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FOOTBALL: CHSL Central as strong as ever, with all five teams legit contenders this fall

   | Scott Burnstein

FOOTBALL: CHSL Central as strong as ever, with all five teams legit contenders this fall

The traditionally ultra-tough Catholic League Central Division is as competitive as it’s been in quite some time this fall on the football field.

That’s a pretty daunting thought, isn’t it?

All five teams came away with commanding victories in Week 3 and each sits above the .500 mark after the first quarter of the regular-season and entering league play this week.

Two-time defending Division 2 state champion Birmingham Brother Rice, smash-mouth superpower Novi Detroit Catholic Central and even University of Detroit-Jesuit, a non-factor in the league race for more than a decade, are a flawless 3-0.

Brother Rice is playing inspired football for legendary Warriors head coach Al Fracassa in his last season on the job. Junior quarterback Alex Malzone is quickly establishing himself one of the state’s most elite field generals and Jason Alessi (safety-kicker-returner) and Chris Carter (cornerback) form a savvy and playmaking duo in the secondary, anchoring the defense.

Alessi has returned punts for touchdowns in each of the first two games of the year and booted field goals in all three. Committed to Michigan for lacrosse, he’s begun accumulating Division I college scholarship offers on the gridiron. His 91-yard kickoff return for a score in the closing seconds of the state finals last year enabled Brother Rice to nab the program’s first repeat state title forever etching his name in the Warriors' historic gridiron pantheon.

"I think we're competing and playing smart football," said Fracassa of his team's effort. "We can't take things for granted though and we need to keep pushing to improve. I have faith we'll do that."

Catholic Central is just mauling opponents, once again dominating at the point of attack. The Shamrocks have outscored the opposition 110-13, posting a pair of shutouts (Week 1’s 52-0 clobbering of Detroit Cody and Week 2’s 23-0 blanking of Ohio power Toledo Whitmer).

Senior co-captains Dylan Roney and Zack Bock bolster the Catholic Central assault. Roney, a defensive end committed to Navy, has been converted to running back and is flying high at his new positions. He scored two touchdowns in the Whitmer game, simply bulldozing defenders. Another Catholic Central touchdown came via a 60-yard interception return by Bock, a star slotback and defensive back, committed to play soccer in college at Western Michigan.

Bock and Roney have started on consecutive Shamrocks' Division 1 state-finalist squads in 2011 and 2012, respectively. In 2011, they helped Catholic Central claim a league crown.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and Warren De La Salle are both 2-1 and coming off blowouts over the weekend and riding two-game win-streaks.

The Eaglets of St. Mary’s, the defending league-title holders, recorded an eyeball-popping 72 points in their 72-22 slaughtering of Detroit Consortium, as senior running back Mark Sanders led the way, carrying the ball 16 times for a glitzy 296 yards and five touchdowns.

Following a 25-20 loss to Oak Park in Week 1, longtime St, Mary’s head coach, George Porritt (4 state-title banners) opted to change quarterbacks, replacing junior Tyson Smith, a coveted college recruit at wide receiver and defensive back, with back-up Evan Henry, who has been as steady as can be calling signals the past two weeks since the switch. Henry has thrown touchdown passes – one to Smith – in both Eaglets’ wins the last two weeks.

Porritt has guided St. Mary’s into the state finals in five of the past six years, using four different quarterbacks running his offense.

The defending CHSL Central champs will face upstart U-D Jesuit on Friday.

U-D Jesuit is hot on the heels of a 42-21 lambasting of Davison last week and a comeback 28-27 overtime defeat of Birmingham Detroit Country Day, a club that features a trio of BCS-bound college-commits and appeared in the Division 4 state championship game in 2012, in Week 2.

First-year head coach Oscar Olejniczak has infused the program with confidence in itself, a transition obvious in the team’s play so far this fall. It's been a dozen years since U-D Jesuit made the playoffs or finished above the .500 mark.

Cubbies’ juniors Jaren Kirkland and Ryan Brand were topping the stat sheet for U-D Jesuit in the Davison game. Kirkland, a shifty tailback, rushed for 155 yards and three touchdowns and junior quarterback Ryan Brand, a fast-improving field general, was an efficient 8-of-11 for 114 yards.

Dillon Dixon is Brand’s favorite target in the Cubs’ passing attack and fuels the squad’s special teams unit. Dixon was doing damage against Davison, too, returning a punt 80 yards for a touchdown in the second half. The U-D Jesuit defense is headlined by Syracuse-commit Paris Bennett (linebacker), who also plays on offense as a wide receiver-tight end.

Brand is a transfer from prep public school juggernaut Farmington Hills Harrison, where he started under center last year on a Hawks playoff team. In U-D Jesuit’s Week 2 contest versus Country, Brand sparked the rally for his team, scoring the winning-touchdown on a 10-yard scramble thr in overtime to push the Cubs into the lead for the first time that evening.

Olejniczak’s special teams put a bow on the exciting affair, blocking a Country Day extra-point in the extra-session that sent the U-D Jesuit team and student cheering section into a frenzy of celebration.

"Everyone is putting in work and contributing," Olejniczak said. "The players have bought-in and believe in themselves. That's a big first step."

De La Salle can’t be overlooked either. The Pilots have weapons, even though they lost All-American quarterback Shane Morris (Michigan) to the college ranks. This Saturday night brings a rivalry-game against Brother Rice: De La Salle and Brother Rice have split their last two match-ups on the gridiron.

Clocking Harper Woods Chandler Park Academy 42-6 in Week 3, senior quarterback Giovanni Recigno, Morris' better-than-abled back-up last year, threw for 125 yards and three touchdowns in the win and rugged senior running back Sam Badalamenti went for 110 yards and made three trips into the end zone. Fellow seniors Brett Morris (wide receiver), Shane’s little brother, and Jared Wangler (linebacker), a Michigan-commit himself, aid Recigno and Badalamenti in fueling the Pilots' arsenal.