First Round Playoffs Preview
Battle Creek Lakeview (6-3) @ Mattawan (8-1)
It will be nice to know that at least one team from the SMAC will still be playing football in two weeks, considering at least one of them will be coming out of this district. Mattawan put together their second straight 8-1 season losing only once this season to undefeated Stevensville Lakeshore. Their high powered Wing T offense and a pretty stout defense has led the Wildcats resurgence over the last two years. Mattawan comes out of the much tougher West division of the SMAC, and is battle tested. They have the top scoring offense in the SMAC at 36.7 ppg and were led on offense by Trevor Sweeney, who became the go-to back as the season went along. He has rushed for over 1400 yards and scored 23 total TDs. Brok Lamorandier was second on the team in rushing at over 900 yards, and was the leading rusher for the Wildcats last season.
Battle Creek Lakeview has had a great year exceeding expectations and advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. I don’t think many people thought this team would be a playoff team, especially after they started the season 1-3, but they started their march through the east and ended on a five game winning streak. They ended up in second place in the east with a 6-1 division record. They only beat one other playoff team when they beat Marshall 36-13 in week three. Their offense is led by running backs Nick Ayers and Mike Campbell, but it is more the defense that has been their calling card. They finished third in the SMAC in scoring defense surrendering only 14.7 ppg.
My Pick: Mattawan 29 Lakeview 20. It has been a nice season for the Spartans but there is a big separation between 2nd place in the East and 2nd place in the West.
Portage Central (6-3) @ Portage Northern (7-2)
The two long-time rivals meet again. These two met back in 2010 in the first round of the playoffs when the Mustangs won 49-14. Northern won their earlier meeting earlier this season 42-13 ending a seven game losing streak against Central. Northern has the better record and the technical home field advantage. Northern was just a sniff away from the opportunity to host the first two games of the playoffs, but with their loss to Mattawan in week nine the Wildcats took that spot.
The Huskies are led by their very strong defense which held down opponents to just 10.4 ppg, top in the SMAC. Their offense is no slouch either, ranking second in the conference in scoring at 36.6 ppg. Senior QB Jon Pincus has come up big with his arm and legs this season. In their first meeting Pincus rushed for 184 yards and threw for another 126.
The Mustangs have had a great rushing attack this season led by JeJuan James who has rushed for over 1000 yards and 18 TDs. Jacob Allen has rushed for close to 900 yards and 10 TDs. QB Ryan Mergener has checked in with over 300 yards rushing and Brad Webber has come close to that mark as well. While Central has lost three games this season, two of those were one point losses, 41-40 at Lakeshore and 35-34 against Mattawan.
My Pick: Portage Northern 25, Portage Central 19. I was shocked when I saw the blow out the first time these two played, and with all the marbles on the line this time I have to believe it is going to be a grind it out type of game with the Huskies still having the edge because of their great defense.
Plainwell (6-3) @ Hastings (6-3)
Plainwell really missed out on a big opportunity with a 14-0 loss in week nine against a 3-6 Berrien Springs team. A win in that game and Plainwell is hosting this game instead of playing on the Saxons’ home turf.
The Trojans are a team on the rise with back to back playoff appearances. Last season they won a shootout with Edwardsburg in the first round before falling to Paw Paw. They hold two wins over playoff teams winning 34-26 over Three Rivers in week two and 23-7 over Otsego in week four. A run power team, their two biggest threats are running back Ryan Britton and QB Grand Pell. Their offense was strong this season, but their defense put up bigger numbers, holding opponents down to 15.7 ppg, good for second in the Wolverine.
Hastings is back in the playoffs for the fourth straight season and five out of their last six. They come from a very good league and came in third place behind state powers Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Grand Rapids South Christian. They have lost back to back game to end the season, both losses coming to those two schools, while their only other loss was in week two to undefeated Hopkins. They do hold a win over one other playoff team and that was a 34-21 win over Hamilton in week five.
My Pick: Hastings 28, Plainwell 24. Hastings is a team that comes from a great conference and has plenty of playoff experience. I hope it doesn’t happen, but that week nine loss could come back to hurt Plainwell by needing to play this game on the road.
Otsego (6-3) @ Dowagiac (9-0)
These two just met last week and it didn’t end pretty with a 43-0 win in favor of Dowagiac. The Chieftains have been a great team this entire season, dominating competition on both sides of the ball. They have outscored opponents 340-62. The offense has been great, but the defense has been even better allowing opponents to score double digits just twice this season, and pitching four shutouts. They are holding opposing offenses to less than a touchdown a game. Offensively they run a run oriented offense, with several different players able to carry the ball during the game. They also use two different quarterbacks with Cal Cox and Brett Scanlon both able to run the offense effectively.
Otsego started the season great with a 6-1 record before losing their last two games to two undefeated teams in Paw Paw and Dowagiac. Their most impressive win was a 20-12 week one win over playoff qualifier Edwardsburg. The final numbers are not overly impressive as they outscored opponents 252-214.
My Pick: Dowagiac 38, Otsego 6. Dowagiac has been the best team in the Wolverine all season, they showed they are the better team last week and will show it again this week. Their second game of the playoffs against South Christian or Paw Paw could be a great match-up.
Grand Rapids South Christian (6-3) @ Paw Paw (9-0)
This is a very interesting game, and I know Paw Paw isn’t that happy about how the draw went. Going 9-0 should get you something better than a home game with a state power and then a possible match-up with an undefeated team. This is how it goes, and when you look at it I’m not sure who else they are supposed to play. Perhaps you pit them against a team like Three Rivers, but this is really the only match-up that can happen. I guess all you can say is welcome to the playoffs, and no one said it would be easy.
Paw Paw has had an outstanding season going undefeated for the first time since 2005. As you can expect with an undefeated team they were dominate on offense and defense. Offensively they will run two different systems employing a wishbone look at times, but they have been much better when they run the spread offense. Their biggest offense threat is quarterback Justin McCauley who has thrown for close to 1,300 yards and 11 TDs, while rushing for over 1,000 yards and 12 TDs. After a very easy beginning schedule they beat three playoff teams in the last three weeks. They have held opponents to only 16.6 ppg, good for third in the Wolverine.
South Christian is a state power who comes from a great conference that traditionally produces teams that make deep runs in the state playoffs. While they have missed the playoffs the last three years, they did make it 17 out of the 19 years prior to that which included a state championship in 2002. They come in with a 6-3 record this season but two of those losses are to playoff teams and they have also beaten two playoff teams (Hastings and Grand Rapids West Catholic). Offensively, they are a team who runs a balanced attack, led by QB Jon Wassink who has thrown for over 1300 yards. He has also been their biggest rushing threat this season. On the receiving end Austin Diekevers has been the top target hauling in eight touchdowns.
My Pick: South Christian 28, Paw Paw 26. Paw Paw has been a bunch of studs this season, but they did get a tough district. South Christian is battle tested. Regardless of the home field I think South Christian is a slightly better team.
Three Rivers (6-3) @ Battle Creek Pennfield (8-1)
Ah yes a great KVA-Wolverine battle to see what conference is greater. Two very differing styles too, with one led by a stable of running backs and one by a great senior QB. This could be one of the better games on Friday.
Three Rivers has had a great resurgence that isn’t seen too often these days. They won only one game last year, but rebounded to return to the playoffs. You can’t really look at their schedule and say they have that many quality wins though. They have not beaten any playoff teams, and their three losses are all to playoff teams (Plainwell, Dowagiac and Edwardsburg). They did not beat any team with over three wins, and only outscored opponents 218-212. You can’t talk about Three Rivers without talking about QB Sam Schutes who is one of the best at his position in the area. Schutes has thrown for over 1500 yards this season while rushing for over 400 yards.
Pennfield is a traditional KVA power and they are back in a usual spot in the playoffs where they have been every year since 1997 and missed out just one time since 1982. The strange thing this season is that Pennfield is probably surprised by their 8-1 record. It is hard to say why they had the success they had, because this was a team that lost a lot to graduation. Dominick Arredondo and Jeremy Purcell have been the biggest rushing threats this season for an offense that has averaged over 36 ppg. They ended the season allowing opponents to score only 13.4 ppg which was the best in the KVA. They were never more impressive than in the final week of the season when they held down the top scoring team in the KVA, Constantine, to only seven points.
My Pick: Pennfield 27, Three Rivers 23. I can’t exactly call the Wildcats battle tested, but I can say that about Pennfield. Three Rivers will throw it more than anyone Pennfield has seen all season, but the Panthers run the Wing-T and the one time Three Rivers saw that this season Edwardsburg hung 49 points on the scoreboard.
Niles Brandywine (7-2) @ Schoolcraft (9-0)
Schoolcraft has been a battle tested team all season. While they may not look overly impressive to some, they are a team that quite simply gets the job done. Something good has to be said about any team that can get through the KVA schedule undefeated. If there was a team to do it this year I don’t think anyone outside of Schoolcraft would have picked the Eagles. Jeff Scott has been great in his first year leading the offense throwing for over 1300 yards and 15 TDs. Benny Clark has been a stud in the backfield rushing for close to 1000 yards and 17 TDs.
Niles Brandywine comes into the playoffs on a three game winning streak but you can’t say from looking at their schedule that they have been very impressive. They have been able to benefit from no longer being a part of the old Lakeland Conference, which lost Edwardsburg, Berrien Springs and Coloma to the Wolverine. From what was left of the conference, three out of the four teams are making the playoffs, and Brandywine lost to both of the other playoff teams. Their best quality win would be a 39-14 win over Lake Michigan Catholic in week seven.
My Pick: Schoolcraft 39, Brandywine 8. Brandywine does not appear to be a very good team, and regardless of how good anyone thinks Schoolcraft is, they win this game rather easily.
Constantine (7-2) @ Watervliet (8-1)
This game could be an offensive shootout. Constantine has averaged 46.7 ppg, but their biggest struggle has been pass defense. Meanwhile Watervliet throws the ball as much and as well as anyone in the area.
The Falcons are ranked #9 in the state in Division six, and back in the playoffs for the 21st straight season. They are coming off a week nine loss to Pennfield where they were held to their lowest point output of the season. Peyton White has been a mainstay in the backfield for quite a few years now, and he continues to be a force. He has rushed for close to 1000 yards and 17 TDs. Meanwhile Ben Mallo has been no slouch with over 800 yards and 9 TDs and Jeff Steiner also has rushed for over 500 yards. Constantine has been the top offense in the KVA averaging 46.7 ppg. They have scored in the 50s twice and have gone over 60 three times.
Watervliet is led by their great senior QB Jake Cowart. He has been one of the top throwing QBs in the area this season throwing for over 1600 yards and 28 TDs. His main target has been Travis Bolin who has caught close to 1000 of those yards and 20 of those TDs. They come in very battle tested coming out of a very competitive SAC south which produced four playoff teams. The Panthers had the top offense and the top defense in the SAC this season. They are coming into the playoffs on a down note falling to Lawton in the final week of the season.
My Pick: Constantine 41, Watervliet 35. I think this is going to be a shootout, but I think the Falcons have a little more than the Panthers.
Bridgeman (6-3) @ Lawton (8-1)
Lawton is now ranked #6 in the state in Division seven and comes in off the biggest win of their season beating Watervliet 33-26. Their top running back Brandon St. Clair has rushed for 1300 yards and 16 TDs for an offense that has produced 36.7 ppg. Their defense has given up only 17.9 ppg and has allowed over 20 points only three times. They are battle tested coming out of the SAC south.
Bridgeman comes in out of the Lakeland Conference, and in their one game against a team from the SAC they were soundly beaten 57-9 by Gobles. They don’t have any impressive wins, with their only win over a playoff team coming against fellow Lakeland Conference foe Brandywine.
My Pick: Lawton 39, Bridgeman 9. This game has a chance to be a blowout. Bridgeman has been far from impressive this year, while Lawton has been very impressive.
Decatur (7-2) @ Hartford (7-2)
This is a great match-up between the #9 and #10 teams in the state in Division seven. They met in week seven with Decatur winning 28-0. It seemed strange, but was also impressive for the Decatur defense, because Hartford has scored at least 27 points in every other game this season.
Decatur has a pretty balanced offence with QB T.J. Cerven throwing for over 1000 yards while running back Corey Olkowski has been the top rushing threat at close to 700 yards. Their defense has surrendered only 14.3 ppg which is good for second in the SAC.
Hartford’s most impressive win this season came in week six when they upset Lawton 27-24. They are a team that enjoys a strong rushing attack led by David Mireles who has rushed for close to 1300 yards and 15 TDs, while Gareth MacMillen checks in with close to 800 rushing yards and seven TDs. They have scored close to 40 ppg.
My Pick: Decatur 27, Hartford 25. Hartford is better than a 28-0 loss to Decatur, but I think Decatur still has enough to get by.
Springport (6-3) @ Gobles (7-2)
Gobles comes in off a tough season ending loss to Saugatuck and ended up splitting the division crown with Saugatuck and Bloomingdale. Gobles was still the only team in the SAC north to qualify for the playoffs. Adam Vosburg has been a mainstay in the backfield again this season, and has put together a great senior year rushing for close to 1500 yards and 26 TDs. Gobles had the second best offense in the SAC averaging over 45 ppg.
Springport will make the long trip to Gobles fresh off a 6-3 season. They are in the playoffs for the third straight year, and this also makes it six out of seven years that they have made it. Qualifying for the playoffs hasn’t been the problem. Actually winning when they get there has as they have never actually won a playoff game in that stretch. They hold one win over another playoff team this year, winning 26-25 over Union City in week five. Their only two conference losses came to fellow playoff qualifiers Jonesville and Reading and those losses were by a combined seven points.
My Pick: Gobles 32, Springport 21. Gobles has shown they are a good team this year, and I think they bounce back from their week nine loss. I think the home field advantage and a long trip for Springport plays a part in this one as well.
Colon (5-4) @ Mendon (9-0)
Mendon has been the number one team in the state from wire to wire and are the defending state champions. While they haven’t played great competition this year, that hasn’t mattered in the past. They have outscored opponents 315-83.
Colon has snuck into the playoffs with a 5-4 record. They are not a stranger to the playoffs making it now four out of five years. Three out of their four losses this season were to playoff teams (two came against Climax Scotts).
My pick: Mendon 35, Colon 6. Mendon is just too good.
St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (8-1) @ Climax-Scotts (9-0)
Climax-Scotts has put together another tremendous season and come in ranked #10 in the state in Division eight. They have outscored opponents 344-93 while using an assortment of running backs out of their Wing-T offense. Alex Lodes has rushed for over 1000 yards and 16 TDs, Kirk Gibson over 500 yards and 11 TDs and QB Zach Nabozny has totaled over 600 yards of total offense.
LMC has gone only 1-1 against playoff teams this season. They have outscored opponents 342-99, but that is deceptive because the schedule they have played has not been great. They are very used to being in the playoffs making it seven times in the last ten years, but have never enjoyed that much success when getting there. They have advanced past the first round just once in that stretch. They made it to the playoffs last year before losing to Mendon in the first round 45-0.
My Pick: Climax-Scotts 31, LMC 14. LMC has had very good teams over the years, but CS is just better.