East English Village, despite a 51-48 loss to King in the Detroit Public School League football championship game, still likes its chances of making a strong run as one of six PSL teams in the Michigan High School Athletic Association playoffs.
A big reason for that optimism is because Coach Rod Oden’s Bulldogs (7-2) will begin the playoffs at home. They host Marysville (6-3) at 7 p.m. in a Division 3 game.
“Well. Well. Well,’’ Oden posted on Facebook after learning of his team’s first-round pairing. “Let’s chase this Wooden Mitten (the state championship trophy)!!! Dog or Die!! Marysville welcome to Cadieux & East Warren.”
The Bulldogs had won seven games in a row since a 20-14 setback against Oak Park in the season opener. King stopped that momentum in the PSL championship game at Ford Field, coming back from a 20-0 deficit to take a 39-20 lead and then holding on beat the Bulldogs in a down-to-the-wire thriller.
“I’m proud of how my guys did not quit,” Oden said. “We started out with a bang, but that King team really showed me they have heart. Still we had our chances to win. We just ran out of time.”
Despite the loss to end the regular season, East English Village’s computer point total still gave them enough of an advantage to start the playoffs at home, If all goes well, Oden expects to be back at Ford Field in the Division 3 state championship game.
Meanwhile, the PSL’s other five qualifiers will each start on the road. Here’s what the coaches are thinking and saying entering this weekend’s games.
DIVISION 1 — Cass Tech (7-2) at Grosse Pointe South (8-1) Friday 7 p.m.
Coach Thomas Wilcher’s Technicians are the defending Division 1 state champions, having beat Detroit Catholic Central 49-13 in last year’s title game and spending much of this season ranked No. 1 in the state and in the top 10 nationally.
Same as last year, Cass tech will be trying to make a run toward the state playoffs after failing to reach the PSL championship game. That scenario could repeat itself, but Wilcher is skeptical.
“Last year, I was a little bit more positive, but this year I’m more apprehensive,’’ he said. “They’re kids and they’ve got a lot of problems that kids have. I don’t know what kids are going to show up and with what attitude. This team has a different attitude than last year. They’re not hungry. They’re satisfied.”
The Technicians lost in the PSL semifinals to arch-rival King 44-13. “The reality set in by the fourth quarter,’’ Wilcher said. “The (butt) was kicked by then.”
It was quite a comedown for a team that was ballyhooed as one of the best to come out of Detroit in a long while. Wilcher said all the media attention focused on his team, including being the subject of a national sporting goods chain internet commercial, may have been too much for some of his players to handle.
“That has a lot to do with it, and that’s one thing I learned,’’ Wilcher said. “You’ve got to keep all that attention to a minimum. I think some of the kids kept believing what they read more than what they did.”
Wilcher expects Grosse Pointe South to provide a stern opening test. “They’re strong with a real tough running game,’’ he said.
“They’re well-disciplined and will try to do whatever it takes to win. We’ve got to stop the run and our kids have to play to their abilities.”
Cass Tech has been celebrated for having as many as a dozen players headed toward Division I collegiate programs. Wilcher, at this point, doesn’t even venture to count the talent on his team.
“I don’t even think about it,’’ he said. “It makes my head hurt. It’s the mentality of the kids. They’re going through the motions.”
DIVISION 2 – King (6-3) at Southfield (6-3) Friday 4:30 p.m.
This will be a rematch of the nonleague season opener that Southfield won 21-20 in overtime. Coach Dale Harvel says the Crusaders’ recipe to reverse the outcome is simple.
“We have to play this game without seven turnovers,’’ Harvel said. “That was pretty much the difference in the first game. We fumbled and threw away that game. We’ll have to play better and do a better job of holding on to the football like we’ve been doing the last six weeks.”
King is riding a six-game winning streak and has been in a must-win situation to extend its season into the postseason since starting the regular season 0-3.
“We just know this is the situation we’re in, and now it’s no different than anybody else,’’ Harvel said. “We still must win. The key is we’ve been healthy. We haven’t had any major injuries that required us to play second or third-team players.”
King came up short against Birmingham Brother Rice in last year’s Division 2 semifinals. But the Crusaders’ confidence couldn’t be higher after winning their first PSL championship game since 2009, just a week after stunning Cass Tech in the semifinals.
“That was the big driving force for us, especially for the seniors,’’ Harvel said. “Until last Friday, this senior class hadn’t won a city title. In the last 12 years, every senior class that has come through King has won a city title and we’re happy to keep that going. Now the goals have changed. The next goal is win the state championship.”
DIVISION 2 — Cody (6-3) at Oak Park (7-2) Friday 6 p.m.
Oak Park defeated East English Village 20-14 in the nonleague opener, but Cody coach Calvin Norman knows about the Knights beyond them having defeated the PSL runners-up.
“I’ve known Coach Greg Carter for years. He coached my brothers over at St. Martin De Porres and has always put together great and well-coached football teams,’’ Norman said. “But my team has a lot of speed. I think we match up pretty well with them up front. And I don’t think they’ll be able to match up with our speed.”
Cody lost to East English Village 37-32 in the PSL semifinals. Norman thinks his team faced a tougher Bulldogs team than the one Oak Park beat to open the season.
“East English had some injuries when they played Oak Park and that kind of dictated that game,’’ Norman said. “Oak Park won a big game against Farmington, but they’ve lost the last two games. I don’t know if they will be able to bounce back from that.”
In contrast, Norman thinks his team is on the way to playing its best football.
“We haven’t peaked yet, but each week we’re getting better and better,’’ he said. “I saw that in the East Village game and I saw that again last week when we played Walled Lake Central. They were a good football team with some very good athletes and we scored 40 points on them. That lets me know our team is getting better.”
DIVISION 3 – Central (6-3) at St. Clair (6-3) Saturday 7 p.m.
First-year Coach Robert Hunt is a graduate of Central High and takes pride in the Trailblazers’ recovery after going 1-8 a year ago.
”We play hard, play smart and we play for each other,” Hunt said. “It’s a credit to the team for sticking together, believing in the program and fighting every game until there’s triple zero on the clock.”
While the Trailblazers missed out on qualifying for the PSL playoffs, Hunt said “The grand prize is the state championship.
“Cass Tech was able to win last year and King did it a few years back (in 2007). We want to do what those programs have done. As a Central graduate, I’m doing the best job I can to stay the course and keep us focused on the little things that win games. We have to minimize our mistakes and put ourselves in position to capitalize on the mistakes of our opponent.”
DIVISION 7 — Douglass (5-3) at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (7-2) Saturday 3 p.m.
After winning the PSL Division II championship last year, Douglass came into this season with a target on its back and has had varied results in handling it.
“We had real high expectations starting the season with a senior quarterback and a senior running back, but we were kind of young in key spots, mostly up front,’’ Hurricanes coach Al Demps said. “We’ve played kind of inconsistent throughout the year. We didn’t have that mentality of a team that just came off winning a city championship and doing some historical things. But we’ve managed to stay together and we were able to make the playoffs and we’re going to try to make a run here in Division 7.
Demps said University Liggett runs a spread offense that is tough to defend. “But if we come out and play our game, we should be able to handle them for the most part,’’ he said. “We should be able to pound them and come out with a victory.”
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