Last fall, both Caledonia and Traverse City Central saw their seasons end at the hands of Matt Koziak’s Mona Shores Sailors. In the 2021 playoffs, there will be a changing of the guard in Division 2, as the Sailors were dethroned on Friday evening. Caledonia had their way with Mona Shores, capturing a 49-12 victory. As a result, Friday’s Regional Championship between the Fighting Scots and Trojans will see a new team emerge from the Western half of the State with dreams of reaching Ford Field.

Caledonia is in the first-year under Head Coach Derek Pennington. Pennington has installed a new offensive system that has created opportunities for his players to thrive. This starts with quarterback Mason McKenzie, who has blossomed as a dual-threat weapon in his junior season. “Mason’s skill set fits this system perfectly,” Pennington shared. “He’s a 4.6 40 kid that can really spin the ball. Mason’s got the skills, but he also has the right mindset to be a quarterback. He is really smart, so he learned this offense quickly. But he is also poised, remaining calm throughout the game.”

McKenzie enters this game with 1,300 passing yards, 1,200 rushing yards and 36 total touchdowns. He has caught the eye of Traverse City Central Head Coach Eric Schugars on film. “The way he runs and moves, he can be tough to tackle. McKenzie is elusive.”

Mason McKenzie is hardly alone offensively, as Brock Townsend has rushed for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. Justice Reed is the team’s top receiver with over 500 yards, while Nick Fox has a team-high six receiving scores, including two last week against Mona Shores. “(Andrew) DeVries is solid up front as well,” Schugars added. “They want to run it, they’re physical and they have some great athletes all over the field.”

Traverse City Central has one of the state’s top 1-2 defensive punches in linebacker Josh Burnham and safety Carson Bourdo. Burnham, a 4-star linebacker according to 247Sports, is committed to Notre Dame as a top-10 linebacker nationally. He leads the team in tackles this fall. Bourdo had a remarkable season with 12 interceptions in 2020, and he returned an interception for a touchdown in last week’s 55-18 win over Bay City Western. Bourdo can also make an impact on special teams, as he returned a kickoff for a score last week.

Josh Burnham is one of the most-heralded players in the state of Michigan. Coach Schugars held high-praise for Burnham. “He’s a phenomenal player, and a leader by example. He is just as remarkable off the field too. Josh is such a humble kid, and he does so much to serve others. He is a guy that you just want to root for. An extremely gifted player, he plays with such a physicality and pure joy. Josh absolutely loves everything about the game.” In eleven games this year, Burnham has over 900 passing yards, 1,100 rushing yards, and 35 offensive touchdowns.

While most media focus is on Burnham, the Trojans’ offense starts up front. All five lineman currently hold college offers, and the unit brings over 1,200 combined pounds of power and strength to anchor the front line. Brett Weaver has recently committed to Grand Valley State, while the rest of this unit will decide on their future shortly. Keegan Opper, a 275-pound left tackle, holds 11 offers that include two Division 1 programs. This group of five seniors has helped the Trojans rush for over 3,500 yards on the season.

Reed Seabase has over 1,100 rushing yards for Traverse City Central. Bourdo, who is known for his stellar defensive efforts, is also the team’s top passing target. Their offense has been able to average 48.8 points per contest this fall.

Caledonia has their share of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, and that starts at the top with coordinator Whitney Bell. “Coach Bell has done a tremendous job with this defense. He has put our guys in great position to succeed every night,” Pennington praised. Andrew DeVries, Caleb Paarlberg and Tyler Burd anchor the Caledonia front line. “It starts up front for us. These are elite defensive linemen at the high school level”, Pennington remarked. “They create a lot of havoc.” Adding to the front seven are linebackers Ben Norris, Blake Herron and Luke Mandsager. When the Trojans air it out, Owen Graham and Jimmie Floyd captain the defensive backfield.

Caledonia prepared for the playoffs by facing tough teams in the OK Red like Grandville, Hudsonville and Rockford, but Traverse City Central had to be more creative. Playing in the Big North Conference, a league with teams in Division 1-4, the Trojans pushed themselves in non-conference play, facing DeWitt, Marquette, and Brother Rice. “It’s been the goal of our program to grow through non-league games, challenging ourselves,” Schugars explained. “These teams push you to be your best. That Brother Rice game was huge for us. They came up to our place, and it was a fun, playoff-like atmosphere. We had to raise our game to their level, and it resulted in a strong performance.” The Trojans won 56-13 against the Warriors, who remain alive in the Division 3 playoffs.

Though the game will be at Grandville High School, there is a buzz in the air throughout Caledonia for this game. “Caledonia is a great community for football,” Pennington shared. “We have had huge crowds and lots of excitement. I think our kids feed off of the support and energy.” This is the first Regional Final that Caledonia has played in since 2012, a game in which they defeated Mattawan 42-28. It is the first Regional Finals the Fighting Scots have hosted since 2005, when they defeated the Big North’s Cadillac Vikings 42-6 on their way to a Division 3 State Championship. Traverse City Central is looking to get back to the semifinals for the second straight year, with their eyes set on a berth in the State Championship game for the first time since capturing the 1988 Class A crown.

Both coaches shared the sentiment that at this stage in the Playoffs, there is no surprise that their opposition will be tough. “You’re in the quarterfinals now. When you get to this round, everyone is good, and everyone has talent,” Pennington shared. Schugars echoed this comment, indicating that even a single mistake can change the outcome. “Turnovers are the equalizer. They can swing a game and flip the score quickly. In the playoffs, running the football is key, so whoever can do that better on Friday will have a great shot.”