By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Last week's MHSAA District Finals saw the thinning out of a number of favorites among the state's biggest football schools.
But many eyes will be turned this weekend to some of our smallest as they face their biggest moments this season.
The 8-player tournament is down to its Semifinals – and we kick off with previewing those this week before getting into the 11-player Regionals. But from a Regional national news could emerge – Madison Heights Madison might be the most capable team so far of potentially breaking Ithaca’s 67-game winning streak, longest currently in the country among 11-player teams.
All games below are Friday unless noted. Be sure to tune in to MHSAA.com throughout the weekend for results and updated pairings with Semifinal sites expected by Sunday evening.
Deckerville (9-2) at Cedarville (10-1), Saturday at DeTour
Only the two teams playing in the other Semifinal have beaten Deckerville, the 2012 MHSAA champion. Running backs Danny Wolfe (1,497) and Ryan Stone (1,123) have run for more than 2,600 of the team’s 3,639 yards on the ground and combined for 52 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Dylan Pattullo has thrown only 33 times – but for 11 scores. Cedarville dominated Bridge Football Alliance rivals Bellaire and Rapid River the last two weeks to a combined score of 67-0 to make its first 8-player Semifinal. Quarterback Joey Duncan played a big part in helping the boys basketball team to last season’s Class D Semifinals and has thrown for 18 touchdowns and run for 12 this fall. Another basketball standout, Brad Causley, has caught 10 of those TD passes, scored twice off interceptions, once on a kickoff return and four times on punt returns.
Lawrence (11-0) at Peck (11-0), Saturday
Two stars of last season’s MHSAA championship run, twins Cody and Kyle Abrego, have Peck lined up for a repeat with Cody running this season for 1,879 yards and 32 touchdowns and Kyle also starting both ways and scoring four times on receptions, one on an interception and another time on a kickoff return. Teammate Caleb Dudley has run for 11 scores and found the end zone after three of his eight interceptions. Lawrence will be easily fired up to see familiar company; the Tigers were cruising in last season’s playoffs before falling 73-34 to Peck in their Semifinal. The Pirates no doubt remember Lawrence’s Derek Gribler, a quarterback/running back who again has been the team’s most dangerous offensive player.
Canton (9-2) at Saline (10-1)
Tonight will be familiar at least to fans of Canton, which reached the Regional Final four of five seasons from 2005-09. Putting the Chiefs' record in perspective makes it look even better – they faced six playoff teams during the regular season alone. Saline has tied its team record for wins in making the Regional Final for the second time in three seasons and is seeking its first Semifinal berth. The Hornets haven’t lost since August, when they fell to emerging Division 2 power Muskegon Mona Shores by a mere 31-28.
Other Regional Finals: Hudsonville (7-4) at East Kentwood (10-1), Walled Lake Central (9-2) at Clarkston (11-0), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (8-3) at Detroit Cass Tech (11-0) on Saturday.
Southfield (8-3) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (9-2)
The Bluejays are seeking their first Semifinal appearance since 2008 after what most would argue were upsets of Detroit Martin Luther King and Oak Park to win the District title. That said, Southfield’s three losses this fall were by a combined 12 points, all to playoff teams including two more also playing this weekend. Roosevelt finished third in a competitive Downriver League, with two losses to eventual playoff teams. But the Bears are going for their 10th win for the sixth time in seven seasons and last week avenged one of those losses by handing Brownstown Woodhaven its first and lone defeat.
Other Regional Finals: Battle Creek Lakeview (9-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (10-1), Flushing (9-2) at Farmington Hills Harrison (9-2) on Saturday, Warren DeLaSalle (8-3) vs. Birmingham Brother Rice (11-0) on Saturday at Berkley.
Lowell (10-1) at Zeeland West (11-0)
Arguably the top game in Michigan this weekend matches Ottawa-Kent Conference White co-champ Lowell with O-K Green and reigning Division 3 champion Zeeland West. The less-than-lovely weather hasn’t slowed down either team; the Red Arrows scored a season-high 49 points last week in beating Grand Rapids Christian for the second time this fall, and West has scored more than 500 points for the fourth straight season – although the Dux must bounce back from a scare after needing to outlast Stevensville Lakeshore 30-28 in the District Final.
Other Regional Finals: Petoskey (9-2) vs. Muskegon (10-1) on Saturday at Holton, Mason (8-3) at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (9-2) on Saturday, Redford Thurston (8-3) at New Boston Huron (10-1).
Eaton Rapids (8-3) at Edwardsburg (10-1)
These two are similar to the point that this game could be done in 90 minutes – both have gotten here with tough running that runs down the clock and leaves little opportunity for opponents. Edwardsburg has a pair of 1,000-plus yard runners and is three points from being undefeated. But Eaton Rapids – under former Holt coach Mike Smith, a playoff veteran – has become something of an unpredictable playoff force. The Greyhounds are 4-1 in two seasons of playoff games after having never made them before Smith took over last fall.
Other Regional Finals: Whitehall (9-2) at Grand Rapids South Christian (9-2), Richmond (10-1) at Lansing Sexton (11-0) on Saturday, Detroit Country Day (7-4) at Chelsea (9-2).
River Rouge (10-1) at Almont (11-0)
Almont’s dominating 35-7 win over Marine City in the District Final has made the Raiders a trendy pick to reach Ford Field from this side of the bracket. Eliminating the reigning Division 4 champion will do that, as will outscoring two playoff opponents by a combined 100-7 and putting up 569 points total through 11 games. Almont will face River Rouge for the second time in three seasons after falling 44-22 to the Panthers in a 2012 District Final. Last week’s opponent, Ida, was the first to score on River Rouge in more than a month.
Other Regional Finals: Freeland (10-1) at Menominee (11-0) on Saturday, Reed City (9-2) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (11-0), Flint Powers Catholic (8-3) at Lansing Catholic (11-0).
Madison Heights Madison (9-2) at Ithaca (11-0) on Saturday
Most opponents face Ithaca not expected to win and with nothing to lose – the Yellowjackets haven’t lost since 2009. But Madison definitely faces some pressure this weekend as the team expected to come closest, at least this season so far, to ending that run. Madison runs a lot – the team has 310 rushes to 104 passes – and with good reason averaging 9.4 yards per carry. But this might be the best defense, at least on paper, in Ithaca history. It hasn’t given up a point in the playoffs and allowed only 66 during the regular season.
Other Regional Finals: Leroy Pine River (8-3) at Boyne City (11-0), Watervliet (10-1) at Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (10-1) on Saturday, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (10-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (11-0) on Saturday
New Lothrop (11-0) vs. Detroit Loyola (11-0) at Detroit U-D Jesuit
It’s been quite a calendar year for New Lothrop’s boys teams, with MHSAA championships in wrestling and baseball. Beating a Loyola football team that has finished runner-up in Division 7 the last two seasons probably shouldn’t count the same – but would still be a giant deal for a Hornets team that has five straight perfect regular seasons but hasn’t made it to Ford Field during that run. Loyola hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2010 or given up more than seven points in a game since September – the Bulldogs’ 69 points against for the season rank them among the best defensively in the state.
Other Regional Finals: Traverse City St. Francis (9-2) vs. Ishpeming (10-0) at the Superior Dome, Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (10-1) at Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (11-0), Bridgman (8-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (9-2).
Mendon (10-1) vs. Muskegon Catholic Central (11-0), Saturday at Grand Haven
Muskegon Catholic Central has certainly played up to expectations this fall, extending its winning streak to 23 games despite taking on a number of larger schools as a first-year member of the Lakes 8 Conference. The Crusaders are supposed to cruise to their second straight Division 8 title. But if they are to be stopped, it could be by Mendon. Only Columbus Hartley from Ohio has come closer to catching MCC than Mendon did in last season's 28-12 Regional Final defeat. With eight straight seasons of at least 10 wins, the Hornets surely aren’t intimidated.
Other Regional Finals: Munising (10-1) vs. Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-1) at the Superior Dome, Baldwin (10-1) at Beal City (9-2), Morenci (10-1) at Harbor Beach (11-0) on Saturday.
PHOTO: Ithaca, here against Millington in their Division 6 District Final, will look to extend its winning streak to 68 games. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com).