DETROIT – Grand Rapids South Christian’s football team wasn’t perfect Friday night at Ford Field, and it didn’t have to be. Now, the Sailors’ season as a whole – that was flawless.
Even when they faced adversity, they never panicked. They moved on and kept making plays, all the way to a Division 4 championship and 14-0 record.
South Christian shut out Goodrich, 28-0, in the MHSAA Final to become the first group of Sailors in program history to finish a season unbeaten.
“I mean, it’s crazy. We’ve had a lot of great teams at South and just to imagine that we’re the only ones to be undefeated is a great feeling,” said South Christian senior quarterback and defensive back Jake DeHaan, whose squad became the fourth in program history to capture a state title and the first since 2014.
South Christian’s first Finals championship came in 2002, when now-coach Danny Brown was a Sailors player. This is Brown’s first state title as a coach.
South Christian, which made its eighth Finals appearance Friday, also won it all in 2012.
“I think I was more nervous as a coach. I think as a player, at least in my experience, I never really got that nervous,” Brown said. “It was another way to hang out with your friends and play the game you loved. But as a coach, you start thinking about all the what-ifs and things that can happen. You want the kids to win so bad that you kind of take on that pressure.”
It wasn’t easy against Goodrich (12-2), which was making its first Finals appearance, as South Christian scored 14 points in the second quarter and 14 in the fourth.
DeHaan, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound playmaker, finished 14-of-21 passing for 266 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He ran 12 times for a game-high 99 yards and one TD, plus he finished with four tackles and an interception. DeHaan’s signature moment was his 54-yard scoring run to give South Christian a 21-0 lead midway through the third quarter.
Junior Jake Vermaas, who fractured his collarbone in Week 3 and returned for the Sailors’ playoff opener, was the other “Jake” to make big plays. He made seven receptions for 152 yards and returned an interception 32 yards for a TD to put it away with 5:07 remaining in the game.
“It makes us that much better, right, to have all these playmakers. I mean, every guy can make a play and that’s what makes us so good,” Vermaas said. “We put in so much work to be that good and it shows, right? Fourteen-and-0.
“We’re the best – you can’t be better than that,” he added. “We were the best to do it at South Christian.”
Goodrich senior standout running back Jace Simerson finished with 91 yards on 20 carries. Martians senior quarterback Gavin Hart was 9-of-25 passing for 100 yards with two picks.
South Christian’s bevy of playmakers on offense and athletes with length on defense made it tough on opponents all season, and Friday was no different. Those strengths allowed the Sailors to overcome three turnovers.
“This is just one of those teams, and I know there’s a lot of them out there that no matter what the situation is, no matter what the moment is, there’s never a panic. They just continue to rise to the occasion,” Brown said.
“We felt that Week 6 with the (Grand Rapids) Catholic win, I think that kind of solidified – that was a back-and-forth game – that even when things get tight and there’s adversity, they can step up.”
That, the Sailors did.
In a scoreless game, DeHaan hit senior Nate Brinks on a 3-yard TD pass with 9:48 left in the first half. Four minutes later, he found sophomore Carson Vis on a 23-yard scoring strike.
Veteran Goodrich coach Tom Alward said he felt his team had opportunities to make plays, but the Martians just couldn’t capitalize. He attributed much of that to the Sailors.
“They’ve got athletes galore. They’ve got athletes at every position. I mean, it’s incredible,” Alward said. “You’re trying to match up. We thought we’ve got some athletes as well, but it’s tough to match up everybody.
“They do a good job. They sit there and they look, ‘Oh, that’s a linebacker.’ You run out of defensive backs against these guys. Plus, that quarterback, he’s a special young kid.”
DeHaan directed South Christian to this championship, helping the Sailors survive tests in the previous three rounds of the playoffs.
South Christian put away Hudsonville Unity Christian late, 35-20, in the District Final. In a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the Regional Final, the Sailors outlasted Whitehall, 28-21. In the icy Semifinal, South Christian held off Edwardsburg, 26-20.
“Our coaches stress (not to panic), which just helps us to keep persevering. And we knew that if we keep going and keep going that eventually our team’s going to come out on top and make plays when we need to make plays,” said DeHaan, who suffered a shoulder stinger late in the game but re-entered a play later.
It was a tough finish for Goodrich, which reeled off 12 straight wins to get to Ford Field after suffering a 27-2 season-opening loss to Frankenmuth, which is competing in the Division 5 Final on Saturday.
Alward said he loves every one of his teams, but this one will always have a special place in his heart.
“This team is exceptional – they’re exceptional,” the 30-year head coach said. “And not just football players, I’m talking about young men.”
PHOTOS (Top) Grand Rapids South Christian’s Jake Vermaas (2) tries to pull away from the grasp of Goodrich’s Owen Deciechi during Friday’s Division 4 Final. (Middle) Vermaas leaps over defender Gavin Valley (32). (Below) A Martians defender bats away a pass intended for the Sailors’ Carson Vis (13). (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
Over the last decade we’ve previewed intriguing football matchups every week from every region of the state, detailing one and highlighting four others. We usually choose from six or seven possibilities in each area that really stand out.
We could have put together a Week 5 list 10 deep in the Detroit area – any other week we may have included Rochester Adams (3-1) at West Bloomfield (3-1), Macomb Dakota (4-0) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (2-2), Grosse Pointe South (3-1) at Roseville (3-1), Dearborn Heights Robichaud (3-1) at Redford Union (3-1) or Clarkston Everest Collegiate (2-2) at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (3-1) in that group.
Head just west, and Dexter (2-2) at Ann Arbor Huron (3-1) has potential. Go farther west and Hudsonville (4-0) at Grandville (3-1) is in the conversation. In the Thumb, Marlette (3-1) at Harbor Beach (3-1) likely will be important down the road, and Houghton Lake (3-1) at McBain (3-1) would make the Northern Lower Peninsula top five most of the time.
And those are just some of the few that also caught our attention as we dive into many more below.
Bay & Thumb
Chesaning (3-1) at Montrose (4-0) - MHSAA.tv
Chesaning’s continued improvement and Montrose’s excellent start have given the Mid-Michigan Activities Conference a fuller field of contenders, and these two are the only ones undefeated in league play. The Rams have defeated both the reigning champion (Durand) and runner-up (Ovid-Elsie) from a year ago – by eight and seven points, respectively – and also have defeated Chesaning all six times (including once in the playoffs) since the two schools began playing in this league together. Chesaning also has an impressive victory this fall, as it provided a loud statement to start the league schedule with a 27-22 win over New Lothrop in Week 2.
Belleville (4-0) at Livonia Franklin (3-1) - MHSAA.tv
Belleville has won 29 straight games and the last two Division 1 titles, and after getting past River Rouge 35-28 in its season opener has won its first three Kensington Lakes Activities Association East games this fall by a combined score of 165-7. In fact, the Tigers are a combined 36-1 against KLAA East teams since joining the league in 2018. But this weekend’s matchup starts an intriguing month as Belleville pursues big goals again. Franklin has won two straight Division 2 District titles and had the most success among league teams against the Tigers last season, although that still ended with a 42-14 Belleville win.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Flat Rock (4-0) at Riverview (3-1), White Lake Lakeland (3-1) at Walled Lake Western (4-0) - MHSAA.tv, Detroit Catholic Central (3-1) at Warren De La Salle Collegiate (2-2) - MHSAA.tv. SATURDAY Detroit Edison (4-0) at Warren Michigan Collegiate (4-0).
Lansing Everett (3-1) at Grand Ledge (4-0) - MHSAA.tv
The Capital Area Activities Conference Blue title race could fall a number of ways, but at this moment these two and East Lansing are undefeated in league play with Grand Ledge also the reigning co-champion and with a win already over last year’s other title winner, Holt. Everett bounced back from an opening 23-20 loss to still-undefeated Sexton and has generated some buzz – the Vikings were just 2-6 a year ago, but their defense especially has impressed this fall giving up a combined 37 points over four games. Grand Ledge won last year’s meeting 34-6 – but also just got past Lansing Waverly last week by a point, after Everett had downed the Warriors by 20 in Week 3.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lake City (3-1) at Beal City (4-0) - MHSAA.tv, Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-0) at Hastings (2-2), Haslett (3-1) at Mason (4-0), Lansing Catholic (2-2) at Portland (4-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Whitehall (4-0) at Manistee (4-0) - MHSAA.tv
This might be Manistee’s biggest game since it finished its perfect regular season in 2018, as the Mariners welcome Whitehall in what eventually may determine the West Michigan Conference Lakes champion. Whitehall won last year’s meeting 55-0 – but Manistee already has avenged a 46-19 loss to Muskegon Oakridge and improved on last season’s results over Mason County Central and Muskegon Orchard View as well. A strong defense (35 points allowed over four games) will get its best challenge yet as Whitehall has scored 34 or more in all four of its games.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gaylord (4-0) at Cadillac (3-1), Charlevoix (3-1) at Benzie Central (2-2) - MHSAA.tv, Traverse City St. Francis (2-2) at Kingsley (3-1) - MHSAA.tv, East Jordan (3-1) at Maple City Glen Lake (3-1) - MHSAA.tv.
Southeast & Border
Adrian (4-0) at Chelsea (3-1) - MHSAA.tv
Chelsea saw its three-year Southeastern Conference White title streak end at three last fall, but the Bulldogs are shaping up as favorites again – especially after they followed an opening loss to Grand Rapids Northview by nearly doubling up Edwardsburg the next week. The Bulldogs won a 10-game winning streak against Adrian, including 31-7 a year ago. But this Maples team is resembling more those that made the playoffs all but one season during the first decade of the 2000s, with the 4-0 start their best since 2010. They handed reigning league champion Tecumseh a 29-7 defeat last week.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Blissfield (3-1) at Clinton (3-1), Napoleon (4-0) at Grass Lake (4-0), Dearborn Divine Child (3-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (4-0) - MHSAA.tv, Monroe (3-1) at Saline (4-0) - MHSAA.tv.
Portage Central (3-1) at St. Joseph (3-1) - MHSAA.tv
St. Joseph has bounced back well from an opening-week loss to Niles and can put that first game further out of mind over the next three weeks as the Bears face Central, then Portage Northern and Stevensville Lakeshore – the other three teams that have started 2-0 in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference. St. Joseph has won five of its last six against Central, but only 13-12 a year ago. The Mustangs are rebounding from last season’s 4-5 finish, with a nice win over East Lansing to start and their only loss the closest game Division 3 top-ranked Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central has played this season.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Benton Harbor (2-2) at Dowagiac (3-1), Parchment (3-1) at Kalamazoo United (2-2), Centreville (2-2) at White Pigeon (4-0) - MHSAA.tv, Niles (3-1) at Sturgis (2-2) - MHSAA.tv.
Menominee (4-0) at Houghton (2-2) - MHSAA.tv
The Maroons have started well with their move to the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper, outscoring their first three league opponents by a combined 154-6 after opening the season with another shutout of century-old rival Marinette, Wis. But things get only more challenging from here. Houghton has won two straight as it looks to build off last season’s best finish in a decade. Menominee then will face Gladstone, Negaunee and Kingsford over the final three weeks of the league schedule. Those three have been dealing each other losses over the last three weeks but remain in the title hunt.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Calumet (1-3) at Kingsford (3-1) - MHSAA.tv, Sault Ste. Marie (3-1) at Marquette (1-2) - MHSAA.tv, Negaunee (3-1) at Hancock (1-3), Ishpeming (1-3) at Bark River-Harris (2-0).
Byron Center (4-0) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-0)
Anticipation of this rematch goes back to last season as their Ottawa-Kent Conference White opener ended up deciding the championship in FHC’s favor thanks to its 21-13 win. Byron Center didn’t lose again over the final six weeks of league play, and the Rangers went on to finish Division 2 runners-up at Ford Field. Forest Hills Central is Division 3 this season and, as noted above, top-ranked. Both can boast large average margins of victory and impressive wins over Division 4 No. 3 Grand Rapids Christian. The main difference perhaps is that East Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Northview and Lowell also are looking like O-K White contenders – and the winner of this matchup surely will have an important edge when considering the full league picture.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY East Grand Rapids (4-0) at Grand Rapids Northview (3-1) - MHSAA.tv, Spring Lake (4-0) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (4-0), North Muskegon (4-0) at Hart (4-0) - MHSAA.tv, Zeeland West (4-0) at Zeeland East (4-0) - MHSAA.tv.
Gaylord St. Mary (3-1) at Onaway (3-1)
Onaway followed a 2-7 finish in 2021 with a 1-8 run a year ago and a forfeit of this fall’s season opener after a late-breaking coaching change. But the Cardinals' immediate resurgence has been awe-inspiring. With boys basketball coach Eddy Szymoniak also taking over this program, Onaway has outscored its last three opponents by a combined 132-38. Gaylord St. Mary has bounced back nicely as well from an opening loss to Pickford, shutting out its first two Ski Valley Conference opponents (and receiving a forfeit from a third). The Snowbirds join Indian River Inland Lakes – which received that Week 1 forfeit from Onaway – as the teams undefeated in league play.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Climax-Scotts (4-0) at Bellevue (3-1), Lake Linden-Hubbell (2-2) at Powers North Central (4-0) - MHSAA.tv, Marion (3-0) at Rudyard (3-1), St. Ignace (4-0) at Rogers City (2-2).
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PHOTO Bark River-Harris's Dominick Lantagne (13) finds a big hole and gains several yards during his team’s opening day win over Ishpeming Westwood. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)