Top games: Muskegon picked to win 1st title since 2008, Cass Tech to get past CC
Detroit – John Callahan insists it’s all about the journey, not about winning.
Callahan is the head coach at Detroit Loyola and the Bulldogs have done their share of winning over the last five seasons. Loyola (11-2) will make its fourth appearance in a state final in the last five seasons when the Bulldogs play Pewamo-Westphalia (13-0) in the Division 7 final at Ford Field on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Loyola is an all-male Catholic school located on the city’s west side and its facilities are limited, and this fact is not limited to just football.
Not only doesn’t it have a home field to play its games, Loyola’s practice field resembles a vacant dirt lot. There are no goal posts. The field is perhaps 50 yards long and about 30 yards wide but to the coaches and the players, it’s no big deal. It’s what they have and they make the best of it.
“I know this week we’re preparing for a championship game,” Callahan said. “(Monday) night we had one of our lights go out and we had to huddle in one area to continue practice. We’re still having fun. We’re very fortunate.”
Loyola lost to Ishpeming in the 2012 and 2013 final before breaking through in ’14 winning the school’s first title, over Ishpeming, 29-8. Last season Loyola was run over by Pewamo-Westphalia, 30-0, in a state semifinal. Ishpeming then defeated the Pirates, 22-16, in the final.
Loyola normally fields a varsity of 30 players or so for the regular season. This season its numbers are down. Callahan said he’ll have around 35 players dressed for Saturday’s game, 11 of those are junior varsity players who were brought up for the playoffs.
And against the Pirates, Loyola will be without 1,000-yard rushers D’Anthony Robinson and Malcolm Mayes. Both running backs suffered season-ending injuries in last week’s 54-22 victory over Cassopolis.
That’s OK. Loyola has had to face adversity before and the Bulldogs will do it again. Callahan told his defensive unit they’ll have to play even better this week to overcome the obstacles.
“Our seniors have really stepped up,” he said. “This team has come together during the season.
“All I tell the students who come to Loyola to be a part of the program is that you will graduate. That we will give you the opportunity to play football and we will do the best to make you a man.”
Defensively, Loyola is led by senior middle linebacker Kailen Abrams (6-2, 218). Abrams, a three-year starter, also starts on offense at guard.
On offense Price Watkins is the quarterback. Watkins, a senior, never played quarterback before this season. Last season he started at defensive back, a position he plays this year as well. Pick: Pewamo-Westphalia by 8.
All games are at Ford Field
Muskegon Catholic Central (13-0) vs. Ottawa Lake Whiteford (13-0), 10: Should Whiteford win, not only would it be the school’s first state title, it would be the biggest upset of the playoffs in any division. C.C. is a powerhouse. Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart is the only team to score a point against C.C. in the playoffs. Sacred Heart lost, 68-7. The Crusaders are the three-time defending champion and would contend for the Division 6 title had they competed in that division. Pick: C.C. by 18
Detroit King (11-2) vs. Walled Lake Western (12-1), 1: This has the makings of possibly the best state final. King is the defending champion and the Crusaders began the season trying to come together as a team after the death of coach Dale Harvel. Tyrone Spencer took over and has done a superb job, as have his assistants. King is led by receiver-defensive back Ambry Thomas but there are a host of playmakers on this team notably running back Kevin Willis. As strange as it might sound, Western might have more. Like Thomas, Western all-purpose back Cody White is a State Champs Mr. Football candidate. Last week White ran for two touchdowns and passed for another in a 37-34 victory over Lowell. Receiver Kam Ford had a touchdown reception and ran for a touchdown. Running back Jalen Marshall had 15 carries for 137 yards. Prepare yourself for a highly entertaining game. Pick: Western by 2.
Jackson Lumen Christi (11-2) vs Maple City Glen Lake (11-2), 4:30: Lumen Christi has history and a veteran coach (Herb Brogan) on its side. The Titans lost a couple of games early before finding their stride. Running back Bo Bell is as talented a player in this division and Glen Lake will have a difficult time containing Bell and his ability to take a short gain and turn it into a long one. Pick: Lumen Christi by 12.
Detroit Country Day (13-0) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (12-1), 7:30: Country Day capitalized on a couple of breaks and good field position to hold off River Rouge last week, 20-14. Jalen Graham emergence at quarterback has allowed Country Day to move Steve Mann to receiver. C.C.’s loss this season was to Division 5 finalist Grand Rapids West Catholic and the Cougars have rebounded well, especially defensively, from that setback. Pick: C.C. by 7.
Detroit Cass Tech (13-0) vs. Detroit Catholic Central (13-0), 1: Many predicted this matchup when the pairings were announced on Oct. 23. Cass Tech lost in the final last season to Romeo and the Technicians have been focused ever since on winning the title they didn’t get then. Those in the program have said that was not their best effort and now they have a chance to erase that memory. C.C. has its back to the wall in this game. Quarterback Austin Brown suffered a leg injury in last week’s semifinal and is not expected to play. The Shamrocks must rely on their defense and a time-consuming ground game to pull off the upset. If Cass Tech quarterback Rodney Hall doesn’t have time to throw he could be susceptible to throwing an interception or two. With players like Donovan Peoples-Jones, Jaylen Kelly-Powell and Donovan Johnson Cass Tech should be able to make enough big plays to prevail. Pick: Cass Tech by 7.
Grand Rapids West Catholic (11-2) vs. Menominee (12-1), 4:30: West Catholic hasn’t been as dominant this playoff run as it has been the last three seasons when the Falcons won state titles. Menominee displayed poise last week as the Maroons came from behind to defeat Frankenmuth, 23-20. This could come down to the final few minutes. Pick: Menominee by 1.
Muskegon (12-1) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (9-4), 7:30: St. Mary’s won each of the last two state titles including a defensive showdown against Muskegon (7-0) in 2014. St. Mary’s would like to see another low-scoring game. Yes, St. Mary’s did roll past Dearborn Divine Child last week, 49-7, but don’t expect the Eaglets to control the line of scrimmage in such a dominating fashion against Muskegon. St. Mary’s will be able to run the ball and if it can control the clock the Eaglets stand a good chance at a third consecutive title. Muskegon will present a type of team St. Mary’s hasn’t faced this season. Kalil Pimpleton and LaDarius Jefferson will share time at quarterback with Jefferson getting most of the opportunities. Pimpleton will get the ball in space as a slot back and could hurt the Eaglets when he returns kicks. Muskegon hasn’t won a title since 2008. Big Reds fans can rejoice. Pick: Muskegon by 5.
Last week’s record: 14-2.
Season record: 113-45.