EAST-SIDE PLAYOFF NOTEBOOK: Harrison lucks out with drop to D4; Can Cass Tech navigate D1 successfully, and who gets whom again?
The gridiron gods were smiling on John Herrington this past weekend.
Due to the way the playoff brackets shook out, Farmington Hills Harrison just significantly increased its chances of a storybook ending to its historic program with an unexpected last-minute bump down to Division 4. Herrington, the state’s all-time win leader and the architect of the Hawks cherished pigskin dynasty, unsuccessfully petitioned the MHSAA twice this fall for an automatic D4 placement despite its spring 2018 enrollment number (the normal metric used to determine what division a school competes in) slotting Harrison in Division 3. Because of the school’s looming closure this upcoming June, enrollment tumbled from over 850 students last spring to a little more than 600 right now.
Could a state-record 19th trip to the state finals and a possible state-record 14th state title be in the cards for Herrington’s Green-and-Gold gladiators? Maybe, maybe not, but no doubt the odds are now more in Harrison’s favor than ever. The Hawks (6-3) are coming off a resounding 48-7 slaughtering of crosstown-nemesis Farmington on Friday night.
There was no realistic way Harrison was beating Muskegon or Detroit King in D3. The Hawks got drubbed by Muskegon in the D3 state championship game last year. King won the D2 state title in 2016.
On the other hand, D4 is wide open for the Hawks. Besides Harrison, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Edwardsburg, Grosse Ile and Three Rivers are considered the frontrunners in the D4 bracket. GRCC has claimed the last two straight D4 state crowns. Harrison hosts Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood (6-3) to open the playoffs this week.
“We have a better shot now for sure,” said Herrington to State Champs Sunday. “It was a great change of circumstances for us, now we have to take advantage. There are some fine football teams in this bracket, very well-coached, talented teams that don’t care about whether we’re playing our last season or not. I know we’ll be ready to go though. These guys understand what’s at stake.”
Here’s a look at some of the other postseason storylines around Metro Detroit, and the rest of the east side of the state of Michigan:
For the full playoff bracket, CLICK HERE.
For a preview notebook from the West Side, CLICK HERE.
For a preview notebook from the Northern-Central region, CLICK HERE.
YOU AGAIN? — In the six seasons of having an independent program — after splitting off from a cooperative program with the historically successful Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes team — Clarkston Everest Collegiate has made the playoffs every single season.
And every single season, they’ve faced a playoff rematch with — you guessed it — Our Lady of the Lakes. The two Catholic League rivals have gone at it for five straight years, heading into this year’s rematch, with Lakes winning the first three before Everest broke through with a 22-21 win in 2016. Last year, the Mountaineers won 26-21, then blanked Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, before losing in the regional finals to eventual D8 champion Ottawa Lake Whiteford.
Everest is the smallest school to make the 11-player postseason, at just 115 students, while Lakes is the next smallest, at 128.
For our panel’s picks of the top 20 first-round games, CLICK HERE.
For the final regular-season top 25 ranking, CLICK HERE.
BEST BET TO WIN A STATE TITLE — Nobody’s got an easy road, but the Cass Tech Technicians are certainly one of the odds-on favorites to win Division 1, claiming their second title in three seasons, and their fourth since 2011. The Detroit PSL champs should get past a one-loss team in either Dearborn Fordson or Grosse Pointe South in the district final, before facing the winner of an all-Macomb Area Conference district (likely to be No. 4 Clinton Township Chippewa Valley) in regionals. Belleville (No. 3) or West Bloomfield (No. 14) will likely be looming in semifinals, while East Kentwood (No. 5), defending D1 champ Clarkston (No. 12) and Lapeer (No. 7) are the favorites to come out of the other side. Why Cass Tech? Because the Technicians have a Division I-level athlete at quarterback (Jalen Graham is going to Purdue as a safety), and two top-tier running backs in Jaren Mangham (Colorado) and Lew Nichols (Central Michigan) behind a behemoth offensive line. Oh, and then there’s the defense, which gave up just 42 points all season, 20 of those in a narrow escape win over Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward in Week 2. Yep, that’s 22 points allowed in eight games against Michigan opponents — including just eight in a 42-8 thumping of Detroit King in the PSL championship game — with five shutouts.
JUST HAPPY TO BE IN — Lake Orion, Grand Blanc and Dearborn were the only 5-4 teams — other than Rockford, which extended its run of playoff berths to 24 — to make it into the Division 1 bracket. For the Dragons of Lake Orion, it’s the first playoff berth in two seasons, and the second in the five seasons since their 13-year playoff streak — which included two trips to the D1 finals, and one to the semifinals — was snapped in 2014. The Dragons won five of their final seven after an 0-2 start to get in.
For Grand Blanc, it was a different feeling of relief. The Bobcats started the season 4-0 — and 2-0 in their new league, the Saginaw Valley League Blue — before losing four of their last five. The playoff berth is a third straight, and eighth in 10 seasons, but only two of those were as a 5-4 team making it on playoff points.
In Division 3, South Lyon East got off to a program-best 3-1 start, and was in the Lakes Valley Conference race to the last two weeks, but lost two of its last three after the Cougars lost their starting quarterback to a shoulder injury. Still, the playoff points were enough for a second playoff berth in program history, and first since 2012.
In Division 8, Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes extended their playoff streak to seven years by getting in at 5-4. The Lakers have only missed the playoffs twice (1996 and 2011) in the 29 seasons since 1990.
The team that has to be happiest to be playing a 10th game this season, though, has to be Dexter. The Dreadnaughts went 6-3 to automatically qualify for the Division 2 playoffs, losing only to Chelsea, Jackson and Whitehall. It’s the first playoff berth in program history for Dexter. Even better? It came on the heels of four straight winless seasons (which followed two straight 1-8 seasons), as the Dreadnaughts snapped a 42-game losing streak with a 36-22 victory over Ypsilanti in Week 2, ending a drought that had lasted four years, 11 months and 11 days, dating all the way back to a 26-21 win over Adrian on Sept. 20, 2013.
SO WE MEET AGAIN — There will be plenty of regular-season rematches between Southeast Michigan teams in the first week of the playoffs.
In Division 1, Lake Orion lost to Clarkston, 24-14, in Week 8, but the two OAA Red rivals haven’t faced off in the playoffs since 2009, when Clarkston won in back-to-back weeks.
In Division 2, St. Clair Shores Lake Shore faced Port Huron Northern in Week 1, losing 21-14, and now gets a rematch in Week 1 of the playoffs. On the other side of the same district, St. Clair Shores Lakeview and Roseville get to reprise their MAC Blue matchup from Week 6 that Roseville won, 28-22. District rivals Birmingham Groves and Birmingham Seaholm met at Groves last week to close out the regular season, and now face off at Seaholm.
In Division 3, Farmington beat this week’s opponent, Auburn Hills Avondale, 28-14 in an OAA Blue matchup in Week 5. Downriver foes Trenton and Gibraltar Carlson met before in Week 2, with Carlson winning, 35-24.
In Division 4, Blue Water Area foes Croswell-Lexington and North Branch will have a rematch of their Week 8 meeting, which Cros-Lex won, 45-26.
Detroit Denby beat Detroit Osborn, 46-24, in the Detroit Public School League B semifinals, en route to a league championship, and now will have to do it again in Round 1 of the Division 5 playoffs. Clawson and Marine City will reprise a Week 6 non-conference matchup, won by the Mariners, 28-8.
Grass Lake beat Michigan Center, 14-10, on Sept. 28, en route to a Cascades Conference championship. The two meet again in Round 1 of the Division 6 playoffs.
WILL DEFENSE DO IT? — Aside from Cass Tech’s prospect-laden defense, there are a number of standout defensive crews from the region in the playoffs this season.
Grosse Pointe South’s defense had given up just 43 points (with four shutouts) in an unblemished 8-0 start, before being tagged with 41 points in a 25-point loss to Romeo in Week 9.
That same Romeo offense scored just 14 points in an eight-point win over once-beaten Port Huron Northern. The Huskies held every opponent to 16 points or less this season, giving up 103, for an average of 11.4 allowed.
Brighton’s defense gave up 72 points in two losses to No. 3 Belleville in Weeks 1 and 9, and 54 points to everyone else in wins the other seven weeks.
The top dawg defensively, though, might be Warren De La Salle. The same Pilots defense that allowed just 26 points in five postseason wins a year ago, has given up just 93 points through this year’s regular season. Of that, 36 came in a Week 1 loss to top-ranked Muskegon, meaning the Pilots have allowed an average of 7.1 points per game over the last eight weeks. Some of those points were surrendered by the offense or special teams, as well — 28 points in a three-week span against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Detroit U-D Jesuit and Davison — meaning the starting defense itself has surrendered 59 points in nine games, or an average of 6.6 points per game.
(Matthew B. Mowery contributed to this report.)