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FOOTBALL: District titles tallied in CHSL Central Friday, Brother Rice, U-D Jesuit bag crowns

   | Scott Burnstein

FOOTBALL: District titles tallied in CHSL Central Friday, Brother Rice, U-D Jesuit bag crowns

The Catholic League Central Division was the home of champions Friday night.

Birmingham Brother Rice and University of Detroit-Jesuit each collected  a district title, setting up a showdown between the two league rivals in the Division 2 regional finals next Saturday afternoon.

Two-time defending state champion Brother Rice clobbered cross-town nemesis Birmingham Seaholm 34-7 Friday and U-D Jesuit dropped Oak Park 14-8 to punch their respective tickets to a rematch of Week 8’s Brother Rice 38-0 throttling of the upstart Cubs next week, with a regional championship at stake.

While legendary Brother Rice head coach Al Fracassa has now captured 18 district crowns, this is only U-D Jesuit's fourth district championship in school history.

U-D Jesuit (7-4) is making its first appearance in the postseason in a dozen years under head coach Oscar Olejniczak. This is Olejniczak's inaugural campaign on the sidelines at the helm of the program.

The Cubbies got a standout outing from junior quarterback Ryan Brand, who accumulated 180 yards from the line of scrimmage, 100 through the air (10-of-20 passing) and 80 on the ground, and scored both U-D Jesuit’s touchdowns. Brand’s 15-yard scoring scamper in the first quarter made it 7-0 early and then his 20-yard end-zone connection with slotback Jaren Kirkland provided the Cubs a 14-0 lead at the break.

Last year, Brand started as a sophomore under center at Farmington Hills Harrison.

The U-D Jesuit defense, spearheaded by Dillon Dixon’s game-high 11 tackles, took over from there and shut the door on any thoughts of Oak Park (6-5) repeating as district champs.

Dixon is a safety. Him and Division I college-commits like, linebacker Paris Bennett (Syracuse) and lineman Jacari Faulkner (Western Michigan) spark a spunky Cubs’ defensive unit.

Brother Rice remained undefeated on the campaign at 11-0 with its roughhousing of Seaholm, controlling play throughout with an overpowering mix of grit and finesse.

Pacing the Warriors onslaught was red-hot junior field general, Alex Malzone. Torching the Seaholm secondary with laser-like passes, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound gunslinger completed 17-of-22 attempts for 236 yards and a pair of touchdowns to senior split end Corey Lacanaria (6 grabs, 106 yards).

"It feels good, we want perfection," said Lacanaria after the blowout.

Besides a third state title in a row, Lacanaria and his teammates are trying to get their departing head coach  (Fracassa, the MHSAA's all-time win-leader will retire at the conclusion of playoffs) his first perfect season since 1983.

"I was getting nice separation and Alex was giving me the ball right where it needed to be," said the star receiver of his effort in the scorebook.

The stifling defense for Brother Rice was fueled by a bevy of Warriors' playmakers, including safety Jason Alessi (six tackles), senior linebacker Shaun Jones (five tackles) and junior lineman Jack Dunaway (five tackles, one sack). The Warriors would have pitched the shutout, if they hadn’t surrendered a 43-yard touchdown pass in the closing minutes that served only as peace of mind for an over-matched Seaholm squad (9-3).

Alessi kicked a pair of field goals as well, his first going for 35 yards in the third quarter and his second for 33 yards in the fourth quarter to wrap-up Brother Rice’s scoring for the night.

Even though Warriors starting senior tailback Brian Walker was lost for the season this week (internal issues), Brother Rice's rushing assault still looked formidable against a vaunted Seaholm defense, seeing Shon Powell score two touchdowns (1, 10) going for 80 yards on 18 carries, roughly 5-6 more than his normal workload.

The backstory entering next week's Brother Rice-U-D Jesuit playoff tilt, besides the recent domination exhibited by the Warriors, will be the fact that the last time the two teams met in the playoffs, U-D Jesuit bumped off Brother Rice to claim a regional championship in 2001.