Game over. But what a way to finish.
How should we end a four-month MHSAA football season? With 26 hours worth of Finals over the course of two days, viewable from the comfy confines of Detroit's Ford Field.
Following are my final takes from our Finals weekend. Click on the headers below to see our coverage from each game, and check out the videos for a taste of some of the weekend's hoopla.
The first video was done by Potterville grad and MHSAA Scholar-Athlete award winner Sam Davis, and has at least a couple of us ready to put our helmets back on and hit the field. The other is a slice from one of the most raucous student sections from the weekend.
1st and 10
5 and 4 to No. 1: Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice and Flint Powers Catholic weren’t the first teams to reach Finals with a 5-4 record entering the postseason. But both doing so and winning speaks loudly not just of their respective talents, but also on the gains each made by playing tough opponents. Both came out of tough leagues – Brother Rice was one of three finalists from the Detroit Catholic League Central, and Powers played much larger schools in the Big Nine. Both also played and lost to eventual MHSAA champions during the regular season – Brother Rice against Division 3 winner Orchard Lake St. Mary, and Powers against Division 7 champ Saginaw Nouvel.
Like a rock – or Stone: Detroit Cass Tech linebacker/fullback Royce Jenkins-Stone might’ve been the most impressive all-around player from the weekend. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Michigan prospect ran for 65 yards and had seven tackles – numbers that don’t stick out. But he scored on a 32-yard run, a three-yard pass and a 36-yard interception return.
Just the beginning: Technicians freshman quarterback Jayru Campbell will be in the statewide lens for the next three seasons after throwing for 240 yards and five touchdowns in the Final. He’s 6-3 and 170 pounds, and easily blended in among his star-studded teammates in just his first year of high school. He’ll also have junior Jordan Lewis (four catches, 89 yards, TD) to throw to for another year.
Good company: Brother Rice’s Devin Church was the other individual performer who seemed to wow the media crowd most with his Finals performance. He capped a 900-yard playoffs with 244 and three touchdowns – and drew comparisons from Lowell coach Noel Dean to past star backs like Kevin Grady and T.J. Duckett. Church will sign with Northern Illinois this winter.
Making tracks: Talk about a running attack, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s came within eight yards of putting three backs over 100 each in its Final. The Eaglets ran for 479 yards total – falling just 53 short of the MHSAA Finals record book minimum. Spencer McInnis ran for 214 yards and three scores, while Grant Niemiec and Parker McInnis both ran for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Rough and rumble: Zeeland West’s physicality in the Division 4 game was simply stifling. Keep in mind the Dux were without all-state linebacker Josh Blanton because of an injury. Then note that the team had just eight players weighing 200 pounds or more – and only three between 250-275. Zeeland West ran for 288 yards, but more impressively held Marine City to 79.
Charging forward: The weekend’s biggest stunner had to be Flint Powers over Lansing Catholic, for a number of reasons. Powers entered the postseason 5-4 (see above), Lansing Catholic was 9-0. The Cougars had beaten the Chargers 37-17 in Week 2. Lansing Catholic was ranked No. 1 by The Associated Press, while Powers was unranked.
Just the beginning, part II: Ithaca sophomore quarterback Travis Smith is another who will be watched closely after a big-time Ford Field debut. He threw for 299 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score in the Yellowjackets’ Division 6 win. Ithaca will graduate a lot in the spring. But the 6-1, 180-pound Smith provides the base needed for a quick rebuild.
Backing it up: Saginaw Nouvel’s Bennett Lewis was another player as good as advertised to those who hadn’t seen him play this season. He ran for 200 yards and five touchdowns in a half in Division 7, using both speed and muscle to make his way. At 5-foot-9 and 181 pounds, the Division 7-8 AP Player of the Year is getting some Division I looks and is at least a high Division II prospect.
Consistently contending: Here’s an idea why Mendon’s is such an impressive machine – eight of John Schwartz’s assistant coaches also played for him. The ninth, Bob Critz, has been at Schwartz’s side since the latter took over the program in 1989. During the post-championship press conference, Schwartz revealed that he’d had cancer surgery in June and his assistants ran the program through all of the summer prep.
55,360 – Number of fans who attended the 2011 Finals. The total was slightly higher Friday than Saturday.
5 – Number of touchdown passes by Cass Tech’s Campbell and number of rushing scores by Nouvel’s Lewis. Both tied MHSAA Finals records.
56 – Number of points scored by both Saginaw Nouvel (Division 7) and Flint Powers (Division 5) to set the Finals record for most in a championship game. Nouvel scored all of its points in the first half. Both games ended with scores of 56-26 -- and oddly, no other MHSAA game ended with that score this season.
413 – Total yards by Powers junior quarterback Garrett Pougnet, just 13 shy of the MHSAA Finals record set by Holland Christian quarterback A.J. Westendorp in the 2008 Division 4 Final.
97 – Distance in yards of Zeeland West senior Brad Mesbergen’s Finals record kickoff return in the Division 4 Final.
MHSAA.tv: See full postgame press conferences (and field interviews after the Divisions 3 and 4 Finals).
Fox Sports Detroit: Dan Dickerson and John Wangler wrap the two days of finals.
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.)