By Jason Schmitt
Special for Second Half
DETROIT – As the final seconds ran off the clock during the Division 4 championship game Friday night at Ford Field, it all began to set in for Detroit Country Day senior Danny MacLean.
He finally got to see his dad, Yellowjackets’ head coach Dan, win an MHSAA Football Finals championship.
“I’ve been here five times now, we hadn’t won a game at Ford Field,” the younger MacLean said. “I was always the ball boy, the water boy out on the field. Now, senior year, coming out here and getting one for that guy, it means the world to me. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Country Day defeated first-time finalist Cadillac, 13-0, picking up its third-straight shutout in these playoffs. The Yellowjackets last won a Finals championship in 1999, that coming in MacLean’s second year as the head coach at the school. His teams fell a win short in 2007, 2008, 2012, 2016 and again in 2019.
“I thought I couldn’t win in Ford Field. I was like, ‘Can we get the Silverdome back?,’” MacLean joked after the game. “It is very good to be back (winning). This was wonderful to do this, especially with this group of kids in particular. I said it many times this week. I was a single guy when I started at Country Day 36 years ago, and (Danny) is my youngest child of five, and it’s just a joy.”
MacLean’s children – Jack, Maureen, Mike, Kathleen and Danny – all graduated (or will) from Country Day. Each of the three boys played football for the Yellowjackets.
“He’s built a family around (Country Day),” Danny said.
MacLean and fellow senior Nick Wachol spearheaded a dominant Yellowjackets defense, which limited the Vikings to just 166 total yards. MacLean and Wachol each finished with a team-leading nine tackles. Wachol had three tackles for a loss to go along with two sacks. MacLean had a key interception late in the second quarter, helping to keep Cadillac off the scoreboard just before halftime.
“We’ve been riding our defense all year,” Coach MacLean said. “They just have a tremendous amount of pride, and they just do their job. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my coaches. John Wilson, Steve Mann, who’s been with us a long time. Dave Furlong and Jake Topp, who was really instrumental tonight. He is more of an offensive guy in certain ways, but he designed that scheme to stop their option and the kids executed.”
Cadillac used five running backs in the game, along with junior quarterback Aden Gurden, who led the team with 14 carries. Junior Collin Johnston led the Vikings with 53 yards rushing, while sophomore Kaleb McKinley and Gurden added 39 and 37, respectively.
Coach Cody Mallory’s team moved the ball at times against Country Day’s stout defense, but couldn’t finish when it needed to.
“Their defense is very good; they’re very physical,” Mallory said. “I felt like this was the first time all year that we haven’t been able to move the ball. Even in our losses prior to this, we were able to get things going on offense. Country Day was extremely physical up front and very fast on the back end.”
Country Day opened its scoring with a pair of Graham Doman field goals in the second quarter. The first came with 11:09 to play in the half, as Cadillac’s defense turned the Yellowjackets away and forced them to settle for a 19-yard field goal. Same thing happened later in the second quarter, as the Vikings’ red-zone defense forced Country Day to kick a 26-yard field goal with 3:42 left before the break.
The Yellowjackets’ offense scored its lone touchdown of the game with a 12-play drive which took 6:33 off the clock to open the third quarter. Four Country Day players ran the ball, with freshman Gabe Winowich capping things off with a four-yard touchdown to give his team a 13-0 lead.
From there, the defense took over for the Yellowjackets. Cadillac had just six possessions in the game. The Vikings punted twice, turned the ball over on downs twice, threw the interception to MacLean, with the sixth possession ending at halftime. Senior Joe Miller collected eight tackles in the win, while juniors Caleb Mathis-Miller and Brandon Mann each added six.
Offensively, Country Day just wore Cadillac down. Junior Parker Yearego had 12 carries for 71 yards, and Mann had 11 more for 40 yards. In all, the Yellowjackets rushed the ball 36 times. Mann was also 11-for-14 passing for 106 yards.
“If you can keep the ball away from them, then they get frustrated,” MacLean said. “They like to bleed the clock. We kind of flipped the script on them. The key was our defense allowed us to get them off the field at times.”
While Country Day was making its ninth trip to the championship game, it was Cadillac’s first time playing for a title. Mallory was proud of the way his team battled Friday night and excited his program could proudly represent northern Michigan.
“I feel like football up north does get overlooked a bit,” Mallory said. “I’m really happy our conference had two teams go deep in the playoffs. That says a lot about where football is up there.”
Mallory said it was a great learning experience for his team.
“It takes failure for you to grow,” Mallory said. “While there were a lot of successes to get us to this point, in this game, we fell short and we’re going to have to grow.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Danny MacLean raises the trophy as Detroit Country Day celebrates its Division 4 championship Friday. (Middle) Country Day’s Caleb Mathis-Miller (48) helps drive Cadillac’s Collin Johnston out of bounds. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
SCHOOLCRAFT — If it is a home game for the Schoolcraft football team, head over to Vicksburg.
If it is soccer, go to Schoolcraft’s baseball field.
Things are a bit jumbled in the sports world for the Eagles this season.
With a new football field under construction and a new elementary school built on the site of the former practice fields, the two teams have been a bit displaced.
“Along with our football field, we had three practice fields that were utilized by a lot of our youth programs, Rocket football, youth soccer and our soccer and football programs,” Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin said. “It’s taken a lot of understanding and flexibility from our coaches, players and our community to make it work out, and it has.”
Meanwhile, all four Eagles home football games will be played at Vicksburg High School.
If Vicksburg is home on a Friday, then the Eagles will play Saturday, including their Homecoming game this Saturday against Galesburg-Augusta.
The Eagles won their only “home” game so far, 33-14 against Kalamazoo United, and take a 3-1 record into Saturday’s contest.
The soccer team gave up its field to the football team for practices and has been practicing and playing their matches in the outfield of the baseball stadium.
For the soccer team, “It’s kind of an upgrade,” Applin said. “The soccer field they traditionally play on, they don’t have a scoreboard, they don’t have a bathroom facility, so we’ve been able to use the (baseball) scoreboard, the PA system, open up the bathroom building.
“The goal at some point is to give soccer a home, and we’re very, very excited about that.”
This year definitely has been challenging for the first-year AD, who credits Vicksburg athletic director Mike Roy with being a tremendous help.
“Mike Roy has been nothing but accommodating to us,” Applin said. “He’s been super helpful to me stepping in and assuming this scenario.
“The communities are so close, it almost feels like home for us.”
Roy said Jeff Clark, former Schoolcraft AD, reached out once the bond was passed for the new stadium last year.
“We had to make small accommodations as did Schoolcraft to make the schedules work,” Roy said. “By moving (Schoolcraft’s) games to Saturday, Vicksburg had to work with our Rocket football organization to make sure games were completed” before the Eagles varsity games.
Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency said his team has been “rolling with the punches.
“These guys don’t care where it’s at; they just want to play football. We’re all taking care of each other. What a great place to be when everybody works together.”
When Jake Bailey heard the team would be playing at Vicksburg, “That got me excited,” the junior offensive tackle said. “They’ve got a really nice facility. I know the school will come out to support us no matter where we are, but it’s definitely different.
“Good thing we don’t play Vicksburg, although it would be fun because it would be both our home fields. The new facilities and being back at our home field at Roy Davis (Field next year) will be really fun.”
Vicksburg is Division 4, while Schoolcraft is Division 7.
The soccer team was “just being a team player” in giving up its own field for football practice, second-year head coach Jeremy Mutchler said.
“For the soccer team to be a team player and get behind the football team will help the community get behind the soccer team as well,” he added.
The biggest drawback is that part of the current field includes a piece of the baseball infield.
“The only odd thing is it is a smaller field, still regulation size, but smaller,” Mutchler said. “Part of the field is in the diamond, so we have to play in the dirt and it gets tricky, especially when you’re trying to throw it in or just play down the line.”
The move has cost the team a few home games.
“At the beginning of the year, we allowed schools, if they didn’t want to play here, we would go to their house,” Mutchler said. “We had to go to a few schools we would have played at home.”
Maintenance supervisor Eric McGehee was instrumental in preparing the field.
“He laid out exactly the parameters, so I was able to send that to all the ADs that were going to visit to give them an opportunity to decide whether that’s something they wanted to help us out for our home games,” Applin said. “A lot of schools were more than willing to come and play us to give our boys some home games. A couple wanted to be cautious and play on a more traditional surface, and we were able to make those arrangements as well.”
In only its second year as a varsity sport, the boys soccer team is still finding its identity, posting a 2-5 record so far.
“We’re a very young team,” Mutchler said. “All juniors and freshmen. This is the juniors' second regular season. It’s all been a learning phase with maturity and sportsmanship.”
Junior captain Jack Curtis said he was a bit “bummed out” when he heard the team would move to the baseball field.
“The first practice, I drove over to our practice field,” he said. “No one was there.
“I drove over to the high school and saw everyone practicing (at the baseball field). I didn’t think a soccer field could fit on a baseball field.”
Curtis said in spite of the temporary move, “I’m just glad we can have some home games this year on Schoolcraft soil.”
As for Applin, he spent much of his career coaching basketball at both the high school and college levels and most recently worked as a salesman for Zeigler. His wife, Meredith, is an assistant coach for Western Michigan University’s women’s basketball team.
Ferency is appreciative of the work Clark and Applin have done to make this season’s changes relatively seamless.
“I’d like to highlight how great our athletic department is,” he said. “It takes a lot of moving pieces and parts to move people around and have a space for everybody.
“I’m really proud of our athletic department and all our coaches and kids for just rolling with the punches.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Schoolcraft’s varsity boys soccer team, including Nyan Wonders (15), faces Comstock this season on its field in the outfield of the baseball stadium. (2) Schoolcraft’s Kolby Lloyd (10) works to break away from a tackler during a “home” game played at Vicksburg this fall. (3) Clockwise, from top left: Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency, Schoolcraft boys soccer coach Jeremy Mutchler, soccer player Jack Curtis and football player Jake Bailey. (4) Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin has taken over the maneuvering of the teams’ home sites during his first year on the job. (Action photos by Stephanie Blentlinger/Lingering Memories Photography. Headshots and Applin photo by Pam Shebest.)