Photo Credit: Lou Murray
With the Semifinals in the rear-view mirror and the State Championships up next, our Nick Tuori shares some of his favorite thoughts, stats and tidbits on the latest on the gridirion.
1. Lawton is this tournament’s best story. The Blue Devils ran through the regular season without a blemish. Many thought that their playoff run would be short-lived, as they were on the same side of the bracket as Lumen Christi, Muskegon Catholic and Ravenna. The Blue Devils overcame four second half turnovers to defeat the Titans in the semifinals. Most teams would just roll over with that many miscues against a perennial power. It says something about the culture Coach Waldrup has instilled at Lawton that they kept battling and ultimately got it done. Landon Motter was a part of all three touchdowns in the 21-20 victory, and he ran for the winning conversion. Coach Waldrup’s team is practicing on Thanksgiving morning, but can they take down the powerful Pewamo Westphalia Pirates? PW has built a football factory, with 5 State Championship game appearances the past seven years, 3 titles in that span, and a 85-5 record!
2. Unity Christian is about to set history. The ‘Saders have scored 751 points in 13 weeks, including a remarkable 58 points against Edwardsburg. The Eddies defense had allowed just 56 points all year prior to this game! With just the D4 title game left against Chelsea, they are 23 points shy of the MHSAA single season scoring record (774, 1999 Orchard View). Not only do I think they break this record in the first half of next week’s game, I think that they become the first time in MHSAA history to score at least 800. Only once have the ‘Saders scored less than 49 this year, and that came back in a 46-7 win over Allendale.
3. Unity’s opponent in Friday’s semifinal is Chelsea. The Bulldogs had a thrilling goal-line stand at the end of the game against Freeland, a 30-27 win. It was the second straight unsuccessful quest for the Falcons, as they lost in the 13th game once again. Chelsea is playing in their third title game since 2015, and still looking for the program’s first title. They lost to strong Edwardsburg and Orchard Lake St Mary’s teams in the past, but nobody has been as dominant as this Unity Christian bunch.
4. The most remarkable comeback came in Division 8 with the Hudson Tigers. Trailing 22-0 in the second quarter, the Tigers scored 28 unanswered to take the lead. Ottawa Lake Whiteford had a last-second attempt, but the Tigers pitched a goal-line stand. Hudson is back in the State Championship game for the first time since 2010, and the fifth time in program history. This game is added to the historic lore of Hudson football, alongside the record-setting 72-game win streak.
5. The “Beal City Blues” are a State Championship phenomenon throughout the history of the playoffs. Eight separate Aggies teams have reached the finals, and just two have delivered a championship (1994, 2009). Whether it was a 21-0 stunner against Martin in 1987, a 20-0 shutout against Mendon in 2001, or losses to powerhouse teams like 2003 DePorres, 2012 Harbor Beach, 2013 Muskegon Catholic Central or 2019 Reading, the Aggies have never been in a State Championship game that was within single digits. Will this change against Hudson?
6. Last year, the four largest divisions all had a chance for repeat champions. Mona Shores was the only team to accomplish that feat. In 2021, there are two teams that can secure a second straight State Championship. Division 3 will send the DeWitt Panthers back to the final game, where they will face Detroit King. In Division 5, Grand Rapids Catholic Central will square off with Marine City. More on these games later, but if they both suffer a defeat, it would be the first time since 2006 there were zero repeat champions.
7. Grand Rapids Catholic Central is in the midst of a dynasty. They are back at Ford Field for the fifth time in six years, looking to capture the Division 5 crown. After posting a 1-2 record in their first three State Championships (losses in 1978 and 2005, win in 1987), the Cougars have won their last five championship games, dating back to 2010. The loss of Joey Silveri and seamless transition of John Passinault at quarterback is just the latest example of how GRCC is able to reboot and reload every fall. They lose key players annually, and the next guy steps up without skipping a beat. I really felt like Frankenmuth had improved from a year ago, and they finished only eight points closer than in 2020.
8. Marine City surprised many with their 27-7 win over Portland. They forced four crucial turnovers to return to Ford Field. This is the fourth trip for the Mariners, and the third time they have faced someone from the OK Conference. In 2011, they scored on their opening drive before giving up 45 straight points in a loss to Zeeland West. Two years later, they outlasted Jon Wassink and South Christian in a 49-35 shootout. Unfortunately for the Mariners, I expect it to be much more like 2011 this Saturday.
9. DeWitt and Detroit King has the potential to be an epic finale to the 8-game State Championship weekend. This all starts at quarterback, where DeWitt’s Ty Holtz will square off against King’s Dante Moore. DeWitt has 12 wins, all by at least 20 points. That includes a 47-27 win over Traverse City Central. King also has a 12 victories, taking down Cass Tech (twice), Mona Shores and River Rouge. Expect offensive fireworks galore in Division 3’s title bout.
10. Traverse City Central is in the State Championship for the fifth time, the first since 1988. The Trojans are 3-1 (wins in 1978, 1985 and 1988 and loss in 1975). In 1988, Traverse City was just one school with an enrollment of 3,600. Since then, they split into Central and West and neither team has returned to the final weekend. The Pilots, meanwhile, are in their fourth State Championship game in five seasons, looking for their third title in Division 2 in that time.
11. The Division 2 matchup has West Michigan ties, as it pits two Orchard View alums on the sidelines in Eric Schugars (TC Central) and Dan Rohn (WDLS). Schugars is the son of Jack Schugars, who won a pair of State Championships at Oakridge. Rohn also has a championship pedigree from his days at West Catholic, where he won 4 state titles.
12. We have a guaranteed first-time State Champion in Division 1. Rochester Adams is 13-0, after the Pirates beat Grand Blanc and West Bloomfield in consecutive weeks. Belleville took down Dearborn Fordson and Sterling Heights Stevenson to get to the finals at 12-1. It was a moment of long-awaited angst for the Belleville program, as the Tigers were playing in their fourth straight semifinal on Saturday. Just ten years removed from a 1-8 record, they will make their first trip to Ford Field on Championship Weekend.
13. The only games I haven’t talked about are in Division 6, where Lansing Catholic and Warren Michigan Collegiate punched their ticket to the finals. WMC started playing football in 2008, so this is their first trip to the finals. Lansing Catholic is playing in their fifth State Championship game, with a 2-2 all-time mark. Fun fact? The Cougars are 2-0 against public schools (1985 against St Ignace and 2019 against Almont). They are 0-2 against private schools (2011 Flint Powers Catholic and 2014 West Catholic). Technically, charter schools like WMC are public, so does that spell trouble for WMC in the “Battle of the Cougars”?
14. Division 6’s battle is just the fifth time in 11-man football that two teams have played in the State Championship game with the same mascot. This also occurred last year, in Division 3 when DeWitt faced River Rouge. Other previous occurrences? 1990 DePorres v Oakridge (Eagles); 1994 Glen Lake v Waterford Our Lady (Lakers); 1996 Ravenna v Morenci (Bulldogs). It also occurred in 8-man football in 2012 when Bellaire and Deckerville (Eagles) squared off.
15. After such an unconventional 2020 championship weekend that not only occurred in January, but was held with limited fans, leaving Ford Field feeling quite empty. I am looking forward to a far more “normal” 2021 championship weekend. The fans are a such a large part of what makes the State Championships special.