Can you believe it? Football season is here! All the hard work done in the offseason (or lack of hard work) is about to show. There are plenty of great storylines and awesome finishes that will come over the season. I plan on covering four or five games per week this year. It all depends on the quality of the games. Other than that, it will be pretty close to what I have done for the past seven years. Let’s take a look at what games are out there for this week!
Macomb Dakota at Clarkston (Thursday August 28th, 7pm)
This one is going to pack the house. Macomb Dakota has been among the top teams in the Detroit area for a few years. Last season, they had not lost a game and hardly given up any points until they suffered a 17-32 loss to Cass Tech in the Regional Final. Maurice Moon is returning, but has switched from running back to quarterback. Tony Balabani is one of their top linemen on a strong offensive and defensive unit. The squad should be good again and with a few breaks could see a game Thanksgiving Weekend for that Michigan shaped trophy.
As good as Dakota is, Clarkston is the defending Division 1 champs. They beat Detroit Catholic Central 32-14 to win their first state title. Some of their players from last year’s championship team have graduated while others ended up in green and white (David Beedle.) The Wolves do have six returning starters on both sides of the ball including quarterback D.J. Zezula. Clarkston will be strong in the secondary and with the passing game. Also, Adam Matich is one of the top linemen in the state. This year’s Wolves will be good. Everyone will be giving them their best shot every Friday night. It helps when Clarkston’s head coach, Kurt Richardson, has been at the helm for 28 years.
Great Lakes Bay Region
Saginaw Swan Valley at Nouvel Catholic Central (Thursday August 28th, 7pm)
These are probably two of the top three active programs in Saginaw County (in regards to winning percentage, Frankenmuth being the other program.) They have met six times since Nouvel opened its doors in 1984. The Vikings are led by record setting running back Alex Grace. The guy rushed for 2,962 yards as a junior last season, best in MHSAA history. Even when he is being tackled, he always falls forward another two or three yards. The Vikings pulled up a bunch of sophomores a few years back who are now veteran seniors with a ton of game big game experience. Among them are standout lineman Casey Stadler, linebacker Taylor Reaume, and quarterback Nick Call. Look for Swan Valley to rely more on Call and let Grace play some more defense this season.
Nouvel is a regular threat. They have only missed the playoffs five times since they opened in 1984 and only once since 2000. Coach Mike Boyd always has a tough team that can give multiple looks. Quarterbacking this year is junior Mitch Morley. Brad Dey got plenty of experience at the running back position when Ryan Sullivan (graduated) went down with an injury last year. He will have a line with some games under their belts to run behind. That will be important because Swan Valley has good linemen and linebackers on defense. This game is going to be fun to watch. Nouvel can usually hang with the larger schools and Swan Valley is about double the size (322 for Nouvel, 602 at Swan Valley.)
Detroit Country Day at Zeeland West (Thursday August 28th, 7:30pm)
A rough start is how the Yellowjackets began the 2013 campaign, but they righted the ship. They lost to Zeeland West, U of D Jesuit, and Detroit Loyola in consecutive games to open. Fortunately, they were able to rebound and play to the regional final. This year, they again start out with Zeeland West, but this time they are the defending Division 3 state champions. Country Day has an experienced line and that should help quarterback David Pohl and running back Joe Bergin. This whole season will be tough though. They scheduled three defending champions and one state runner up.
Zeeland West won their third state championship last season. That’s pretty good for a team that has only had ten seasons of football. Like Country Day, Zeeland West has strong and experienced linemen. Quarterback Casey Brinks is a returning starter as are running backs Nick Jasch and Dakota Geurink. This team has the linemen and linebackers to make opposing teams work hard for every yard they gain.
Ithaca at Clare (Friday August 29th, 7pm)
I looked at doing a game further north of this, but this game kept standing out. Ithaca has rolled everyone. They haven’t lost a game since November 20th, 2009. In that time, they have four state titles and 56 wins. It’s not going to be easy though. The Yellowjackets lost 13 seniors from last year’s team. Travis Smith has moved on to Wake Forest, but his younger brother Jake has taken over the quarterback position after being a receiver last year. 14 other players saw a lot of playing time as well, so they do have game experience. In Division 6, they will be again the favorites to win the state title.
Clare has no room for error. They open with defending state champ Ithaca. In week two, they battle state runner up Beal City. For the past seven years, the Pioneers of Clare have won the Jack Pine Conference, so they will be the hunted. Luckily, Clare has many returning seniors to lead the squad and take care of positions. There are a few battles that have been waged for important spots on the roster, so the team should be hungry. The Pioneers are a bit larger than Ithaca, but they had better bring their “A-Game” if they are to pull an upset of Ithaca.