he had a better way.

“Flores did a hand stand,” Couch said. “And began clicking his cleats together. He did it like eight times and there’s mud splattering all over. He gets done and Jake does the same thing.”

Another important change took place on the offensive side. Couch and Rienas got together after Romeo’s 23-15 pre-district loss to Lapeer last season and sought a new style. Harken back to the pre-district round last year. The weather was atrocious. In many places rain fell sideways. Then the temperatures dropped and it turned to sleet. By the second half it was snowing. Couch said his team leaned toward throwing it more than they ran it and it backfired in this type of conditions.

So the coaches adopted a hybrid wing-T offense. Couch said a coach in the south was using it. In the back of their minds was the idea to get Brad Tanner the ball more. Tanner, a 6-2, 185 pound senior, is a receiver whom the coaches wanted to feature more. Tanner also plays slot and returns kicks. He’s scored 25 touchdowns this season, four on punt returns.

Romeo is the underdog against Cass Tech, a role it knows all too well. Pick: Cass Tech by 4.


Here are Saturday’s other title games

Division 7

Pewamo-Westphalia (13-0) vs. Ishpeming (12-0), 10 a.m.: Ishpeming is making its fourth consecutive appearance in the final. It won the title in 2012 and ’13. Defensively the Hematites are outstanding. Just one team has scored more than 14 points against them this season. The second could be Pewamo-Westphalia. The Pirates are averaging nearly 46 points. Pick: Ishpeming by 4.

 Division 5

Grand Rapids West Catholic (11-2) vs. River Rouge (12-1), 4:30: West Catholic has dominated this division recently. The Falcons won the title last two seasons and lost in the final in 2012. River Rouge continues to love the dream. The Panthers has never won a regional before this season. River Rouge will keep it close for a while but there’s too much big-game experience for the Falcons. Pick: West Catholic by 11.

Division 3

Chelsea (12-1) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (11-1), 7:30: Chelsea avoided the snow last week as its game was moved from Saturday to Sunday. The Bulldogs won, 35-7, over Coldwater but this St. Mary’s team is better equipped to handle Chelsea’s no-huddle, spread offense. Pick: St. May’s by 8.


Friday’s games

Division 8

Muskegon Catholic Central (10-2) vs. Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes (13-0), 10 a.m.: This could be one of the more interesting games played in this division for some time. On the one hand you have Catholic Central, the two-time defending champions. On the other you have Lakes, an upstart of sorts. Lakes features the twin brother combination of quarterback Clay and receiver Devin Senerius. Both are 6-3 and both are athletic. Still, it’s difficult to go against a team like C.C. that has so much playoff experience. Pick: C.C. by 3.

Division 2

Detroit King (13-0) vs. Lowell (12-1), 1: Lowell’s passing combination of quarterback Ryan Stevens and receiver Gabe Steed trumps that of the Senerius twins. These two players have made big play after big play and no play was bigger than the touchdown pass Stevens threw to Steed last week in the semifinal against Walled Lake Western. Western had just scored to pull within 28-24 when the two combined on the touchdown pass down the right sideline that gave Lowell a 35-24 lead. The thing, is King’s defense is awesome. This unit has shown consistency all season. And if one area stands above the rest defensively its King’s secondary led by Donnie Corley, Jr., and Lavert Hill. Pick: King by 7.

Division 6

Clinton (13-0) vs. Ithaca (13-0), 4:30: This is a rematch of the 2013 title game won by Ithaca, 41-22. This Clinton team is better than they were back then. Mathew Sexton (Eastern Michigan commit) has rushed for over 2,000 yards and had 182 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 42-20 victory over Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian. His teammate Noah Poore outdid him by rushing for 248 yards and four touchdowns. Ithaca also likes to run it but the Yellowjackets feature quarterback Jake Smith who has 30 touchdowns rushing this season. Pick: Clinton by 8.

Division 4

Flint Powers (11-2) vs. Zeeland West (13-0), 7:30: Quarterback Noah Sargent will have to wear his superman costume again this week if Powers is to keep pace with West. Sargent’s heroics brought Powers back from a 14-0 deficit last week against Detroit Country Day (Powers won 21-14). Sargent passed for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown, scored on a conversion run and had an interception. West won the 2011 Division 4 title and the 2013 Division 3 title. Add another one. Pick: West by 14.


Last week’s record: 13-3

Season record: 112-46