DETROIT – The Lansing Catholic defense spent the postseason nearing its peak performance.
In Friday’s MHSAA Division 6 Football Final, the Cougars reached it.
They forced five turnovers and shut down a powerful Warren Michigan Collegiate run game on their way to a 16-6 victory at Ford Field.
“Our defense is just something special. It’s a true brotherhood,” Lansing Catholic senior linebacker Mason Knippen said. “We just really started clicking as the playoffs started. Going into the season, we wanted to be a physical defense. We preached that through camp, and I think we really stepped that up as we progressed through the playoffs. We really were physical with the run and everything.”
The title was the third for Lansing Catholic (13-1), and second in three years, as it won Division 5 in 2019.
“It’s awful special, but credit (former coach) Jim Ahern for bringing in this system, and credit these guys – these guys are all like my sons,” said first-year Lansing Catholic coach Jim Baker, whose son Joey was the team's starting quarterback. “I’ve coached them since basically kindergarten, and they’re all my sons. It’s just that (Joey) happened to be the quarterback, but I love all these guys to death. It’s special just to be the head coach of these unbelievable men.”
To win title No. 3, Lansing Catholic needed to hold off a suddenly explosive Michigan Collegiate passing game in the fourth quarter, and it did so with big plays of its own. Four of the final five Michigan Collegiate drives ended with a turnover, as Brandon Lewis, Dan Shipman and Knippen each had an interception, and Jack Jacobs forced and recovered a fumble. Knippen’s interception sealed the victory with 1:36 remaining in the game.
Lansing Catholic gave up only 40 points, or eight per game, during its playoff run.
Neither team could get much going for much of the first half, and for Lansing Catholic that meant some great field position going to waste. Lansing Catholic started four of its first five drives in Collegiate territory, but didn’t get on the board until Jonah Richards hit a 20-yard field goal with 4:58 to play in the second quarter.
“I’m so proud of (the defense). They played so hard,” Michigan Collegiate coach John Guth said. “They were out there a long time. We were trying to give certain individuals some breathers, but they were just really grinding it out. They knew what they had in front of them, they knew how explosive they were, but, man, they played so good. They kept us in the game.”
The offense started clicking for Lansing Catholic on its next possession, as it drove 72 yards on eight plays in just 1:18 to take a 9-0 halftime lead, scoring on a 10-yard pass from Joey Baker to Owen Biergans.
Michigan Collegiate (11-3) had a much tougher time of it, recording two first downs and 53 yards of offense in the first half despite holding a slight edge in time of possession.
Lansing Catholic extended its lead to 16-0 late in the third quarter on a one-yard touchdown run from Baker, and it was the defense that had a big hand in that one, as well. The drive started on the Michigan Collegiate 27-yard line after an interception and return by Shipman.
Based on the tenor of the game up until then, 16 points seemed like enough, but the Michigan Collegiate offense found some life on the ensuing drive thanks to some big plays in the pass game. That included a 37-yard touchdown pass from Deion Black to Trevon Redding in which Redding caught the ball between a pair of Lansing Catholic defenders, and lunged into the end zone with one on his back. The two-point attempt failed, leaving it a two-score game at 16-6, but the 80-yard drive more than doubled the Michigan Collegiate total yardage up to that point.
Black finished with 220 yards on 10 of 26 passing. Redding led the receivers with four catches for 97 yards. Alfonso Gray III had a pair of interceptions for the Michigan Collegiate defense, while Black, Elijah Bush and Teshawn Thomas each had nine tackles.
Biergans led the Lansing Catholic defense with 11, while Knippen had eight. Baker finished with 181 yards on 17 of 39 passing. Senior Alex Watters caught six passes for 78 yards, and Biergans caught seven for 69.
PHOTOS (Top) Lansing Catholic celebrates its second championship in three seasons Friday at Ford Field. (Middle) The Cougars’ Brandon Lewis (24) cuts upfield as Michigan Collegiate’s Alfonso Gray III (3) gets in position to make contact. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
SOUTHFIELD — Normally, having students come up and say they won’t be in school the next day might have a school administrator seething and ready to reserve seats in the detention room.
But if there ever was a time to allow it, this was the moment.
Following a 36-32 upset of Belleville that stunned many around the state in the MHSAA Division 1 Football Final on Nov. 26, Southfield Arts & Technology senior quarterback Isaiah Marshall said he and other players made it known, “Don’t expect us in school on Monday.”
After all, the game was played and ended late on a Sunday night, the team achieved something nobody else in the community had done, and there were celebrations that needed to begin.
And for the record, the players were back in school Tuesday.
Whether it’s been in school or outside the halls of Southfield A&T, it’s been a week of historic celebrations and congratulations after the Warriors captured the first MHSAA Finals championship in school history.
Marshall said that remained the case when he attended the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis on Saturday.
“Everywhere I go, there is someone congratulating me,” he said.
Over their final decades before the schools merged in 2016, Southfield High School and Southfield-Lathrup High School had plenty of talented teams with numerous players who went on to play big-time college football and even in the NFL.
But none of those good teams was able to advance to a state championship game, let alone win it all.
“There was a lot of people that texted me and talked to me and said they graduated from the 1980s,” said Marshall, pointing out that one former player who reached out was Nic Jones, currently a member of the Kansas City Chiefs who graduated from Southfield High. “There were a lot of older people that used to go to Southfield that told me that they couldn’t do the job. They were proud of us that we could do it for them.”
Marshall said that after the game was over Sunday, he and other teammates congregated at his house at 3 a.m. to watch a replay of the game.
It was only the first time this week the replay was watched.
“We watched it that day and the day after,” Marshall said. “I think we’ve been watching it the whole week.”
A parade Saturday will start at noon at the building that housed the old Southfield-Lathrup and finish at the current school, which was the home of Southfield High before the merger. A&T then will host a celebration in the school gymnasium from 1:15-2:30 p.m.
Players will certainly soak it all in while they can, because it won’t be long before they split up.
Marshall will soon sign to play in college for Kansas and will be enrolling early there. He plans to take his last final exams at Southfield A&T next week and head to Lawrence the first week of January.
Teammate Jalen Todd will do the same as he is also committed to Kansas, while Tashi Braceful will enroll early at Toledo.
But long after this year, it’s a group that won’t be forgotten in the community, or the state after it pulled off the upset of a Belleville team that was riding a 38-game winning streak and was two-time reigning Division 1 champion.
No doubt, future reunions should be memorable and festive.
Even Marshall admitted his still rubs his eyes in amazement over what his team did.
“Yes, I still do,” he said.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTOS (Top) Southfield A&T players enjoy the first moments after their Division 1 championship win at Ford Field. (Middle) The A&T band plays during a break in the action. (Below) Fans celebrate in the stands during the victory over Belleville. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)