It’s always hard to wave good-bye to another high school football season.
But stories of this fall’s playoffs will no doubt be retold a few times this winter -- especially after one of the most memorable Semifinals weekends in recent memory,
Nine of Saturday’s 16 games were decided by eight points or fewer. Two games were decided by three points, and three more games by just one. Twice, overtime was necessary to decide which team would advance to this weekend’s MHSAA Finals at Detroit’s Ford Field.
We’ll kick off Finals week with our regular round-up of the previous weekend’s playoff action – including the first 8-Player Final in MHSAA history. Later this week, we’ll take a brief look at every team hoping to finish by hoisting a championship trophy.
All eight games will be broadcast on Fox Sports Plus. Click for a full schedule and playoff scoreboard. And click here for a list of Fox Sports Plus channels in your area.
(Rankings are by The Associated Press’ panel of media voters.)
1st and 10
Division 1: Detroit Catholic Central 23, Rockford 20 (OT) – Rockford kicked a field goal for a three-point lead to begin overtime, but No. 2 beat No. 1 when DCC running back Anthony Darkangelo ran in the game-winner from seven yards out. Read more in the Novi News.
Division 1: Detroit Cass Tech 6, Utica Eisenhower 3 – Here’s why they play the games. Unranked Cass Tech continued an impressive defensive stand (see lower in this post for more) in knocking off the No. 3 Eagles. Read more in the Detroit Free Press.
Division 2: Lowell 42, Walled Lake Western 35 (OT) – Walled Lake Western came back from 14 down in the third quarter and then took a lead, but couldn’t keep the Red Arrows from booking a third-straight trip to the Finals. Read more in the Grand Rapids Press.
Division 2: Birmingham Brother Rice 27, Detroit Martin Luther King 26 – The Crusaders fought back from an early 21-0 deficit, and Brother Rice scored all of its points during the first half. But the Warriors held on twice at the end – once on a two-point conversion try that would’ve given King the lead, and then once more on the Crusaders’ final possession. Read more from the Oakland Press.
Division 3: Mount Pleasant 38, East Grand Rapids 37 – The Oilers were probably thinking less about EGR’s 28-game playoff winning streak and more about how the Pioneers had knocked them out of the playoffs two of the last three seasons. Now, Mount Pleasant can focus on playing in its first MHSAA Final. Read more in the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.
Division 5: Lansing Catholic 42, Grand Rapids West Catholic 35 – The teams exchanged shots until just about the end, with this season’s No. 1 taking down the reigning champion despite trailing twice during the first half. Read more in the Lansing State Journal.
Division 6: Constantine 45, Ecorse 44 – The Falcons have shown they are tough to stop when it matters most, winning their third playoff game by seven or fewer points to advance to their first Final since 2004. Read more in the Sturgis Journal.
Division 7: Pewamo-Westphalia 22, Hudson 14 – The Pirates, making their second Semifinal appearance ever, earned their first Finals berth by ending the 26-game winning streak of the reigning champion Tigers. Read more from the Lansing State Journal.
Division 8: Mendon 34, New Lothrop 13 – The No. 3 Hornets had given up 47 points over their first 12 games, but top-ranked Mendon nearly doubled that while holding a New Lothrop offense averaging 52 points to just a pair of touchdowns. Read more in the Sturgis Journal.
8-Player Final: Carsonville-Port Sanilac 59, Rapid River 20 – It’s arguable what was more impressive – the Tigers’ offensive might, or that its defense held Rapid River scoreless in the second half of the first-ever MHSAA 8-player Final. Read more in the “First Pitch” at MHSAA.com.
16 – Number of points Detroit Cass Tech has given up during the postseason, including three to Utica Eisenhower in Saturday’ 6-3 victory. The Technicians have held opponents to seven or fewer points in nine of 13 games this fall.
34 – Number of minutes Constantine held onto the ball – and kept Ecorse’s offense off the field – in a 45-44 Division 6 win.
901 – Number of yards, combined, put up by Carsonville-Port Sanilac and Rapid River in the inaugural 8-player Football Final.
324 – Passing yards by Carsonville-Port Sanilac quarterback Hayden Adams, who likely will be remembered as this state’s first 8-player star. Five of his 12 completions went for touchdowns, and he also ran for 130 yards and two scores.
More Fantastic Finishes
Division 3: Orchard Lake St. Mary 14, Battle Creek Harper Creek 10 – They were tied going into the fourth quarter. Harper Creek added a go-ahead field goal – and then St. Mary’s Grant Niemiec scored on an 11-yard run with 49 seconds left to take the final lead.
Division 4: Zeeland West 30, Comstock Park 6 – The Dux moved to 13-0 to tie the school record for wins and make a second MHSAA Final – in just seven seasons of existence.
Division 4: Marine City 45, Grosse Ile 6 – The Mariners shut down Grosse Ile until the final five minutes of the game to earn their second Finals berth in five seasons.
Division 5: Flint Powers Catholic 27, Almont 10 – Why they play the games, Part II. Powers is the latest to make the rare trek from 5-4 qualifier to potential MHSAA champion after taking out Nos. 2 and, most recently, 4 from the final AP regular-season poll.
Division 6: Ithaca 28, Iron Mountain 0 – The Yellowjackets returned to the Superior Dome and beat Iron Mountain for the second straight season to advance to Detroit.
Division 7: Saginaw Nouvel 14, Traverse City St. Francis 3 – The Panthers’ defense also has been awesome during this postseason, giving up just 23 points over four games.
Division 8: Fowler 45, St. Ignace La Salle 8 – The Eagles have gone from losing their coach the weekend before practice began in 2010 to making their first Final since winning Class D in 1998.
Up Next: MHSAA 11-player Finals
Division 8: Mendon (13-0) vs. Fowler (11-2), 10 a.m. – These are two of the most storied small-school programs in state history, both ranking among the top 14 in the state in winning percentage since 1950 according to Michigan-football.com. Mendon was expected to be here, but surprise Fowler has been to this point plenty of times as well.
Division 2: Birmingham Brother Rice (9-4) vs. Lowell (12-1), 1 p.m. – Brother Rice’s tough schedule always gives it a decent shot of making the playoff field even at 5-4, but getting to the Final after coming in with that record is new ground for the Warriors (they made the Semifinals in 2009 after entering 5-4). Lowell was just about everyone’s pick to get this far – and will try to make it two titles in three seasons after losing in the 2010 championship game.
Division 6: Constantine (11-2) vs. Ithaca (13-0), 4:30 p.m. – Constantine’s 1-2 start is a distant memory as the Falcons go for their first championship in seven seasons. Ithaca made its first Final just a year ago, but can further its reputation as an elite power but claiming two titles in a row and extending its winning streak to 28.
Division 4: Marine City (13-0) vs. Zeeland West (13-0), 7:30 p.m. – It’s rare for the combination of bracket assignments and rankings to play out like this, but Marine City entered the postseason No. 1 and Zeeland West No. 2. The Mariners last won a championship in 2007, but have the chance to also finish 14-0 this time. Same story as the Dux try to improve just that little bit on their 2006 title run.
Division 7: Pewamo-Westphalia (13-0) vs. Saginaw Nouvel (12-0), 10 a.m. – The Panthers are going for their third MHSAA championship in six seasons and have no problem raising their game; not counting two against Canadian teams, Nouvel played 10 games this season against teams that qualified for the playoffs. P-W joins Fowler as finalists from the Central Michigan Athletic Conference, and is led by a senior class that might be one of the best in the program’s successful history.
Division 1: Detroit Cass Tech (10-3) vs. Detroit Catholic Central (12-1), 1 p.m. – The Technicians seemingly have been building toward this weekend after making their first Semifinal appearance in 2010, and after losing by three in that game before going on to win by three in last week’s semi. Now they get the Shamrocks, who can move into a third-place tie with 11 MHSAA football championships.
Division 5: Flint Powers Catholic (9-4) vs. Lansing Catholic (13-0), 4:30 p.m. – The Cougars defeated Powers 37-17 in Week 2, but it’s fair to say much has changed. The Chargers haven’t given up that many points in a game since – but Lansing Catholic also hasn’t scored that few.
Division 3: Mount Pleasant (13-0) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary (11-2), 7:30 p.m. – The Eaglets lost the last two Finals to East Grand Rapids by eight and three points, respectively. No matter what happens in this finale, there will be a new Division 3 champion for the first time in five seasons.
(Photo courtesy of Sharon Weber via the Lansing State Journal.)
DETROIT – Isaiah Marshall took a second Sunday night to think about the interception he’d just thrown that led to Belleville taking a late lead in the Division 1 Football Final.
But just a second.
When Marshall and his Southfield Arts & Technology teammates took the field down four points with 4 minutes, 47 seconds remaining at Ford Field, the interception wasn’t on his mind. Neither was the raucous Belleville crowd that had awoken on the home side of the stadium.
He wasn’t thinking about stopping a three-peat or snapping a 38-game Belleville win streak. He wasn’t thinking about the talk he’d heard during the week leading up to the game, that his team was on its way to getting blown out like so many of those previous 38 opponents.
All Marshall was focused on was doing his job.
“As soon as I threw the pick, I knew what I had to do differently,” Marshall said. “I just wasn’t thinking about that last play. As soon as I threw the pick, I just thought about it on the bench, then as soon as I came out, it wasn’t on my mind at all. I just knew I had to go down the field and score.”
Like he had all night, Marshall came through when the Warriors needed him most, leading his team on a 69-yard scoring drive, finishing the final 11 with his legs for the go-ahead score in Southfield A&T’s 36-32 victory against Belleville.
His defense finished the rest, as Dorian Freeman intercepted a pass during the final seconds, sealing the first Finals title for Southfield.
“It’s special,” A&T coach Aaron Marshall said. “It’s special for the community. It’s a long time coming. All week I’ve been getting calls from guys I’ve never met just congratulating the boys on making it. We had never even made it to the championship game, let alone won one. It’s real big for the community. I’m really proud.”
To do it, the Warriors needed to overcome the team that has dominated Division 1 for the past three seasons in Belleville (13-1). The Tigers had won the past two Division 1 Finals, and hadn’t dropped a game since Sept. 10, 2021.
They entered Sunday having outscored opponents this fall by an average of 49-7. They also featured the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2025 in quarterback Bryce Underwood.
But Sunday, none of that mattered to Marshall and the Warriors (13-1). Well, except maybe the last part.
“Just a little bit,” Marshall said when asked if he was out to prove he was the state’s top quarterback. “I do think I’m the best player in the state. Me proving that tonight, and showing what I can do on the big stage shows that, I think.”
He finished the night completing 20 of 31 passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns, as well as two interceptions. He also rushed for 134 yards and the go-ahead score, as well as the two-point conversion that put his team up four.
“He came out there and played like I thought he was going to play,” said Belleville star linebacker and running back Jeremiah Beasley, who has committed to Michigan. “He’s a real tough player. Since we were little, he’s always been tough. He came out there and played with all his heart, and they came out on top.”
Underwood certainly had his moments, finishing 11 for 24 for 164 yards and a touchdown to go along with one interception. He also had five rushes for 39 yards.
And A&T was certainly cognizant of what Underwood could do, especially when he got the ball back with 47 seconds to play and a chance to take the lead. But by playing coverage, they didn’t allow the Tigers to push the ball down the field, and eventually pressure from senior defensive tackle Reggie Gardner forced the throw that Freeman intercepted to clinch the game.
“My coaches just told me to spy the quarterback, and whatever he did, I would go,” Freeman said. “Then it was just right in my zone.”
A&T led for most of the game, getting a pair of rushing touchdowns from Mathias Davis during the first half, the second score giving them a 12-7 lead.
After a 31-yard field goal from Belleville’s Brayden Lane made the score 12-10, Marshall engineered an 80-yard drive over the final three minutes of the second quarter to give his team a 10-point lead at the half. He accounted for 79 of the 80 yards with either his legs or his arm, finishing it off with a 13-yard TD pass to Tashi Braceful with 13 seconds remaining in the half. Braceful finished the night with 10 catches for 152 yards.
The Warriors nearly added to that halftime lead, as well, recovering a squib kick at the Belleville 43. Marshall hit Tyjuan Esper for a 38-yard gain on the next play, but he was tackled as the first-half clock expired.
Early in the third quarter, Marshall and the Warriors did stretch their lead when he threw a 19-yard TD pass to Xavi Bowman on a 4th-and-14. DaMario Quarles’ conversion run put them up 28-10 with 3:39 to play in the third quarter.
Of course, Belleville didn’t go away.
The Tigers responded immediately with a 45-yard TD pass from Underwood to Jalen Johnson. And after stopping Marshall on a 4th-and-2 run near midfield, they needed just three plays and 30 seconds to pull within three points of the lead as Beasley scored on a 15-yard run.
On the next A&T possession, Marquis Peoples put Belleville right back in business with an interception that he returned to the 35-yard line. Beasley again cashed in three plays later, with a 22-yard TD run that gave Belleville a 33-27 lead with 4:47 remaining.
Beasley finished the night with 106 yards and the two touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s a senior ball player; he did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Belleville coach Calvin Norman said of Beasley. “He came through in the clutch. When he ran the ball, he did his thing. I have nothing but love for the young man.”
Belleville cornerback Adrian Walker made one of the more remarkable plays of the weekend late in the first quarter, intercepting a Marshall pass deep in A&T territory.
Walker got both hands on the pass, deflecting it up and toward himself as he was spinning up the field. The ball went over his head and Walker reached behind his back to make the catch at the A&T 26.
Four plays later, Belleville was on the board with a 16-yard Colbey Reed touchdown run, and the Tigers led 7-6.
PHOTOS (Top) Southfield A&T quarterback Isaiah Marshall stretches for the game-winning touchdown during Sunday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Warriors ended the night by raising their first championship trophy. (Below) Belleville’s Adrian Walker (2) makes a stunning behind-the-back interception. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)