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STATE CHAMPS! 25 in 25 | The next 20 teams over the last 25 seasons that just missed the cut

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, August 14, 2019, 2:01 pm

In a little over 24 hours, our latest edition of the 25-in-25 series, the top 25 football teams of the last 25 years, will debut on all our social media channels. The premiere is set for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019.

Undoubtedly, the 25 teams who made it into the top 25 will be hotly debated — as they were during our selection process. And just as undoubtedly, there will be other, overlooked teams that get offered up as alternatives, with advocates arguing they should’ve been on the list instead.

Ultimately, we narrowed a list of nearly 50 teams down to 28, and held a Twitter poll to determine the 25th and final team. The 2007 Marine City team that won the Division 4 title won that vote going away (52 percent of the vote), besting squads from Ottawa Lake Whiteford (2017), Fowler (1995) and Jackson Lumen Christi (2000). The three that did not win that vote are listed below, with 17 other squads that were in contention, but narrowly missed the cut.

Here are the 20 teams (in alphabetical order) that just missed the cut:

Belding, 1997 (13-0) — The Black Knights averaged 40.2 points per game in 1997, as Michigan-bound Brent Cummings had 38 rushing touchdowns (he finished with 85 career). Coming off a 1996 season where Belding lost its first regular-season game since 1992 (35-30 to Caledonia) and in the B finals to Jackson Lumen Christi (17-11), the Black Knights were unbeaten for the second time in four seasons, winning their second title, and coach Irv Sigler’s last before moving on to Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern. It was also a high-water mark for the program, as Belding went 12-1 in 1998, losing to Chesaning in the B finals, and has only won more than seven games once since then.

Detroit Cass Tech, 2011 (11-3) — Coming off a loss to eventual state champion Lake Orion in the semifinals the year before, the 2011 Cass Tech team became the first PSL team to win a D1 title, beating Detroit Catholic Central. The Technicians defense gave up just 9.7 points per game, allowed CC one first down in the second quarter and none in third. Freshman Jayru Campbell had a record-tying five TD passes in the 49-13 win over CC in the championship game. That year’s team had Campbell, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Jourdan Lewis among 11 D-I players on defense, and gave up 29 points in five postseason games, but had three regular-season losses, falling two Farmington Hills Harrison once and Detroit Crockett twice.

Detroit Catholic Central, 2003 (13-1) — After winning five titles in the decade of the 1990s, the Shamrocks lost in the semis in 2000, then won three straight Division 1 titles. That streak culminated with the ’03 squad that gave up just 47 points in the regular season outside of a 33-27 loss to Detroit St. Martin dePorres. Led by Princeton-bound running back Derek Brooks, who’d rushed for 204 yards and four scores in the previous year’s title game, the Shamrocks rushed for 269 yards (172 by Brooks) in a 24-16 win over Utica Eisenhower in the 2003 D1 title game.

Detroit Country Day, 1995 (12-1) — Coming off two seasons where they’d gone a combined 20-5, losing in the semis in 1993 and the B finals to Belding in 1994, the Yellowjackets put it all together in 1995, and won the program’s second state title (first was 1986). The only loss on the season came in Week 3 against Stevensville Lakeshore. In the playoffs, Country Day beat Lumen Christi and Frankenmuth, and in the finals, DCDS held Muskegon Orchard View without a single passing completion or yards, and returned a fumble 42 years for a score. Team included future Notre Dame and NFL receiver Javin Hunter.

Farmington Hills Harrison, 2001 (14-0) — Future Michigan State star and NFL veteran Drew Stanton led the Hawks to their fifth straight title (three straight in D3 after two in A), beating Fruitport, 28-7, in the title game. The Hawks had to get past LaMarr Woodley and Saginaw in the semifinal matchup.

Fowler, 1995 (13-0) — One of four straight seasons where the Eagles allowed fewer than 62 points — and gave up 238 total points in the span, going 46-2 — Fowler won its second state championship, the first of back-to-back Class D titles. It was one of four titles in six seasons, but the last under Hall of Fame coach Steve Spicer, whose coaching career was cut short by a battle with cancer that claimed his life in 1988, just a few weeks after the Eagles’ last championship. In 1995, Fowler didn’t allow more than seven points to any regular-season opponent, and only gave up more than that once, in a 48-14 win over Peck in the Class D semifinals.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 2016 (13-1) — The 2017 team went 14-0 to win a D4 title (and avenged the only loss of the year prior by beating Grand Rapids West Catholic), but the 2016 GRCC team allowed just 112 points on the season, and just 17 points in a dominating postseason run, culminating in a 10-7 win over Detroit Country Day in the D4 title game. 

Grand Rapids West Catholic, 2016 (12-2) — The Falcons’ 2016 team gave up just 145 points on the season, more than seven points once after Week 3, and 27 points total in five playoff games. The Falcons beat Menominee, 43-7, in the D5 title game.

Jackson Lumen Christi, 2000 (14-0) — Through the first five weeks of play, the Titans had allowed just seven points. They’d end up giving up just 22 points through nine regular-season games, and 85 on the season.) The 2001 team actually had a better point differential (plus-480 points, up from 458.) Both teams went unbeaten, with the 2000 team beating Spring Lake, 42-15, in the title game, and the 2001 squad shutting out Livonia Clarenceville, 49-0. The 2000 team was the first of four titles in five seasons for the Titans, who lost in the 2002 semis to Riverview.

Lake Orion, 2010 (13-1) — Two years after they bookended their season with losses to Rockford in Week 1 and in the D1 finals, the Dragons broke through for their first — and to date only — state title in 2010. The only loss that year was a 28-6 setback to Farmington Hills Harrison’s squad that ranked No. 3 on our top 25 list. The Dragons outscored their opponents by 351 points that season, giving up seven points or fewer in half of their 14 games, and allowing just 154 total on the year. Lake Orion snuck past Utica Eisenhower (17-10) in regionals, Cass Tech in the semis (24-21) and Plymouth in the finals (21-13), with Air Force-bound Marques Stevenson racking up 186 yards on the ground in the title game.

Mendon, 2011 (14-0) — From 1989, when legendary head coach John Schwartz took the head coaching job, until 2016, when he retired, the Hornets won double-digit games 20 times, and captured 10 state titles. Maybe no Mendon team was as dominant as Schwartz’s last title squad in 2011, when the Hornets allowed just 47 regular-season points (22 of those to Berrien Springs) and posted six shutouts, including a 33-0 win over Fowler in the D8 finals. Mendon outscored its opponents 631-97 that season, one of three unbeaten seasons under Schwartz.

Montague, 2009 (14-0) — After semifinal losses in 2005, 2006 and 2007, the Wildcats finally cashed in twice with eventual Central Michigan quarterback Cody Kater at the helm, winning the D6 title in 2008 and 2009. Kater, who led the Wildcats to a 27-1 record and two titles in his final two seasons, accounted for more than 3,700 total yards and 47 touchdowns as a senior in ’09, finishing his career with 79 touchdown passes, at the time the second most on the state’s all-time list. He ran for 128 yards and a score and threw for 251 yards and a touchdown in Montague’s 24-21 win over Monroe St. Mary CC in the D6 title game, punching in the winning score with 5:58 left. The 2009 Montague team went unbeaten, posting four shutouts and outscoring opponents by 410 points on the season, including a 190-51 margin in the playoffs. A 47-16 win over Ithaca in the semifinals that year was the last loss before that program’s dynasty ripped off 69 straight wins and four straight titles.

Muskegon, 2008 (14-0) — Since 1950, the Big Reds have had unbeaten seasons eight times (1951, 1965, 1966, 1971, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2017), and won the state championship six times. The 2008 team handed eventual D1 champ Rockford its only loss of the season, 34-6 in Week 8, and had just three games (two with Hudsonville) within a touchdown, beating Warren De La Salle 34-14 in the title game. It was the last of three titles under Tony Annese before he went off to college, ending a nine-year run where Muskegon went 92-15.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 1999 (13-1) — From 1999 to 2001, the Eaglets lost four total games, playing in the Division 4 title game each season, and winning the first two of those matchups. The 1999 Eaglets outscored opponents by 343 points on the season, a point differential only bettered by the 1977 squad (plus-383) since 1950, that despite a 63-44 loss to Birmingham Brother Rice that was the lone blemish on the record.  Anthony Sherrell (Eastern Michigan’s all-time leading rusher) had 122 yards and a pair of scores in the 34-13 win over Grand Rapids South Christian in the D4 title game, while Jermaine Gonzales threw a pair of TD passes to future University of Michigan basketball teammate Maurice Searight.

Ottawa Lake Whiteford, 2017 (14-0) — Went 14-0 to win D8 title, set state records for yards in a season, TDs in a season, rushing TDs in a season (3rd in rush yards in a season). Beat Saginaw Nouvel, 42-21 — racking up 341 yards rushing — to win D8 title after finishing runner-up to the last of Muskegon Catholic Central’s four straight title teams. Outscored teams 737-183 (average of 40 ppg.)

Pewamo-Westphalia 2016 (14-0) — Three times, the Pirates allowed just two first downs in a game, set state record for INTs in a game with eight vs. Potterville. Allowed just 117 points (8.4 ppg.), 40 in the regular season, and posted six shutouts. P-W beat Detroit Loyola 28-14 for D7 title, first of two in a row, after losing in finals year prior. Jared Smith finished his career with 806 points (124 TDs, 31 2-pt), the third-most all time. His 124 TDs are also 3rd-most all-time. (His 3,250 yards, 53 TDs in 2015 were highest single-season totals in MHSAA history) Smith had 2,570 yards, 38 TDs in 2016. The Pirates had 28 team interceptions. 

Ravenna, 1996 (12-1) — Benny Clark ended up Michigan’s all-time leading rusher (at the time) with 7,212. Had a record 49 rush attempts for 212 yards in the Class C title game against Morenci, as Ravenna won its first of back-to-back titles. Clark had 2,680 yards in 1996, the single-season record at the time (now 15th).

Saginaw, 1999 (12-2) — Lost to Midland and Saginaw Heritage (with future NFL player Stu Schweigert at quarterback) in the regular season, but paid Schweigert back in district finals. Beat Brother Rice, 14-7 in D2 title game. After the Heritage loss (Sept. 24), the Trojans wouldn’t lose again until 2000 D2 final vs. Hudsonville (21 straight). Charles Rogers was a parade All-American, finished his career with 2,525 yards receiving and 40 TDs, before duplicating the All-American status at Michigan State, and getting drafted at the top of the first round by the Detroit Lions. 

Saginaw Nouvel, 2011 (13-0) — Recently retired Mike Boyd has more state titles than his father and predecessor, Hall of Famer Leo “Smokey” Boyd, and his dad’s cousin, Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes Hall of Famer Mike Boyd put together, winning three of them on the sidelines at Nouvel. The 2006 squad allowed just a measly 78 points all season, posting five shutouts and allowing no more than the 14 points they gave up to Inkster in the title game, but it was the 2011 team that had — by far — the program’s best point differential (plus 465), as that year’s team scored a ridiculous 561 points (average of 43 points per game). Only once were they held below a four-touchdown output — in a 14-3 win over TC St. Francis in the D7 semifinals.

Schoolcraft, 2001 (14-0) — One of only two unbeaten seasons in program history (1988 was the other), the Eagles went had double-digits wins for the third straight year, avenging the previous year’s 31-20 loss to Whittemore-Prescott in the D6 finals by beating McBain, 26-8, for the program’s second state title. After getting by Constantine, 21-19, in the St. Joe Valley opener, the Eagles wouldn’t be tested again until Week 8, when they played unbeaten Mendon, pulling gout a 12-6 win. The Eagles pulled out six-point wins against Hopkins (28-22) and Montague (42-36) in the district and regional rounds, then a nine-point win over Hudson in the semis. The side story is more impressive, though, as the Eagles lost one of their teammates right before the season in a car accident, then had their field/press box partially destroyed by high winds late in the season.