Playoff time! After watching the selection show I always like to fill out the playoff bracket March Madness style. I usually stick to just the divisions I thought I knew because of the size of most the schools around me. Believe it or not I don’t know what is happening in the world of football all across the state. It is difficult enough to stay up to date with the local teams let alone how the OK Conference races are shaping up. So for the playoffs this year I figured I would speculate into how the teams I’ve watched might fare this postseason. I don’t enjoy speculating on teams and things I don’t have a real understanding in so even with just sticking to the ones I have seen, I’m reaching on this one. My friends and I hate the scoreboard pickers who seem to make generalizations about teams only based on what the final score ended up. Unfortunately I have to do a little bit of that in this exercise, because of my limited knowledge of the teams beyond Southwest Michigan and the fact I’ve only been able to watch a handful of games. So now that I have fully attempted to discredit myself, here it is.
Starting with division two my teams are Traverse City West who I watched fall to the Benton Harbor Tigers and Portage Central who defeated Matawan way back in week one. Both teams have a cross town rival in their district as Portage Central will tangle with Portage Northern, which if history shows any indication as to how it will play out Portage Central shouldn’t have much of a problem. The only scary thought for the mustangs is that they have already played each other and it is a rivalry game so you never really know. TCW will face Traverse City Central and Central has had West’s number as of late, winning the last three matchups in a row including a hard fought 10-8 victory earlier this year. TCC also poses a threat to Portage Central being that the mustangs lost their only game of the year in week four to TCC 22-38. One other potential snag for these two teams later down the road is Lowell. The Lowell Red Arrows are a force in the playoffs. Last year the Red Arrows lost to Detroit Martin Luther King at Ford Field by a two point conversion and they are more then primed to make it back to the big game this year with their current undefeated record. Other than that I don’t have much of a clue as to if these teams will be able to make a deep playoff run. TCW has the steepest of climbs between the two and their lack of speed will hurt them eventually. I like the athletes Portage displays on defense, but they have somewhat tempered expectations due to a slightly limited pass game. In the games I watched I just don’t feel like they will be able to make enough plays downfield to make a deep run, but I feel strongly that they could win districts. I know so little about the big schools out of Grand Rapids all of this is tough say.
Division three has a rematch of the war by the shore as St. Joseph travels back to Lakeshore. The Lancers beat St. Joe 31-12 in a really lopsided game. It was quite honestly shocking to see how rattled the Bears looked in the first half of that game. St. Joe did have some success late in using some unbalanced formations running their outside zone but that was the only highlight for them all night. It’ll be unique to see what adjustments both teams make for the second game. Those two teams are in the same district as Edwardsburg. Last year Edwardsburg lost to St. Joe after beating Lakeshore, even though Lakeshore beat St. Joe in the regular season. But the Bears are much bigger than the Lancers up front and that gave the Wing T powered Edwardsburg Eddies are really tough time last year from what I was told. So the matchups between the three are pretty unique. Throw in Vicksburg who draws undefeated Chelsea after surprisingly dropping their last game of the regular season to Three Rivers 13-14. The Bulldogs also lost to Edwardsburg earlier in the year but I watched them impressively beat Paw Paw in all phases of the game on a beautiful Friday night in week seven. Vicksburg had a great showing by their quarterback to the point where I might say he has been the best at the position I’ve seen all year. They have a tall order in this Chelsea team and it is unlikely the Bulldogs will make it out of the first round. No matter who rises to the top they will have to play a semifinal game against Muskegon or Zeeland or Grand Rapids Christian or East Grand Rapids. I don’t really follow big school football and I recognize all those names, so yeah, my D3 schools have a nasty road ahead of them.
In division four the Benton Harbor Tigers start with Grand Rapids South Christian. Three Rivers is a spread team having a good year and they are also in that district. Not that a game with Three Rivers would give the Tigers much trouble, I’m not sure Three Rivers has the athletes to match up or the run defense to give them a shot at an upset. Three Rivers lost to Edwardsburg 0-38 and although Benton Harbor won’t be in the Full T they will be a run first team. That is honestly all I know, sadly division four is full of a bunch of teams I’ve never heard of. Sorry.
On to division six to which I’d like to pause from all this speculation and hop on my soapbox for a bit, I hate rematches in the first round of the playoffs. Watervliet, Constantine, and Schoolcraft are in the same district and will play each other at some point which most people would gush over. I know there are a lot of people who love the whole small town rivals meet again storyline but from what I remember for the people involved it isn’t fun at all. I loved making the playoffs in my playing days because each time we played someone new and got a chance to experience something different. New places brings excitement whereas a redo on a game brings, well mostly anxiety. My biggest complaint with the mhsaa playoffs system are these local conference game repeats they set up because of how they create districts. I’m sure schools wouldn’t mind the travel if it meant playing someone new. Quickly my potential solution would be to keep the regions drawn the same and seed out the teams based on playoff points like they would do normally. Eliminate the districts and create new matchups. Sorry about that, I’m done and glad that’s out of my system. The situation has set up the same as last year when Constantine beat the number two ranked Eagles in the playoffs after losing in the regular season to them. I’m not saying it will happen again it is just that the situation is similar. Either way the winner will have either a rematch with Watervliet or perennial power Jackson Lumen Christi. Historically speaking JLC is consistently one of the best teams in the state year in and out and it is awesome to see an area team take them on.
Lastly division seven has Saugatuck starting with some team I’ve never heard of before likely pairing up with Pewamo Westphalia. Saugatuck has been fantastic all year but with their poor conference schedule I would be worried about a lull heading into the playoffs. It is tough to win games by a wide margin week in and out and then be thrust into a serious contest. I’m confident Saugatuck will be prepared but I can imagine it must be a little troublesome. The Pirates have beaten Saugatuck in the playoffs a few times, once back in 2013 and most recently in last years district final 28-38. On top of that the Pirates return Jared Smith, the single season rushing touchdowns record holder which he set last year. It is too bad that an undefeated area team won’t have the opportunity to host a district championship and I’m not sure I will be up for the drive to Pewamo when it happens. Even if Saugatuck advances to the Regional, Traverse City St. Francis will likely be waiting. TCSF lost in last years semifinal to the eventual state champion Ithaca. Ithaca will be in division five for the first time this year. I would love to follow Saugatuck to Ford Field like we did back in 2010, but this is easily one of the toughest roads of the teams I followed.
Out of the following teams I’d have to say Benton Harbor has the best opportunity to make a major run. I say that because I honestly don’t know any of the teams in that division and Benton Harbor has already beaten some much bigger schools this year. Schoolcraft has the ability to make a run and if they can get out of their district I could easily see them making it to the semifinals and beyond. I’m really rooting for Saugatuck to advance to the state finals, I feel like they were the best team I saw in person this year, but that is a really awful draw for them. I’ve got my fingers crossed for them as I do for all the area teams in the playoffs this year.