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FOOTBALL: CHSL Central sends three teams to state finals......again

   | Scott Burnstein

FOOTBALL: CHSL Central sends three teams to state finals......again

Another year, another trip to Ford Field for Catholic League Central Division stalwarts Birmingham Brother Rice, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and Novi Detroit Catholic Central.

All three teams rampaged their way into a second consecutive appearance in the state championship game, recording blowout victories on Saturday afternoon in the final four, showing once again why the CHSL Central is considered the best and most competitive league in the state.

In a Division 1 state semifinal, Catholic Central crushed Rockford 35-6, while Brother Rice roughed up Wyandotte Roosevelt 31-3 in a Division 2 state semifinal and St. Mary’s barreled over Battle Creek Harper Creek 28-7 in the Division 3 state semifinals.

“Going to Ford Field and the state championship game is what everybody’s striving for from the beginning of the season through the playoffs,” Brother Rice standout junior running back Brian Walker said. “To know we’re going back there is a great feeling.”

Catholic Central’s win sets up a rematch of last year’s state title tilt between the Shamrocks and Detroit Cass Tech in this season's state championship game next Saturday. Last year, Cass Tech pulled a massive upset and smashed favored Catholic Central 49-13. This will be the Shamrocks third time in the state finals in the past four years.

Brother Rice will knock pads with Muskegon on Friday afternoon in a state-final throwdown and St. Mary’s will tussle with Grand Rapids Christian in a state-championship square-off next Saturday evening to close out the Thanksgiving weekend’s slate of state crownings.

St. Mary’s (11-2) and Brother Rice (11-2) are seeking repeat state titles next week. The historic Brother Rice program has never won back-to-back state crowns. CHSL Central-champion St. Mary’s has advanced to Ford Field in five of the last six seasons.

Grant Niemiec and Parker McInnis, St. Mary’s dazzling duo in the backfield, was on fire Saturday against Harper Creek, combining for close to 400 yards and four touchdowns. Recently committed to Miami (OH), Niemiec had a game-high 181 yards and two scores and McInnis had 177 yards and two as well, to catapult the Eaglets past Harper Creek in the final four for the second straight year. Niemiec’s performance makes him St. Mary’s all-time leading single-season rusher.

Senior wide receiver-cornerback Jonny Malone had a sparkling effort for Catholic Central (9-4) on Saturday doing damage all over the field in a variety of capacities. Malone scored on a 14-yard touchdown reception and an 82-yard kickoff return in the first half, as well as tallying an interception on defense in the second half to help close things out for the Shamrocks, who are looking to be the second CHSL Central squad in a row to collect a state title after entering the playoffs at 5-4 courtesy of an at-large bid (Brother Rice did it in 2011).

The rushing and passing assault at Brother Rice were both getting the job done against Roosevelt on Saturday, as the Warriors got a pair of touchdowns on the ground and two through the air en route to the lopsided victory. Walker scored on an 8-yard touchdown run to cap a day where he racked up 155 all-purpose yards and his equally-dangerous backfield partner, Shon Powell, motored into the end zone from 18 yards out to highlight his 105-yard day toting the football.

“We can really confuse teams when we’re mixing it up in the backfield,” said Powell of the combination of him and Walker for the Warriors high-octane offense. “When we get into a rhythm, we’re hard to stop.”

Sergio Perkovic, Brother Rice’s sack-master on the defensive line, who also doubles as the team’s starting tight end, hauled in a 29-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Cheyne Lacanaria in the first half for his third scoring grab in the past two weeks. Perkovic is committed to play lacrosse in college at Notre Dame.

Warriors’ sophomore receiver Grant Perry caught the first touchdown of his varsity career in the third quarter on a 15-yard connection with back-up field general Alex Malzone, a sophomore many tab as a Division I college prospect.