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Top 10 Games: Division 6 champ Ithaca makes first appearance in Division 5

By: Tom Markowski, October 27, 2016, 2:14 pm



Ithaca – It’s likely a one-time appearance in Division 5 for Ithaca. Even so, its football program and their coach, Terry Hessbrook, aren’t treating as if it were a blind date.

The Yellowjackets are embracing their new-found friends in what is unquestionably a pool of teams that present Hessbrook and Co. a higher level of competition.

“We were one of the largest (by enrollment) schools in Division 6 last year,” Hessbrook said. “We have 426 students and are the third smallest in Division 5. Now we’re playing a school (Belding) that has 580 students.

“I’m not complaining. We’re supposed to be here. Just like we were supposed to be in Division 6 last year.”

Ithaca won the Division 6 title last season and won four consecutive (2010-13) before Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central ended the Yellowjackets xx-game winning streak with a xx-xx victory in the 2014 final.

Ithaca has just 87 freshmen and it’s likely the football team will slip back to Division 6 next season should they qualify for the playoffs.

Ithaca (9-0), winners of 24 straight, will host Belding (5-4) in a Region 2 District 1 pre-district on Friday at 7 p.m. Should Ithaca win it would host a district final as well.

“In Division 6 we saw some good teams,” Hessbrook said. “It’s more challenging in Division 5. We have Freeland (9-0) and Muskegon Oakridge (8-1) in our region. Both teams have had a lot of playoff success. Then there’s Menominee, (Grand Rapids) West Catholic and Lansing Catholic.

“Someone asked me if we feel the pressure. Absolutely not. I don’t think we have any pressure on us. If we were in Division 6 there would be the pressure to repeat. Hey, we’re playing a good Belding team on Friday. We’ll have to play well if we expect to win.”

Hessbrook was asked if there could be improvements made in the current playoff format. One suggestion he made was to seed each of the four regions in each of the eight division 1-8. The current format has two districts, seeded 1-4, in each of the four regions. One obvious benefit of this proposed change would be to reward teams that had good seasons. As an example let’s stay in Division 5 and go to Region 4 where Algonac, at 8-1, is playing at Detroit Denby (8-1) in District 2. If the regions were seeded 1-8 Algonac would be the third seed and host a pre-district. As it is Ida (8-1) and Brooklyn Columbia Central (7-2), teams that have a lower playoff percentage than Algonac, are hosting pre-district games in Region 4 District 1.

Another suggestion Hessbrook made, and many agree with, is the private versus the public school debate. To help level the playing field Hessbrook suggests using a multiplier for private schools, meaning you take the enrollment of the private school and multiply it by 1.5 and that’s the enrollment figure you would use in determining the division this particular team competes in. A similar and simpler way would be that every private school that qualifies for the playoffs is immediately bumped up a division. For instance, Muskegon Catholic Central (9-0), which is not likely to be tested in the playoffs, would compete in Division 7, not 8. And Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, the two-time defending Division 3 champion, would compete in Division 2, not 3.

“There are certainly options,” Hessbrook said. “And they have not been addressed. I don’t care what they say about school of choice, it’s different for rural areas like ours. We get kids that are in our school district.” Pick: Ithaca by 7.


All games are Friday at 7 p.m. unless noted.


Clinton (6-3) at Sand Creek (8-1): Beware of Clinton. Here’s a team that reached the Division 6 final and lost to Ithaca. Clinton, the opposite of Ithaca, drops a division and has a real shot at winning a district title. Pick: Clinton by 4.

Constantine (6-3) at Schoolcraft (9-0): Here we go again. Last season Schoolcraft was 9-0 and lost to Constantine in a pre-district, 31-28. These teams have played every season since 1973 so there’s no secrets here. Pick: Schoolcraft by 12.

Grand Rapids West Catholic (7-2) at Lansing Catholic Central (8-1): Perhaps the best pre-district game pits the three-time defending champion against a team many pick to win this division. These teams met in the 2014 title game and West Catholic won, 24-20. West Catholic has owned Lansing C.C. recently and have eliminated the Cougars the last three seasons. Pick: W. Catholic by 6.

Oak Park (6-3) vs. U-D Jesuit (6-2) at Hazel Park: Nobody did these teams any favors as far as seeding. Both have played a rugged schedule so this type of game, physical and expectedly closely contested, will be more of the same. If Oak Park can limit its mistakes, penalties and turnovers, the Knights stand a good chance of winning. Pick: U-D by 4.


Rockford (6-3) at Hudsonville (8-1): Where have we seen this before? Oh, that’s right. Each of the last three seasons. That’s right. These two O-K Red Division powers will meet in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Isn’t this the point we made in the story on Ithaca above? We need to chance the playoff format. We need to have four regions with eight teams in each, not the current four-team districts. Rockford has won four of the last seven in this series and gains a bit of revenge for its 14-7 loss to Hudsonville last week. Pick: Rockford by 3.

Temperance Bedford (7-2) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (7-2): For the second time in eight seasons teams from the Downriver League won’t meet each other in a pre-district. Wyandotte was expected to challenge Allen Park for the league title but has experienced a down season (finished two games behind), by its standards. Here’s an opportunity to make a so-so season a good one. Bedford runs an offense similar to that of Woodhaven, a team that defeated Wyandotte, 32-22, last week. Pick: Bedford by 5.

Traverse City West (6-3) at Traverse City Central (8-1): Not much of a home-field advantage here since both schools use the same field. Central defeated West earlier this season, 10-8, and won last year’s game as well. West is a year away from making a strong playoff run. Pick: Central by 6.

West Bloomfield (5-4) at Bloomfield Hills (9-0): My how the tables quickly turn. Last season West Bloomfield was 9-0 and lost to a 5-4 Novi team. Last season West Bloomfield defeated Bloomfield Hills, 47-6, and the season before it defeated Bloomfield Hills, 61-24. There’s no question that the Lakers have played a stronger schedule but Bloomfield Hills proved last week it can play with teams in the OAA Red Division as it defeated Lake Orion, a playoff team, 21-0. Pick: Bloomfield Hills by 2.

Zeeland West (7-2) at Grand Rapids Christian (8-1): These programs are diverse. West won Division 4 last season yet has competed in Division 3. Christian competed in Division 2 in 2002, its first season as a playoff qualifier but has been in Division 3 ever since. Christian competed in the Grand Rapids City League until it joined the Ottawa-Kent Conference in 2008. Zeeland High split into two high schools (East and West) following the 2004 school year and West has been a playoff qualifier every season buy two. This district (2) in Region 1 could be the most competitive in Division 3. These teams have played twice before, both in the Division 3 playoffs. West won 68-44 in 2012 and the Eagles returned the favor the next season, 48-35. Pick: Christian by 1.


Last week’s record: 7-3.

Season record: 61-29.