Drive for Detroit: Playoff Week 3 Review

November 13, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A longtime observer of Michigan high school football had a hard time remembering a playoff weekend with as many close finishes as fans enjoyed Friday and Saturday.

Start with the games in 11-player Division 1, where all four were decided by fourth-quarter scores or stops, and nail-biters dominated a weekend that saw 32 teams move on to 11-Player Regional Finals and the four finalists for 8-player championships book trips to Marquette’s Superior Dome.

We start with a brief glance below at all four 8-Player Semifinals and then move into all 32 11-player games. The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard, and “Drive for Detroit” is sponsored by MI Student Aid.   

8-Player Division 1

Central Lake 54, Stephenson 20

The Trojans (12-0) rode a ravenous rushing attack in a snowstorm to earn its first MHSAA championship game berth while also tying its program record for wins in a season. Central Lake plodded to more than 400 yards against a Stephenson defense that had given up only 16.7 points per game entering the day. The Eagles finished 9-3. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Deckerville 52, Bellevue 18

Deckerville rattled off 44 straight points to earn a second straight trip to the MHSAA Finals. Bellevue led 12-8 early before the Eagles (11-1) went on their run against another otherwise-stellar defense – the Broncos (10-2) were giving up only 9.5 points per game entering the day and this season set a program record for wins. Click for more from the Huron Daily Tribune.

8-Player Division 2

Crystal Falls Forest Park 36, Pickford 34

Forest Park will add to its 13 championship game appearances as an 11-player program with its first in 8-player after handing Pickford its lone loss this season. The Trojans (10-2) last made a championship game in 2009 and moved to 8-player a year ago. They put up the most points Pickford (11-1) gave up in a game this season by 12. The Panthers fell in their second straight Semifinal but moved to 27-7 in three years of 8-player. Click for more from the Iron Mountain Daily News.

Portland St. Patrick 33, Kinde-North Huron 14

The Shamrocks are 53-12 since moving to 8-player in 2012, and in their first Semifinal since that first season finally broke through to earn a first championship game berth since 1997. St. Patrick (11-1) scored 21 points during the fourth quarter to pull away against a North Huron program that also was playing in its second 8-Player Semifinal and finished 10-2. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

11-Player Division 1

West Bloomfield 28, Utica Eisenhower 25

Quarterback Bryce Veasley scored the winning touchdown with under a minute to play to send West Bloomfield (10-2) to its first MHSAA Semifinal in football. The Lakers edged an Eisenhower program much more familiar with this stage of the playoffs; the Eagles were playing for a third Regional title this decade and made the Semifinals a year ago. Eisenhower (11-1) had given up more than 20 points in a game to only one other opponent this fall. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

Other Regional Finals:

Clarkston 29, Holland West Ottawa 22 – The Wolves (10-2) scored 23 unanswered fourth-quarter points to win their second Regional title in four seasons and end West Ottawa’s winningest football season at 10-2.

Detroit Catholic Central 27, Canton 26 – The Shamrocks (8-4) stopped a Canton two-point conversion attempt with 34 seconds to play to win their fifth Regional title this decade while handing the Chiefs (10-2) their first loss since opening night.

Detroit Cass Tech 32, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 26 – In maybe the most dramatic finish of all this weekend, Chippewa Valley (10-2) took the lead with 1:25 to play and Cass Tech (9-2) took it back as the clock ticked under 10 seconds to win an eighth straight Regional title. 

11-Player Division 2

Livonia Franklin 31, Flushing 29

Franklin (10-2) clinched its second Regional title in three seasons on kicker Brad Gibson’s 27-yard field goal with 13 seconds to play. Flushing had taken the lead just more than a minute before with a two-point conversion after a late score. Flushing was playing for its first Regional title and finished 9-3, tying its most successful season (2014) since 1997. Click for more from the Observer & Eccentric.

Other Regional Finals:

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 28, Traverse City Central 10 – Forest Hills Central (12-0) won its first football Regional title since 1995 with 28 unanswered points over the second and third quarters; Traverse City Central (8-4) was playing for its first Regional title since 1991.

Detroit Martin Luther King 55, Ypsilanti Lincoln 14 – The Crusaders (11-1) won their third straight Regional title and fifth in seven years while finishing the most successful playoff run ever for Lincoln (9-3), which hadn’t lost since an 0-2 start.

Warren DeLaSalle 14, Oak Park 7 – A last-minute touchdown gave DeLaSalle (10-2) its first Regional title since 2014 as both teams scored their fewest points since opening night; Oak Park (9-3) tied its most successful season after also going 9-3 in 2012. 

11-Player Division 3

Riverview 36, Dearborn Divine Child 31

The Riverview dream season continues, this time after a close win over one of last season’s Division 3 semifinalists. The Pirates (11-1) won their first Regional title since 2002, with the reminder again that they went only 2-7 a year ago. Riverview led by 12 heading into the fourth quarter and held off Divine Child (10-2) during a late comeback attempt. Click for more from the Southgate News-Herald.

Other Regional Finals:

Muskegon 49, DeWitt 0 – The Big Reds (12-0) were great on offense as usual, but defensively this was the most impressive of their six shutouts this fall; DeWitt (10-2) was averaging 39 points per game entering the day.

Battle Creek Harper Creek 16, East Lansing 13 – The Beavers (12-0) scored all 16 of their points during the fourth quarter to clinch their first Regional title since 2012 and hand East Lansing (9-3) its first defeat this season since Week 3; the Trojans finished their best season since 2011.

Farmington Hills Harrison 34, Linden 21 – The Hawks (9-3) added to their inspired run with a first Regional title since 2014; Linden (9-3) was playing for its first Regional title but did finish its winningest season since 2012. 

11-Player Division 4

River Rouge 21, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood 14

The Panthers (10-2) reached 10 victories for the fourth straight season and fifth in six seasons by clinching this third straight Regional title. River Rouge never broke away but did go ahead to stay midway through the fourth quarter to seal its closest win of the season (the two losses were by nine and seven). Cranbrook Kingswood (10-2) did cap its winningest season in program history. Click for more from the Southgate News-Herald.

Other Regional Finals:

Escanaba 39, Williamston 21 – The Eskymos (10-2) began pulling away during the first half on the way to their first Regional title since 1981; for Williamston (7-5), it was the only loss this season by more than seven points.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central 42, Belding 3 – GRCC (12-0) rode another giant dose of running back Nolan Fugate to its 18th straight win; Belding (9-3) ended its most successful season since 1998.

Edwardsburg 52, Lansing Sexton 30 –The Eddies (11-1) won their second straight Regional title with their fifth game over 50 points this season; Sexton (8-4) did become the first team to top 30 against Edwardsburg this fall.

11-Player Division 5

Grand Rapids West Catholic 28, Portland 26

The latest of frequent playoff meetings between these annual contenders turned out to be another classic as West Catholic (10-2) stopped a late two-point conversion attempt to secure the win – after also beating Portland by three last season on the way to winning the Division 5 title. The Raiders (10-2) fought back from two touchdowns down in the fourth quarter. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Other Regional Finals:

Reed City 46, Menominee 34 – The Coyotes (11-1) closed this weekend’s action in Saturday’s final game by claiming their first Regional title against a Menominee team playing in its ninth straight Regional Final; the Maroons, last season’s Division 5 runners-up, finished 8-4.

Saginaw Swan Valley 48, Muskegon Oakridge 14 – The Vikings (11-1) will play in their third Semifinal in nine years as Alex Fries threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth score; Oakridge (9-3) was playing for its first Regional title since 2013.

Frankenmuth 17, Algonac 7 – The Eagles (12-0) won their second straight Regional title and set a program record for wins by outlasting the Blue Water Area Conference champion Muskrats (10-2) in a defensive struggle; Frankenmuth held Algonac to 161 yards. 

11-Player Division 6

Ithaca 33, Montague 23

Ithaca made a statement in a game pitting teams that have combined to win seven of the last nine Division 6 titles. Following quarterback Joey Bentley – 218 yards and four touchdowns rushing, one more touchdown passing – the Yellowjackets (12-0) led by 18 late before Montague added a final score. The Wildcats (11-1) did put up the most points Ithaca has given up this season – the Yellowjackets have now allowed only 101 over 12 games. Click for more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.

Other Regional Finals:

Traverse City St. Francis 33, Millington 26 – The Gladiators (11-1) hung on to win their second Regional title in three seasons as Millington (10-2) put up the most points St. Francis has given up this season – although the Gladiators also became just the second to score more than 30 on the Cardinals.

Jackson Lumen Christi 44, Watervliet 22 – The reigning Division 6 champion Titans (10-1) locked down a Watervliet offense that had scored at least 36 points every game and averaged 52 per game during the Panthers’ 11-0 start.

Warren Michigan Collegiate 32, Blissfield 6 – The Cougars (12-0) won their second Regional title in 10 seasons as a program, ending Blissfield’s first winning season since 2012 and winningest since 2009 at 7-5. 

11-Player Division 7

Lake City 20, Breckenridge 18

Someone was going to celebrate a major accomplishment after this game. Lake City improved to 12-0, extending its program record for wins in claiming its first Regional title and with last year’s 2-7 finish becoming tougher to believe by the week. Breckenridge was 0-9 only three years ago and won its first playoff game just two weeks ago on the way to finishing 10-2 this fall. Click for more from the Cadillac News.

Other Regional Finals:

Pewamo-Westphalia 34, Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker 0 – The Pirates’ fifth shutout this season moved them to 11-1 and landed them their sixth Regional title in seven seasons; Laker (10-2) did contain P-W to its third-fewest points this fall.

Saugatuck 7, Cassopolis 6 – A go-ahead score with under three minutes to play pushed Saugatuck (9-3) just past the Rangers (10-2) for its first Regional title since 2010; Cassopolis had guarded that lead since the first quarter.

Madison Heights Madison 22, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 20 – Madison (12-0) will play in its first Semifinal since 2007 after coming back from two touchdowns down during the second half; the Falcons finished 7-5 after a 1-3 start this fall. 

11-Player Division 8

Iron River West Iron County 35, Frankfort 20

West Iron’s first Regional title since 1977 came with a program record-setting 11th win as the Wykons haven’t lost since falling by two points on opening night. West Iron scored the first 22 points and locked down a Frankfort offense that had scored 45 per game entering the game. The Panthers finished 8-3 after making the Regional Finals for the third straight season. Click for more from the Iron Mountain Daily News.

Other Regional Finals:

Saginaw Nouvel 54, Lincoln Alcona 34 – Nouvel (12-0) picked the best time to score its most points in a game this season, coming off a District Final scare against Harbor Beach; the Panthers opened a 28-0 lead on the Tigers (9-3), who were playing in their first Regional Final.  

Mendon 14, Climax-Scotts 6 – A week after stunning reigning champion Muskegon Catholic Central, Mendon (12-0) had to hold off the Panthers (9-3) for 2½ quarters to earn its first Regional title since 2011.

Ottawa Lake Whiteford 60, Clarkston Everest Collegiate 20 – Last season’s Division 8 runner-up Bobcats (12-0) clearly are intent on getting back to Ford Field; they finished this one on a 44-6 run to end the longest tournament run in the five-year history of Everest Collegiate (9-3).

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews and reviews 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: Ithaca’s Devon Smith (51) closes in on a Montague ball carrier during Saturday’s Division 6 Regional Final. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

Connections: Novara Success Stretches Across State, Official Offers Encouragement

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

December 8, 2023

Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.

At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.

At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.

John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.

Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)

One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.

Small gesture, memorable connection

Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.

South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game.But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.

Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.

When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”

PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)