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Nick Vlietstra's High School Sports. The Good and Bad from District Playoffs

by Nick Vlietstra

The Good and Bad from the Divisional Playoffs:

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The Good:

The KVA:

What an opening for the KVA.  Their teams went 5-0 which included, arguably, the biggest upset in the entire state when Parchment knocked off #2 and nine time state champion Jackson Lumen Christi.  Neither team could stop each other and it looked like it would be a game where whoever finished with the ball last would win.  That is pretty much what happened when Parchment scored with 36 seconds left in the game and then survived two throws to the end zone in the final seconds of the game.  Clay Wilkey was a beast, rushing for 279 yards and four TDs.  The most impressive state of the night was the fact that Parchment was 6 for 6 on fourth downs.  It was also the first playoff win for the Panthers since 1991 when they advanced to the state semi-finals before losing to Negaunee. 

The other wins for the KVA included four road wins.  In essence, every one of the KVA wins was an upset, although I won’t call all of them true upsets.  I expected Schoolcraft to win, I figured Constantine would get the job done as well and I thought Olivet would be a toss-up with Hopkins.  On the other side I did not see Pennfield being able to beat Paw Paw.  That was a very impressive win and really spoke to the strength of the KVA.  They didn’t beat them in any fluky fashion; they just came from behind late and took the game from Paw Paw.

I did hear plenty of people talking saying that the KVA doesn’t get enough respect and I do believe that.  I will say that the KVA does get some respect around the state with the successes of some of their teams.  Still, I think in the area the KVA is a little looked down at by conferences such as the Wolverine which just has larger schools.  I think in football the KVA is every bit as tough as the Wolverine.  The difference is that the Wolverine has largely switched to become a league where everyone runs the spread.  The only teams who don’t are Plainwell, Edwardsburg and Dowagiac (oddly enough those are three of the best schools in the conference).  Still, they never see the styles of grind it out football that the KVA is about.  I believe that played a large role in the Parchment upset of Lumen Christi.  The Titans had not seen any teams (well…any good teams) run a power run offense let alone the Wing-T.  If you are seeing the Wing-T for the first time in the playoffs it can cause a lot of headaches and some upsets.  In this day in age of everyone wanting to put up the big points with the sexy spread offenses, I think now the throw back offenses and power run teams can succeed as much as ever.  If you don’t believe that then take a look at who is winning state championships every year.  The large majority of those teams, both big and small, run power run offenses.

The top of the SMAC/SMAC West:

The SMAC west went 3-1 while the SMAC east went 1-3.  There were games such as St. Joseph slowing down and shutting out Sturgis 16-0.  That game that saw an unreal performance from the Bear’s RB Jack Turak who rushed for 391 yards and two TDs.  Coldwater was in their first playoff game in school history and put up a great effort but fell short to Stevensville-Lakeshore 28-21.  Of course you can’t talk about the top of the SMAC without talking about Portage Central who improved to 10-0 with their win over Lansing Everett.   

The top of the SMAC was very impressive with Portage Central and Lakeview both getting their wins.  Portage Central won easily over Lansing Everett 38-6.  They were able to slow down the good passing game from Everett and ran like wild on the defense.  Lakeview did much of the same to Portage Northern in their 31-7 win.  That now sets up a great match-up of two undefeated teams and the top two teams in the SMAC.  It is going to be a good old fashioned smash mouth football game as well.  Both have great defenses and both have great rushing offenses.  Both teams also have three good threats out of the backfield with two good running backs and a QB that will run much more than throw.  That will be a great battle on Friday night along with Lakeshore and St. Joseph getting together.

SAC South

They couldn’t win them all because one game involved two of their teams but the SAC south still went 3-1 in the first week of the playoffs.  Watervliet hammered Hartford 44-0 in a game that saw Luke Traver burn his former team one last time, throwing for 210 yards and four TDs.  Both Lawton and Decatur had close games but they pulled them out.

The win has to feel good for Decatur who had some bad luck this season.  Getting a first round playoff win, regardless of who it is against, makes your season a success in my view.  Decatur did that with their 28-14 win over Bridgman.  Lawton also did that getting a hard earned 21-6 win over Springport.  If you ever get concerned about how much your offense scores in the playoffs, it isn’t a huge concern if your defense is still holding strong.  You are playing good determined teams and most have good defenses.  It all comes down to whether you can capitalize on your opportunities, take care of the ball, and play good defense.  It appears Decatur and Lawton both did that.

Mendon/Climax Scotts:

These two both had good playoff opening wins without any trouble.  First for the #2 ranked Mendon.  No one thought they would have trouble, and the biggest mystery was how much they would win by.  They ended up winning 67-0 over a bad Eau Claire team who had a losing record coming into the playoffs.  In the end they spread around the wealth and seven different players scored TDs.  They are also playing without their starting QB Jordan Medich who was injured at the end of the season.  The first game with Kaleb McCarroll under center was just fine.  He finished six for nine passing for 103 yards and a score. 

Climax-Scotts was not supposed to be challenged in the first game either and their defense made sure it wasn’t much of a game.  They beat Bellvue 20-0 and held the Broncos to just 125 yards of offense.  They now will get another shot at Mendon.  The same Mendon team that has sent them home the last two years in dominating fashion and whom the Panthers have not beaten since 1977.

The Bad:

The Wolverine Conference:

That night went about as bad as it could.  They were assured at least one team would get into the second round because Dowagiac and Edwardsburg were playing again.  The bad thing for them is there was only one team that moved on.  They went a combined 1-4 on the night which included losing the league’s top three teams, Edwardsburg, Plainwell and Paw Paw.  They also lost Otsego, but no one really thought they had a good chance against Grand Rapids South Christian. 

The Plainwell loss is a tough one for the Trojans.  I figured that would be a close game and even though Wayland was 5-4 they played the same style as Plainwell.  When you go 5-4 with close losses all season to some of the best teams in the state, you had to believe Wayland was more than up for the challenge.  Not only that but they put up 38 points on a Plainwell defense that had given up only 42 points the entire season before Friday night. 

Paw Paw lost at home to Pennfield and they once again lose in the playoffs to a team that runs the Wing-T.  Perhaps you can’t say they got beat by the Wing-T but rather just a team that runs it.  They did a pretty good job of containing the Pennfield offense.  It was more about the fact that they were outscored 21-6 in the second half and turnovers.  They had trouble moving the ball and turned it over three times, two INTs and one key fumble in the second half.  In the end it did hurt a lot the fact that Paw Paw lost QB Jay Doll.  They never could get back to their offensive identity again.  They seemed to do fine with Kyle Williams in week nine but he was not calling the shots on Friday, but rather Armando Garcia. 

The Edwardsburg loss is inexcusable.  Obviously, Dowagiac made some changes (you would expect that) and were ready to go, but losing to a team you just beat 36-0 two weeks ago?  This was a Dowagiac team who was known for their defense and maybe their defense played with a little pride after what happened in week eight.  Edwardsburg was a very good team that looked like it had the marks of a team who could go on a run.  They had a good defense and a power run game.  They had destroyed everyone they played (Outside of the Paw Paw game).  They had played a decent schedule.  Still, it all comes down to one week and if you don’t come to play, you can get beat.  Even if that is to a team you soundly beat two weeks ago.  Now all the Wolverine is left with is a Dowagiac team that is down and not nearly as talented as the teams of the last two years.  I don’t want to slight Dowagiac at all, because they clearly got the win and it was a great turnaround.  They did what they had to do, got the win, and have now won their first round playoff game three straight years. 

SMAC East:

The SMAC East ended up going just 1-3 in the first round with their one win coming from Lakeview.  There were a few not so good performances from a few of these teams.  Coldwater should not be ashamed of their performance at all.  They had a long trip down to Stevensville-Lakeshore and they looked very good in a 28-21 loss.  Others such as Sturgis and Harper Creek did not fare too well.

Sturgis had been a hot offensive team toward the end of the season.  Chance Stewart had thrown 8 TD passes in his final three games and was well over 300 yards passing in each of those games.  On top of that they put up 21 points on Lakeview in the final regular season game, and were the only team to score in the 20s on them all season.  St. Joe was not scared as they held Senior QB to just 4 for 25 passing for 59 yards and two INTs.  On top of that they also allowed RB Jack Turak to run for an amazing 391 yards and two TDs.  The final score showed only 16-0, but the stats show that game was not that close.

The other SMAC team that did not have a good Friday night was Harper Creek.  The Beavers struck first in their game against Byron Center but they didn’t strike again as they were soundly beaten 28-3.  Star QB Trevor Johnson was held to just 55 yards passing and 8 yards rushing.  On the other side the visiting Bulldogs rushed for over 200 yards and had all of their TDs on the ground.  It brought an end to the season for the team that has reached the state semi-finals the last two seasons and got to the regional the season before that. 

District Finals Games:

Division 2:

Friday - Battle Creek Lakeview (10-0) @ #8 Portage Central (10-0)

Division 3:

Friday - Stevensville-Lakeshore (7-3) @ #7 St. Joseph (9-1)

Division 4:

Friday - Dowagiac (7-3) @ #9 Pennfield (9-1)

Division 5:

Friday - Parchment (7-3) @ #7 Olivet (9-1)

Division 6:

Friday - Schoolcraft (9-1) @ #10 Watervliet (10-0)

Friday - Constantine (6-4) @ Hillsdale (7-3)

Division 7:

Friday - Decatur (7-3) @ Cassopolis (7-3)

Friday - Lawton (9-1) @ #10 Homer (9-1)

Division 8:

Saturday - Climax-Scotts (9-1) @ #2 Mendon (10-0)