High School Football Playoff Preview

The 2014 Playoffs are here.  The dreams and the hopes of all these teams have been fulfilled as they clinched their spots.  For some it happened a few weeks ago.  For others they needed to wait until the final week.  Regardless, they are here, and so get ready for the hard hitting exciting action of the football playoffs.  Here’s a look at all the area games you can look forward to this Friday night

Division 2

Portage Northern (6-3) @ Portage Central (7-1); Winner faces Mattawan/Lakeview Winner

The rematch is back once again.  These two have met twice in the playoffs in recent years.  The bad news for Portage Northern is they usually come out on the losing end of these games.  Portage Central knocked out Northern in 2010 and 2012.  Not only did the Mustangs win those games but they have won 10 out of the last 11 against their rivals.  That includes their week seven 26-10 win.  That game was much closer than the score indicated as it was 12-10 going into the fourth quarter.

Northern will try to slow down Brandon Sturgeon and the Central offense (Courtesy: MLive Media Group)

Northern will try to slow down Brandon Sturgeon and the Central offense (Courtesy: MLive Media Group)

Central replaced their entire offensive backfield this year but they still were good enough to go 7-1.  They haven’t had the one big star out of the backfield this year, but have gotten the biggest contributions from QB Sam Vermeulen and RB Brandon Sturgeon.  They were second in the SMAC in scoring this year and averaged 28 ppg.  They also had one of the best defenses which allowed less than 13 ppg.  Northern is led by their duel threat QB Thomas Scheffert and his main target Daryn Snow who has over 40 catches this year and seven TDs.  Josh Leiter was the top running threat with over 700 yards.  The calling card for the Huskies is their defense which has held opponents under 17 points six times this season.

My Pick:  Portage Central 21, Portage Northern 17.  I don’t think Central will run away with this game but I do think they will win.  They have the mental advantage and until Northern steps up and proves they can win a big game against their rivals I have to stick with the Mustangs.

Mattawan (6-3) @ Battle Creek Lakeview (7-1); Winner faces Portage Central/Portage Northern winner.

The top two teams in the SMAC East will meet again when Mattawan and Lakeview rematch on Friday.  Lakeview beat Mattawan 38-12 in week four and went on to win the east division.  This is the second straight year in the playoffs for the Spartans who prior to last year hadn’t been in since 2003.  Lakeview was arguably the best team in the whole conference this season.  They went 7-1 and their lone loss was a 28-24 defeat to Portage Northern in week one.  Since then they have rattled off seven straight wins which includes a 27-0 win over SMAC West champ Stevensville Lakeshore.  The Spartans dominated on both sides of the ball.  They were the tops in the SMAC in both offense and defense this year.  RB Dre’On Kemp is their biggest threat as he has over 1,100 yards and 18 TDs this year.  The Spartans averaged 38.9 ppg, more than 10 points a game better than anyone else in the SMAC.  They also held opponents to just 9.3 ppg and had three shutouts.

Dre'On Kemp was the top RB in the SMAC and to beat the Spartans the Wildcats need to stop him

Dre’On Kemp was the top RB in the SMAC and to beat the Spartans the Wildcats need to stop him

Mattawan got off to a rough start to the season when they started just 1-3 out of the gate.  Things were not good for the Wildcats as they not only had a 1-3 record but were also dealing with inner team struggles coming from a lawsuit being brought against the school because of comments from head coach Matt Stevens.  Since that loss to Lakeview the Wildcats have turned around their season winning five straight to get into the playoffs.  Included in that stretch was a week eight road win at Stevensville Lakeshore.  Logan Buchler is the top back in their wing-T offense which also gets contributions from Kobe Thomas, Seger Sabo-Chopp and QB Parker Curtis.

My Pick:  Lakeview 28, Mattawan 18. Mattawan has gone on a nice run to get back into the playoffs, but I think Lakeview is just too good for them.

Division 4:

Battle Creek Harper Creek (5-4) @ Plainwell (8-1); Winner faces United/Eaton Rapids Winner

The draw came out pretty good for Plainwell who gets to have home field advantage for their first two games and have a look at making a good run.  First though they have to get past Harper Creek who is just 5-4, but still a solid team.  Plainwell is 8-1 and champions of the Wolverine East.  They are back in the playoffs for the fourth straight season and have won eight games in back to back years.  The Trojans won eight games last year but then fell in their opening game of the playoffs to Wayland.  They bring plenty to the table on both offense and defense.  Offensively they averaged over 35 ppg and were led by Jacob Geter who rushed for almost 1900 yards this year with 26 TDs.  On the defensive end they were best in the Wolverine giving up just 11 ppg.  The Trojans enter the playoffs after allowing just seven points over their last four games.

Geter will take his highlight show up against Harper Creek (Courtesy: MLive Media Group)

Geter will take his highlight show up against Harper Creek (Courtesy: MLive Media Group)

Harper Creek is not having the best of years with just a 5-4 record, but that doesn’t mean they are a bad team.  The Beavers are a historically strong team and have missed the playoffs just once in the last 11 years.  That also includes two trips to the state semifinals in 2011 and 2012.  They beat Plainwell 26-10 in the second round of the playoffs in 2012.  They changed conferences this year and still played a tough schedule.  All four of their losses came against playoff teams.  With that being said, the Beavers still had a down year.  They struggled to both score and stop other teams at times this season and were outscored on the year 236-182.  Plainwell will need to slow down the wing-T offense.  Their only loss this year came against Edwardsburg who also runs the wing-T

My Pick: Plainwell 24, Harper Creek 21.  I think the bracket opens up for the Trojans after this game, but they need to get through it first.  They have a strong class of seniors who are focused and I think they can pull out this game to move on.

Kalamazoo United (6-3) @ Eaton Rapids (6-3); Winner faces Harper Creek/Plainwell winner

Kalamazoo United is in the playoffs in their first year as a program.  Because of the combined size of both schools United will be playing in division four and will play their first playoff game against the Greyhounds of Eaton Rapids.  United got into the playoffs based on a fairly weak schedule.  The Titans only played two teams with winning records and only one of those teams had more than six wins.  Their offense has put up decent numbers this year averaging 26 ppg.  Their defense has been tough, giving up just 15.6 ppg and held opponents to 15 or less in five games.

Eaton Rapids is making their second straight playoffs appearance after they made it last year for the first time in school history.  They ended up making a run to the regional before eventually losing to DeWitt.  This year you could say they beat everyone they were supposed to beat.  They didn’t beat anyone with a winning record but all three losses came against teams who made the playoffs (Mason, Williamston and Lansing Catholic).  They are a pass first offense led by QB Jared McDaniel, who is already committed to play college basketball at Concordia.  McDaniel has thrown for over 1,500 yards and 17 TDs with his main targets being James Cruz (600 yards, 9 TDs) and Blaine Milheim (440 yards, 4 TDs).  They have not run the ball very effectively this year as Lane McVicker has been their leading rusher with less than 500 yards.

My Pick:  Eaton Rapids 28, United 13.  This will be a big step up in competition for United.  Eaton Rapids is a much bigger school who has played bigger schools all season long.

Paw Paw (6-3) @ Edwardsburg (8-1); Winner faces Three Rivers/Vicksburg winner

There are two big things we know about Paw Paw.  One they can put up a lot of points.  Two they can’t stop the wing-T.  They will have another chance on Friday against the Wolverine West champs.  Edwardsburg won their week five match-up against the Redskins 62-57.  That’s nothing new either.  When these two get together there are a lot of points put up.  Consider their scores in recent years; 56-48, 46-36, and 56-21.  Paw Paw had a down year for their standards.  They won just six games, their lowest total since 2009.  They began the season with three straight wins, lost the next three and then won their last three.  It has been documented how the Redskins struggle against the Wing-T.  Three of their last four playoff runs have been ended by wing-T teams, and Edwardsburg is one of the best.  We also know they can put up points and averaged close to 36 ppg.  QB Jay Doll had over 2,300 total yards this year with 21 total TDs to lead the Redskins offense.

Doll has had a big year, but he will need some help from his defense in this one(Courtesy: MLive Media Group)

Doll has had a big year, but he will need some help from his defense in this one(Courtesy: MLive Media Group)

Edwardsburg is back in the playoffs for the fifth straight year, but they have not advanced past the first round since 2010.  The Eddies lost just one game all season, a week three loss to Vicksburg.  They led the Wolverine in scoring this year averaging 43.3 ppg.  They have plenty of threats coming out of their backfield led by Isaiah Miller and Dustin Vires who have combined for 23 TDs this year, while QB Dante Razzano has added nine.  They have not been great on the defensive side allowing 24 ppg.  They have held their opponents under 20 just three times this year.

My Pick: Edwardsburg 39, Paw Paw 31.  Expect plenty of scoring here, but I just can’t pick the Redskins until they can figure out how to stop the wing-T.

Three Rivers (6-3) @ Vicksburg (7-2); Winner faces Paw Paw/Edwardsburg Winner.

Vicksburg will get the chance they were hoping for.  They face their rivals Three Rivers hoping to avenge a 25-12 week six loss to the Wildcats.  This time they will get the game at home and you can expect a huge crowd on hand for this one.  Vicksburg is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011.  They got off to a tremendous start this year winning their first four games including wins over playoff qualifiers Paw Paw and Edwardsburg.  Their two losses this year came in back to back games against Plainwell and Three Rivers.  They have been good on both offense and defense this year as they put up close to 35 ppg on offense and held opponents to just 18 ppg.  Their spread offense is led by senior QB Dalton Ketelaar who is committed to play football at Davenport.  He threw for over 900 yards and 11 TDs and ran for another 700 with 14 TDs.  He is helped out in the backfield by Nick Wallace who rushed for over 1,000 yards and 10 TDs.

Ketelaar and the Bulldogs will get to be in front of the home fans this time (Courtesy: MLive Media Group)

Ketelaar and the Bulldogs will get to be in front of the home fans this time (Courtesy: MLive Media Group)

Three Rivers is back in the playoffs once again after missing out last year.  In their last playoff appearance in 2012 they made a run to the regional before falling to eventual state champion Grand Rapids South Christian.  They didn’t have a great start to the year as they started 0-2 out of the gate with losses to Edwardsburg and Paw Paw.  They rebounded to win six of their last seven which included wins over playoff qualifiers Vicksburg and Berrien Springs.  Their offense is built around do everything RB Bailey Miholer-Wortinger who led them in rushing and is a threat to catch the ball and returns punts.  In their first game against Vicksburg he returned a punt for a TD and also added a score on the ground.  QB Zak Zagon is also a threat to both run and throw and has 16 total TDs this season.

My Pick: Vicksburg 23, Three Rivers 20. This should be another close game between two long-time rivals.  I think Vicksburg wanted this game to get some revenge and I think they can do it.  It won’t be easy and as last time I would expect this game to be won in the fourth quarter.

Division 6

Schoolcraft (6-3) @ Constantine (8-1); Winner faces Niles Brandywine/Watervliet Winner

These two facing each other is nothing new.  They are two historically great programs and this time there’s more than just bragging rights on the line.  These two met four straight times in the playoffs from 2009-2012 with Constantine winning each of those games.  Constantine has reached the playoffs every year since 1999.  They are champions of the KVA this year and included in their regular season work was a 31-17 week two win against Schoolcraft.  They seem to make a run every single year in the playoffs and if they can get through this game there’s no reason why they couldn’t do it again.  Last year they reached the playoffs with a 5-4 record but their run was ended in the regional against Clinton.  That ended a four year stretch where they got to at least the semifinals.  They have a talented backfield with four big threats to run the ball.  Justin Hull and Taylor Reiff are the top two backs while Spencer Tefft and QB Matt Hasbrouck also have to be accounted for.  Overall the Falcons rushed for over 3,300 yards this year and averaged close to 47 ppg.  The bigger thing for them this year was the play of their defense which gave up less than 16 ppg.

Constantine has bounced Schoolcraft from the playoffs quite a bit in recent times (Courtesy: MLive Media Group)

Constantine has bounced Schoolcraft from the playoffs quite a bit in recent times (Courtesy: MLive Media Group)

Schoolcraft narrowly made the playoffs.  They needed a win over Reed City in the final week to get in.  They took a step back this year with just six wins.  That comes after a two year stretch where they lost just one regular season game.  The Eagles started the year just 1-2, but rattled off wins in five of their last six.  They are younger this year and that isn’t seen any more than by their star QB Rickie Clark.  He took over the QB spot midway through the season and has thrown for seven TDs while rushing for another nine.  He is also their main punt and kick returner where he has had a lot of success this year.  Defensively they were pretty good outside of three games.  They gave up 49 points to both Hopkins and New Lothrop and another 31 to Constantine.  On the good side they didn’t allow more than 14 in any other game.

My Pick: Constantine 27, Schoolcraft 17.  This should be a game into the second half but Constantine has hung their hat on great second halves this year, and I think that will happen again.

Division 7

Cassopolis (6-3) @ Decatur (8-1); Winner faces Bridgman/Gobles Winner.

Decatur is in the playoffs for the fourth straight year.  They came up just short of winning the SAC South this year with their only defeat coming at the hands of Watervliet in week eight.  They will meet Cassopolis again who they beat 7-0 in last year’s second round.  The Raiders are looking to build off the success of the last two years when they have reached the regional round.  They have the strong group of players who can do it too.  As usual the Raiders are built behind a strong defense and a solid running game.  Their defense held opponents to less than 10 ppg.  They allowed over 14 points just once and held teams in the single digits five times.  Their offense was led by RB Johnathan Grosvenor who rushed for over 900 yards.  They hold wins over five teams who finished the season with winning records and two other playoff qualifiers.

They face Cassopolis out of the BCS who competed in the tougher Red Division.  They finished 6-3, but the season could have been much different.  Included in their losses were a 21-7 loss to Mendon, and two one point losses against Buchanan and Niles-Brandywine.  They started the season 2-3 but won their last four, beating up on some bad teams along the way, to get into the playoffs.  The Rangers also have a strong rushing attack led by Senior Isaiah Crider.  The numbers are good for their offense which put up close to 37 ppg.  Their defense gave up just 11 ppg and surrendered just 12 points over the last four games.

My Pick: Decatur 17, Cassopolis 12.  I think Decatur has a battle on their hands here.  They did last year and survived 7-0.  I think this year could be similar, but I think the Raiders can survive and move on.

Bridgman (6-2) @ Gobles (7-2); Winner faces Cassopolis/Decatur Winner.

Gobles is back in the playoffs after missing out last year.  They are looking to build on their 7-2 regular season.  Their two losses both came against other playoff qualifiers, Decatur in week four and Fennville in week eight.  Along the way they have put up good numbers on both sides of the ball.  QB Tyler Hunt threw for over 1,100 yards and his favorite target was Jacob Tiller.  The two hooked up 27 times for 12 TDs.  The defense wasn’t great but it was solid.  They were beat up in their regular season finale when they gave up 49 to Saugatuck.  Overall they allowed less than 19 ppg.

Gobles is looking to get past the first round like they did in 2012

Gobles is looking to get past the first round like they did in 2012

Bridgman is in the playoffs for the third straight year, but they have not gotten past the first round the last two years.  They have lost to SAC schools both years, 17-10 against Lawton in 2012 and 28-14 against Decatur last year.  They come in champions of the SAC Blue Division.  The story of their season is fairly simple.  They didn’t really play anyone tough and so they didn’t beat anyone tough.  Their toughest game was their season opener when they lost to Niles-Brandywine 40-14.  They only played one other team with a winning record the rest of the season, White Pigeon.  Their other loss came against Buchanan, 28-24, in the final week of the season.  The numbers are about what you would expect out of a playoff team.  They averaged almost 36 ppg and gave up less than 15.

My Pick: Gobles 28, Bridgman 14.  Gobles should win this game, but it should still be close going into the second half.  I wouldn’t expect a blowout, but the Tigers should move on.

Division 8

Colon (5-3) @ Mendon (8-1); Winner faces Pittsford/Climax Scotts Winner

Mendon is back in the playoffs, a place very familiar to them.  They have been in the playoffs every year since 2006 and have missed out just twice since 1987.  The only difference about this year was that they lost a game, an 18-13 week three loss to Watervliet when a large amount of the seniors were suspended for a hazing incident.  The Hornets are looking to advance past the regional, a place their season has ended the last two years.  The Hornets powerful run attack features Eli Klepper who has gone over 1,100 yards this year.  The defense is strong as usual, holding teams to just 8.6 ppg.

They face Colon out of the SCAA who is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010.  They finished the season with a 5-3 record and in third place in the conference.  Two out of their three losses came against playoff teams, Climax-Scotts and Pittsford.  As you would expect, the numbers were solid for the Magi who outscored their opponents 308-132.

My Pick: Mendon 37, Colon 13.  This is the classic warm up game for the rest of the playoffs for Mendon.  They shouldn’t have any trouble here.

Pittsford (7-2) @ Climax-Scotts (8-1); Winner Faces Colon/Mendon Winner

Another year and Climax-Scotts is in the playoffs.  It now marks 12 straight years that the Panthers are in.  This time they are hoping to get past the district phase, something they haven’t done since 2011.  First up for the Panthers is a rematch with Pittsford who they beat 44-14 back in week six.  The Wildcats finished second in the SCAA to CS, with their only other loss coming against Homer in the opening week.  Both teams play solid defense but the difference here is the power of the CS offense.  The Panthers have put up over 39 ppg this season while Pittsford is only scoring 27 ppg.  CS has won six in a row against the Wildcats going back to 2008.

My Pick:  Climax Scotts 31, Pittsford 15.  Climax should roll here.  Shouldn’t be too much trouble as they get ready for their second round show down with Mendon again.

Follow Dutch on Twitter: @DutchOvenSports

Author: Dutch

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