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Five best games in the regional round of the 2019 MHSAA football postseason

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, November 11, 2019, 5:48 pm

With some of the chaff falling away after the early rounds of the playoffs, now we’re getting into the reaaaaaaaly good match-ups … the ones that you rightfully can say might be an erstwhile championship contest. Here are the five best games (in our opinion) of the regional round of the 2019 postseason:

No. 5 >>> Milan (11-0) at Detroit Country Day (11-0), 1 p.m. Saturday

A regular at both the Silverdome and Ford Field, Country Day is no stranger to deep playoff runs, making 12 trips to the semifinals and beyond, winning two titles (1995 and 1999) and finishing runner-up on five other occasions. They haven’t been this deep since losing to Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the 2016 Division 4 title game, though, and have had seven championship-contending teams fall short since claiming their last crown. 

They’ve faced Milan in the playoffs three times, winning twice.

To get past the Big Reds this time, the Yellowjackets will need to stop Milan’s do-it-all quarterback Tristen Hines, an Eastern Michigan commit who has accounted for 2,751 total yards and 172 points — 29 points off the 30-year-old school record — as a senior. 

For Milan, though, DCD represents a hump the Big Reds have yet to get past. The last two deep forays into the playoffs — 2007 and 2015 — both ended with losses to the Yellowjackets in the regional championships. The Big Reds have also lost to Jackson Lumen Christi three times (1996, 1998, 2000) in regional finals contests, leaving them 0-5 in attempts to capture a regional title.

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CLICK HERE for the full 11-player postseason pairings.

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No. 4 >>> Montrose (10-1) at Monroe St. Mary CC (9-1), 3 p.m. Saturday

This is a battle of two tradition-rich programs.

The Rams lost to Jackson Lumen Christi in last year’s semifinals, the second time they’d made a run that deep since winning it all in 2002, and their eighth trip to the final four since 1992. SMCC has made the semifinals nine times since 19990, winning two titles in the playoff era (1991 and 2014) and finishing runner-up four more times (1984, 2005, 2009, 2010).

A three-year starter at quarterback for Montrose, Bobby Skinner leads a potent offense for the Rams, while the T formation of SMCC certainly doesn’t seem broken, not with Alex Morgan leading the way with 233 of SMCC’s 449 total rushing yards in the district championship win over Warren Michigan Collegiate. 

It may be the defenses that decide the day, though. SMCC is allowing just 15.7 points per game through 10 games (the Falcons only had eight regular-season contests), while Montrose is allowing 14.8, down more than a field goal’s worth per game from last year. Even as far back as the 1994 semifinal squad allowing 4.3 points per game, when head coach Dennis Reinhart was the defensive coordinator for current Ferris State coach Tony Annese in his last year in Montrose, defense has been the calling card for the Rams.

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CLICK HERE for the full 8-player postseason pairings.

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No. 3 >>> D3: River Rouge (10-1) at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (10-1), 1 p.m. Saturday

While neither of these teams kept their equipment past Halloween last year, you knew there was too much talent for both of them to continued to be stifled. 

After last year’s first-round exit against eventual Division 3 champ Detroit King, coach Corey Parker guided the Panthers to their sixth 10-win season since 2012, and has them a win away from their fourth trip to the semis or beyond in five seasons.

For the Eaglets of St. Mary’s, it’s been a season of rejuvenation after two six-loss seasons missing the playoffs on the heels of three straight D3 titles. 

Both teams were handed their only loss by a Catholic Central — Grand Rapids CC beat River Rouge 17-14 in Week 1, while Novi Detroit CC beat OLSM 20-14 in Week 7 — but both teams have a late-season win over the Shamrocks of Detroit CC on their resume. 

The only previous meeting between OLSM and River Rouge was in the district championships in 2001 — a 24-0 OLSM win en route to a third straight appearance in the D4 finals.

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No. 2 >>> D7: Pewamo-Westphalia (11-0) at New Lothrop (11-0)

There haven’t been two more consistent small-school programs over the last half-dozen years than these, and they’re developing a little bit of a playoff rivalry in recent years.

Since 2010, the Hornets have gone 110-10, making three trips to the semifinals before winning last year’s high-scoring D7 championship over Madison Heights Madison. En route to their second championship (they also won D8 in 2006), the Hornets beat P-W 26-14 in the regional title game. A year earlier, P-W — which is 111-16 since 2010 — knocked New Lothrop out of the playoffs in the district championship game, en route to their third straight trip to Ford Field, and second consecutive title. 

The Pirates haven’t given up a point since a Week 8 win over D8 regional finalist Fowler, and have allowed just 21 points all season long — 100 points fewer than they gave up in 12 games last season. New Lothrop is no slouch defensively, either, giving up 74 points in 11 games — 22 to Frankenmuth and 21 to Montrose, and 31 to everyone else. 

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No. 1 >>> D1: West Bloomfield (10-1) at Belleville (11-0), 1 p.m. Saturday

Both of these programs have carried the burden of expectations — the Tigers were the preseason No. 1 a year ago, while the Lakers were this year’s preseason favorite — and now it’s time for one or the other of them to cash in.

Both of them have scads of college-bound talent everywhere, and that shows up in the gaudy offensive statistics. Both teams are led by Mr. Football candidates — RB Donvan Edwards for West Bloomfield and QB Christian Dhue-Reid for Belleville — and can score with anyone. The Lakers averaged 32.6 points per game against one of the toughest schedules in the state, while Belleville (averaging 46.3) has already broken its one-year-old school record for points by 21, despite playing in two fewer games so far. The game may come down to the defenses, though. 

Coach Jermain Crowell’s biggest complaint with last year’s semifinal squad was the defensive performance, and the Tigers have responded by shaving 100 points off their total allowed, posting three shutouts. The Lakers have actually allowed one point fewer (126), with 40 percent of that coming in the 59-52 shootout win over Lake Orion, and posted four shutouts, including last week’s blanking of Plymouth for a third straight district title.