The final week of the regular season is on the horizon, and teams are battling across the state for conference titles and playoff positioning. One of the most anticipated matchups will take place in Lenawee County on Friday night. Britton Deerfield, undefeated champions of the Tri-River 8-Man Football Conference, will travel to Adrian for a showdown with Lenawee Christian. The Cougars are also unbeaten, and they are the champions of the Southern Michigan 8-Man Football League.
8-Man football is a new phenomenon at both schools. Britton Deerfield is in their first year of 8-Man football, while Adrian Lenawee Christian is amidst their second season. Last fall, Adrian Lenawee Christian ran the table, finishing with an 11-0 record as State Champions in 8-Man Division 1. This will be the first 8-man battle between the schools, but they met five times as 11-man schools between 2014 and 2018.
Britton Deerfield started their 2021 season with a forfeit victory. In their seven weeks on the gridiron since, they have dominated their opponents to the tune of a 428-44 margin. The closest challenge for the Patriots was twenty-six points, when they beat Northpointe Christian in Week 3. They come into this game off of a 75-0 thrashing of Stryker (OH).
Nico Johnson has been the star of the show for Britton Deerfield offensively. A legitimate candidate for 8-Man Player of the Year, Johnson has 1,006 passing yards and 1,058 rushing yards. In seven games, Nico Johnson has 36 total touchdowns, and just one turnover, which came on his first pass attempt of the season. “Nico has really stepped up, and it’s been amazing to watch this year,” Britton Deerfield Head Coach Erik Johnson shared in an interview. “The run game starts up front, and our lineman have been working tremendously hard all season”.
Lenawee Christian Head Coach Bill Wilharms echoed the sentiment that trench warfare will be key on Friday night. “It all starts up front. You have to control the line of scrimmage. When you have a player with the caliber of Nico, you have to win in the trenches. If they win the trench battles, he will have space to make plays.”
Other key skill players for Britton Deerfield are tailback Nick Wayne and wide receiver Mason Mueller. Wayne had 377 rushing yards and ten scores, while Mueller paces the receiving corps with 21 catches, 522 yards and nine touchdowns. Connor Alcock leads BD’s defense with 46 tackles, including 10 TFLs. Asher Wiser, Clayton Hauser and Jesse Null are amongst the other Patriots tasked with slowing down the ALC offense. Nico Johnson (three interceptions and 30 tackles) and Mason Mueller (2 interceptions, 7 pass breakups) anchor the secondary.
Adrian Lenawee Christian enters Friday night’s game on a 19-game winning streak. They have outscored their opponents 443-59. The Cougars have pitched three shutouts this fall, including their 75-0 win over Bellevue last week. “Our conference is extremely tough,” Wilharms shared. “We were tested by really strong teams in our league. Athens, Colon and Climax-Scotts are really good challenges to prepare us for the playoffs and games like Friday night”.
Balance is the key for Adrian Lenawee Christian offensively. “We try to spread the football around, and exploit the weaknesses of our opposition. BD is a really tough team though, so finding those weaknesses may be a problem.” It has always been the philosophy of Coach Wilharms to get multiple players involved in the offense. “By balancing the weapons, you get your receivers to run their routes harder. They can all be the target on any play. As a result, everyone is engaged in the action. Everyone is involved and ready to go when their number is called.”
Ashur Bryja is the signal-caller for the Cougars, and he enters Friday night’s game with 18 touchdowns on the season. Clay Ayers has racked up 530 rushing yards, and Elliot Addleman paces the team with 27 receptions for eight scores. Other players, such as Collin Davis, Nick Stuart, and Tyler Van Ettern will be looked at to make plays as skill threats on this Lenawee Christian club. Davis is the defense’s leading tackler with 63 tackles. Up front, Coby Kegerreis, Isaac Yape, Jacob Morton, and Josiah Henley anchor the trenches.
“This is clearly the best opponent we have faced all year,” Coach Johnson stated. “There’s a reason they’ve never lost an 8-man game. Coach Wilharms and staff do a great job of preparing their kids, and they are extremely talented, especially up front.”
“This is a great moment for Lenawee County, and for small-school football”, Wilharms shared. “Their community travels well, our community supports our team, and it should be a great atmosphere.”
“It’s going to come down to tackling and execution. There are four or five players that will decide this game, whether those come in the form of a turnover, a big play, or a mistake,” Johnson stated. “Whoever controls those big moments will win this game.”
Kickoff is set for 7:00 on Friday at Lenawee Christian. This game, as well as nearly 40 others, will be recapped on Friday evening on Michigan Sports Radio.