Top 10 games: Brad Zube has Brandon program moving forward, seeks playoff clincher
Ortonville – The timing could hardly be better for Brad Zube and those within the athletic department at Ortonville Brandon.
Zube was the head coach at Pontiac for two seasons before going to Rochester Hills Stoney Creek. He spent four seasons there before he was hired at Brandon in January.
What was different about this move was that Zube would now, for the first time, be a teacher at the school where he was coaching football.
“It’s huge to be in the same building,” he said. “If you need to talk to one of the players they’re right there. The communication is so much better with the administrators, the teachers, everybody.”
The Blackhawks were 6-4 last season and are 5-1 so far this season. Brandon can clinch a playoff spot with a victory over Flint Metro League rival Flint Kearsley (2-4) on Friday.
It would also mark the second time in school history the program would have qualified in back-to-back seasons (1996-97 was the other time). For those not familiar with the Brandon football program there isn’t much of a playoff history. The Blackhawks have qualified five times, the first time being that ’96 team. They’ve won two playoff games, one in ’97 and the other in 2000, which is also the last time the Blackhawks started 5-1.
Last season was the first time since ‘00 that the program, which began in 1951, won more than five games. Brandon has won more than six games in a season just seven times.
This is the situation Zube saw as an opportunity, for him and the players.
“The kids bought into what we wanted to do right away,” he said. “I live on the north side of Clarkston. I’m 10-to-12 minutes from the school. It saves me time and I’m there, with the kids, all day.”
The good start hasn’t been without its hurdles. Senior co-captains Kevin Bickett and Dusty Dickens are likely out for the season. Dickens, a two-way back, suffered an injury on the first play of the team’s blue and white scrimmage. Bickett, a receiver-defensive back, accounted for five touchdowns in the opener but suffered his injury in the second game.
The player who has helped filled that gap is Joey Lovasz, a 5-10, 215-pound fullback. He never played fullback on varsity and had a difficult time convincing his new coach that he could handle it. Lovasz has done that and more. He’s had over 20 carries and gained over 100 yards in each of the last three games.
What helped convince Zube that Lovasz was the player to do the job was shortly after the 28-22 loss to Fenton. Brandon had a fourth-and-goal from inside the one and was stopped short.
Defensively linebacker Bryce Chamberlain has led the charge with 10 sacks.
Zube didn’t wave a magic wand when he came on board. There are no tricks. He and his staff have tried to make the experience worthwhile for the players and one they can build upon.
“The past is the past,” he said. “You have to live in the now. What I’ve preached is you have to be a family first. What I want them to do is take ownership of the team. I tell them how special it is to be 5-1. We just have to focus on Kearsley. Pick: Brandon by 11.
All games are Friday at 7 p.m. unless noted.
Davison (6-0) at Lapeer (5-1): Lapeer is 3-0 against Davison since Lapeer West and Lapeer East merged following the 2013 season and the Lightning have won five straight since losing to Clarkston. This is the best Davison team since 2008 when the Cardinals reached the Division 2 semifinals. Pick: Davison by 3.
Detroit Catholic Central (6-0) at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (4-2): This is for the Catholic League Central Division title and St. Mary’s has its back to the wall with regards to its chances of qualifying for the playoffs. St. Mary’s has won the last two in this series but is 5-7 since 2006. It’s likely these teams will play each other again in the league final in two weeks. Since the opener St. Mary’s’ defense has been spot on. C.C. has played four games against teams from Ohio (2), Indiana (1) and Ontario (1). The only true evaluation we have against a team from Michigan is its 28-21 overtime victory over Birmingham Brother Rice, a team St. Mary’s defeated 21-0 last week. Pick: St. Mary’s by 6.
Ishpeming (3-2) at Negaunee (5-1): Should Ishpeming lose here there’s a good chance the Hematites will miss the playoffs. Next week they play St. Ignace LaSalle (5-1). Its only loss was to Muskegon Catholic Central (6-0), 21-6. Ishpeming, which has won three of the last four Division 7 titles, hasn’t missed the playoff since 2001. Pick: Negaunee by 8.
Lansing Sexton (4-2) at East Lansing (4-2): These teams are 3-1 in the CAC Blue Division and are chasing Grand Ledge for first place. Should Sexton lose the Big Reds should qualify for the playoffs as their final two games are against teams with a combined record of 2-10. East Lansing still has Grand Ledge left on its schedule so it is in a more precarious position. East Lansing holds a 32-19-1 edge in this series but has lost six of last eight. Pick: Sexton by 2.
Napoleon (4-2) at Manchester (4-2): Check the remaining schedules for both teams. It would appear the winner of this game will make the playoffs and the other could be left collecting equipment after week nine. Pick: Napoleon by 6.
New Baltimore Anchor Bay (4-2) at Grosse Pointe South (4-2): A victory would open the door for Anchor Bay to make the playoffs as the Tars face Utica Ford (1-5) next week. South has bigger fish to catch as the Blue Devils can clinch a playoff spot and the MAC White Division title with a victory here and one next week against Macomb L’Anse Creuse North. Pick: South by 6.
Rochester Adams (5-1) at Birmingham Groves (6-0): The focus here is on how well Groves’ defense can handle Adams’ veer offense led by quarterback Kyle Wood. Since the opener Groves has allowed just 26 points and has had the propensity of playing well in the fourth quarter. Eliminate the 44 points Adams allowed Oak Park and the Highlanders have also played well defensively (allowed 33 points in the other five games). Groves has been the surprise team in Oakland County as it has made a seamless transition from the OAA Blue Division to the White. Pick: Groves by 3.
Romeo (4-2) at Warren Mott (6-0): This could well be a must-win for Romeo. Romeo has Macomb Dakota (4-2) next week and the Bulldogs, as the defending Division 1 champions, would rather not be forced to win their final two games to automatically qualify for the playoffs. Mott is in and now looks to take another step toward winning the MAC Red Division title. Mott is 2-10 all-time against Romeo and last defeated the Bulldogs in 1996. Pick: Romeo by 2.
Cadillac (5-1) at Traverse City West (4-2), Sat., 7: Let’s talk playoffs. Cadillac will get in with a victory over Manistee (4-2) next week. West is desperately in need of a victory over losing to Benton Harbor (21-16). A victory here and another next week at home against Gaylord (2-4) will do the trick. Pick: West by 7.
Last week’s record: 6-4.
Season record: 40-20.