Big time matchup in the state of Michigan this week! Lowell at East Grand Rapids is exciting on so many levels but other than the obvious reasons noting the success these schools have had, I picked this game for much more deeply rooted reasons. It might sound silly but I feel connected to these schools even though I don’t live anywhere near them and have only watched them in person a handful of times. Let me explain, first with East Grand Rapids. Back in the early nineties it was tough for smaller schools to make the state playoffs due to a point system that was difficult for me to understand at the time. All I remember is sitting with my dad at the kitchen table and scrolling through the newspaper looking for certain schools and whether or not they had won, while my dad did the math in a notebook that could have been a prop in the movie A Beautiful Mind. I was about nine or ten years old when my dad revealed his two loss team didn’t make it, so instead he took me to local playoff games. It was one of my most fondest memories and it’s something that is so deeply rooted in me heck at the age of thirty I’m doing it again (my dad also plans on coming with me to most of these games). That year we followed the local big school the Lakeshore Lancers, mainly because he liked to cheer on his former coach. We traveled to Grand Rapids to watch Dylan Karczewski run all over the place in a supremely monumental effort I still remember quite vividly. That guy was easily one of the fastest people I had ever seen. Later that year we went to the old Silverdome to watch EGR lose a heartbreaker. East Grand Rapids in a way represents the kindling that helped my early fire for football grow a little out of control.
If EGR helped me as a fan Lowell helped me as a student. Once again with my dad watching the state championships in 2009 the hype was surrounding quarterback Devin Gardner of Inkster and his recent commitment to the University of Michigan. The most athletic looking player on the field hands down but the game would be lopsided in favor of a tough Lowell team and one offensive play. No joke one play ran multiple times from just a handful of formations ran the clock and controlled the game in such a way the outcome felt inevitable almost from the outset. The midline option ran with a close single back kept falling forward chewing up yards and there was nothing Inkster could do to stop it. Hopefully as your reading this you’ve never felt the helpless feeling of “we can’t stop them” during a contest and if you have, you can see why I latched on to a play that I saw dominate a game. I spent the next year engrossed in the midline option, including watching Lowell head coach Noel Dean explain the play at a clinic. Without getting too crazy, the midline option is a play where a defensive tackle, preferably in a three technique (outside the offensive guard), is left unblocked. The runningback runs right down the middle of the center who is usually double teaming the one technique (the other defensive tackle inside the opposite guard) on his way to pin the backside linebacker. The quarterback reads the defensive tackle and if he does anything but crash down he gives it to the back for a decent gain. If that defensive tackle crashes down the qb pulls the ball and runs off tackle to the side of the read. A personal highlight of mine of mine was later in life installing it and running it for just about an entire drive capped with a pull read ran correctly by our young qb who scored untouched. Kind of sad but man that was a proud moment I’ll never forget. It’s a simple concept that’s fun to teach. Google search it and you’ll see a whole slew of ways to run it.
So the nostalgia is flowing through this game making it an easy choice for me to select for this week even though it almost didn’t happen. Scouting these teams one needs to remember this is division two football and they can do a lot on offense and defense due to their roster sizes. With that said EGR has a new head coach, but considering he is home grown and was the team’s offensive coordinator for the past few years I can only imagine it’ll look pretty similar to years past. On offense they switch from a spread look to a heavy I formation running game. The quarterback, who will be a senior this year, looked athletic with room for improvement (He doesn’t always point his shoulder when throwing on the run. It’s not a big issue because he’s athletic enough to make it work, but as he progresses he can become even more accurate with this little change. Just saying.). The big schematic thing to know is they love to run the power play. Many high school teams run this (it’ll especially be important next week) and it’s easy to see why. It’s an old simple concept that most people will relate to it as a counter play (35 and 34 counter trey if you played with my crew back in the day). Chris B. Brown traces it back to the seventies with Tom Osborne’s Nebraska Cornhuskers but the play was made famous by big John Riggins in Washington. It’s an easy enough idea to follow; there’s a double team at the point of attack, a kick out block on usually the end man on the line of scrimmage, followed with a lineman pulling through the hole to seal any one left usually a linebacker. It can be run out of just about every formation you can think of. It’s an old school play that EGR leans heavily on from what I’ve seen (or been able to find more like it which isn’t much.). On defense they are running a 3-4 like what we discussed last with Farmington Hills Harrison. Lowell is still running the ball with a quarterback read it just looks to be out of the shotgun more. What caught my eye after watching highlights of their win over EGR last year is the defense. It’s a loaded box heavy pressure defense paired with cover zero a lot, meaning no safety help, everyone is man to man. That’s a scary D to run but hey it worked for them last year.
The pregame meal is going to be a game time decision. It’s a bit of a drive for me to get up there and there are a lot of really nice restaurants in Grand Rapids. I’m probably going to get something small to eat on the way up and eat the highlight meal after the game. If you’re attending this game find me, I’d love a recommendation on where to chow down.