By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The best have risen to the occasion this MHSAA Football Playoffs. But this weekend's 11-player Regional Finals and 8-player Semifinals are guaranteed to be the final stop for a handful of teams that haven't experienced a loss this fall.
Of 20 teams still undefeated, 12 will face each other in six games over five divisions, with two matchups coming in Division 8.
Most of those matchups are among games highlighted in this week's "Drive for Detroit" preview powered by MI Student Aid. Read on for details on one game from each 11-player division and both 8-player matchups, and remember to visit MHSAA.com for the full schedule, scores this weekend as they come in and next week's matchups as they're determined.
All games below are Friday unless noted.
Detroit Cass Tech (11-0) at Saline (11-0)
This will be the third playoff collision in five seasons for these powers; Saline won the most recent, a 2014 Semifinal. The Hornets’ last three wins were over teams that finished a combined 25-7, and last week they hung on for a 37-31 victory over Canton despite giving up more than two touchdowns for the first time since Week 3. Cass Tech’s last three wins were over teams a combined 26-2, and its defense has been even more stifling allowing only a touchdown apiece to Dearborn and Dearborn Fordson the last two weeks and 8.8 points per game total this season.
Other Regional Finals: Romeo (8-3) at Clarkston (9-2), Southfield Arts & Technology (8-3) at Utica Eisenhower (11-0), Grandville (10-1) at Detroit Catholic Central (11-0) on Saturday.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (9-2) at Lowell (11-0)
Lowell doesn’t lose often; the Red Arrows haven’t had more than three defeats in a season since 1999. So Forest Hills Central had to be smarting for a while after letting a 17-point fourth-quarter lead disappear in its 41-37 loss to Lowell in Week 7. Lowell has cruised through back-to-back 42-17 wins the last two weeks over Greenville and Traverse City Central as it seeks to return to Ford Field for the second straight year, but no doubt expects a closer game with the Rangers seeking their first Regional title since 1995.
Other Regional Finals: Grosse Pointe South (8-3) at Birmingham Groves (10-1), Fenton (9-2) at Walled Lake Western (10-1) on Saturday, Temperance Bedford (9-2) at Detroit Martin Luther King (9-2) on Saturday.
Edwardsburg (11-0) at Chelsea (11-0)
The Eddies are 66-11 over the last seven seasons and 32-3 over the last three but are coming into a Regional Final undefeated for the first time during this run. It’s hard to not point at an incredible defensive average of giving up only 5.2 points per game with five shutouts. But it’s also hard to imagine Chelsea being held scoreless; that would be a first since a 2014 Regional Final loss. The Bulldogs also can equal last season’s school record for wins by earning this one.
Other Regional Finals: Byron Center (10-1) at Muskegon (10-1), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (7-4) at DeWitt (10-1), Dearborn Divine Child (9-2) at Allen Park (11-0).
Lake Odessa Lakewood (10-1) vs. Hudsonville Unity Christian (9-2) at Jenison
It was fair to predict last week that neither of these teams would still be playing today, but they’ve certainly earned the opportunity. Lakewood downed Lansing Sexton by eight to advance and Unity Christian got past undefeated Benton Harbor in overtime, and both now can win a Regional title for the first time. Both also have set program records for wins this fall, and Lakewood’s Pre-District victory was its first ever in the playoffs.
Other Regional Finals: Adrian (7-4) at River Rouge (10-1), Escanaba (9-2) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (10-1) on Saturday, Corunna (9-2) at Detroit Country Day (11-0) on Saturday.
Menominee (10-1) at Reed City (11-0), Saturday
The Coyotes have been poised for a run like this for a while, with four 10-1 finishes over the last five seasons but this only the second Regional Final appearance in program history. A sterling average of 8.3 points given up per game was hurt only a little by Remus Chippewa Hills’ 28 last week. But Reed City’s defense has arguably its toughest challenge in the Maroons. Menominee has cleared 10 wins for the fifth straight season and saved its usually eye-popping offensive numbers for the last month – it has scored at least 50 points three of the last five weeks and put up 61 on Grayling in the District Final.
Other Regional Finals: Ida (10-1) at Algonac (10-1), Frankenmuth (10-1) at Ithaca (11-0) on Saturday, Grand Rapids West Catholic (9-2) at Berrien Springs (8-2) on Saturday.
Detroit Central Collegiate (7-4) at Millington (10-1)
We’re used to seeing Detroit Public School League leaders Cass Tech and Martin Luther King this deep into the playoffs, and at times the former Crockett-now-East English as well. But Detroit Central has come back from a 1-4 start to reach a Regional Final for the first time since 2010. Millington, meanwhile, has 10 wins for the first time since 2011 and is looking for its first Regional title since 2010. The Cardinals will aim to continue a stifling defensive effort that has given up only 8.3 points per game.
Other Regional Finals: Maple City Glen Lake (9-2) at Calumet (10-1) on Saturday, Leroy Pine River (8-3) at Ravenna (9-2) on Saturday, Napoleon (9-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (9-2) on Saturday.
Pewamo-Westphalia (11-0) at Traverse City St. Francis (11-0), Saturday
This is familiar territory for both programs: St. Francis will play in its fourth Regional Final in six seasons, while P-W will play in its sixth straight this decade. We've talked about record-setting running back Jared Smith this week (click for more), but the Pirates will take advantage of a variety of offensive weapons to try to break through a Gladiators defense giving up only 5.6 points per game.
Other Regional Finals: Concord (9-2) vs. Cassopolis (10-1) at Decatur, Detroit Loyola (9-2) at Hudson (10-1), Ubly (11-0) vs. New Lothrop (10-1) at Chesaning on Saturday.
Frankfort (11-0) at Muskegon Catholic Central (11-0), Saturday
Frankfort gets another chance to take down perennial power MCC after falling to the Crusaders 22-12 in the Regional Final in 2015. But this is a stronger Panthers team that has scored nearly 100 more points but also knows how to win close, as it has done twice including last week against Lincoln Alcona. Frankfort will need all of its expertise against the reigning three-time Division 8 champion, which is also putting up even better numbers than a year ago and hasn't let an opponent within two touchdowns this fall.
Other Regional Finals: Climax-Scotts (11-0) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (11-0), Norway (9-2) at St. Ignace (10-1) on Saturday, Royal Oak Shrine (9-2) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (9-2) on Saturday.
Pickford (10-1) at Powers North Central (11-0)
Pickford, in its second season of 8-player, has reached the Semifinals for the first time since 1991. The Panthers last week avenged their only loss this season by edging Engadine in a Regional Final, and now will attempt to hand reigning champion North Central its first loss also in two seasons of 8-player. This Jets team is reminiscent of last year's champion and also the back-to-back Class D boys basketball champions, mostly because it is led by senior quarterback Jason Whitens. He's thrown for 2,170 yards and 40 touchdowns and run for 15 more scores.
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (11-0) at Deckerville (10-0), Saturday
Tri-unity's first playoff run is now only one more win from the championship game, and the Defenders have made it by following senior quarterback Brayden Sherrod (2,104 yards/37 touchdowns rushing, 1,610 yards/21 TDs passing.) Deckerville has owned the line of scrimmage and dominated as a result, running for nearly 3,000 yards and holding its opponents to 323 and only 44 points – 150 fewer points than at this point when it won the MHSAA title in 2012.
Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTO: Menominee and DeWitt met in Week 8 (the Panthers won 48-14) and both will play in Regional Finals this weekend. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)