Five undefeated teams, one that is ranked No. 1 in its division, plus another reigning MHSAA football champion are among those that will be featured in tonight's Prep Zone games streamed live on FoxSportsDetroit.com.
Here’s a look at this week’s Prep Zone matchups, along with links to media coverage heading into the games. All kick off at 7 tonight, and all also will be archived for on-demand viewing at MHSAA.tv.
DIVISION 4: Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (10-0) at Marine City (10-0)
Make it eight straight seasons Marine City has won at least 10 games, and 12 of the last 13. The top-ranked Marines also will try to knock Notre Dame Prep out of the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. That won’t come easily. The No. 6 Fighting Irish have set a school record for wins and are enjoying their best season since 1984 – and a strong turnaround from last season’s 4-5 finish, including a 47-13 toppling of No. 7 Marysville last week. Add in the four wins from last season, and Notre Dame Prep hasn’t lost in more than a calendar year. Marine City is riding the legs of senior running back Anthony Scarcelli, who has gained for 1,363 of the team’s 3,052 rushing yards and scored 25 touchdowns on the ground. Fighting Irish quarterback Danny Durkin is a dangerous two-way threat – he was 10 for 13 passing for 183 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 150 more yards and two more scores in the Marysville win. The key could be Notre Dame Prep's defense; it’s giving up just 7.2 points per game.
Read more in the Port Huron Times-Herald.
DIVISION 4: Grand Rapids Catholic Central (9-1) at Zeeland West (10-0)
The reigning MHSAA champion Cougars are rolling again with nine straight wins since falling to East Grand Rapids on opening night – a streak that opened with a shutout and then seven straight games giving up just seven points in each. But No. 2 Zeeland West presents arguably their toughest challenge. The Dux should have some added motivation after losing to Grand Rapids Catholic 50-42 in a 2010 District final. Quarterback Miles Morrissey is again directing the No. 4 Cougars’ high-powered passing offense, with Kevin Vicari among top targets. Zeeland West again has made its run doing exactly that – chewing up yards on the ground, as evidenced by their six rushing touchdowns (and the majority of 404 total yards) in last week’s playoff-opening win against Grand Rapids South Christian.
DIVISION 6: Leslie (8-2) at Grass Lake (10-0)
For these teams, it might seem like just yesterday they were sharing the field. Actually, it was only two weeks ago that Grass Lake iced a perfect regular season with a 36-28 win over the Blackhawks. Leslie was one of only three teams that gave the Warriors a challenge during that 9-0 run. The Blackhawks are being carried one last time by a group of seniors that took over after the team’s last MHSAA Finals appearance, in 2008, went 0-9 as sophomores but improved to 6-4 last fall. Senior quarterback Brendon Smith tossed the 80-yard scoring pass that beat Manchester 34-32 last week, and all-stater Kyle Bryson is his top receiver. Grass Lake does its damage on the ground, led by Frank Vuocolo and his 1,360 yards and 13 touchdowns.
DIVISION 7: Saranac (9-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (10-0)
Pewamo-Westphalia won and Saranac was runner-up in the 10-team Central Michigan Athletic Conference, although the pseudo-championship game wasn’t nearly as close as one might’ve expected – the Pirates won 28-0. A closer game might benefit the Redskins, who have won their last four games and five overall by eight or fewer points. P-W has relied on a senior-strong group of skill players to score its most points in at least a half century, with running back Alex Thelen and quarterback Justin Thelen leading the way on that side of the ball. Saranac has continued to build this fall after last season’s historic run ended with the team’s first playoff berth since 1978. The Redskins have won three more games this fall under new coach Terry Johnson, and tonight he can lead them to their first playoff victory ever.
Read more in the Ionia Sentinel-Standard.
Zeeland West's Brad Mesbergen will be among those trying to outrun Grand Rapids Catholic Central in tonight's District final (Photo courtesy of the Holland Sentinel.).
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.
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.)