One team is trying to right the wrong that was the end of their 2015 season at Ford Field in the Division I title game against Romeo. The other is trying to do what it hasn’t done since 2007 when they defeated Wyandotte Roosevelt to win the district crown and advance to the regional championship.
Cass Tech enters Friday night’s affair at Dearborn High with the highest of expectations: win the State Championship. Tech can take a big step in that direction if they can defeat the Pioneers on their home turf, where they are 5-1 this season with their lone loss coming opening night to Northville.
To say the Technicians have played with a chip on their shoulder, after enduring the disappointment from the loss in the State Finals a year ago, might be an understatement. Over one 3-game stretch early in the season, Cass Tech outscored their opponents 166-0. Twice, the team easily handled rival Detroit King by a combined score of 72-38.
Cass Tech has the look of a team poised, prepared, and determined to get back to Ford Field in a couple weeks. The offense has averaged 47 points per game and can score with anyone in the state. But Dearborn will not be intimidated or pushed around. This Pioneer team has shown perseverance, coming off of a 2015 season that saw the team barely get above .500. This year has been quite different — 9 straight wins, a victory at rival Fordson, and an offense that has gotten big plays with few mistakes, led by quarterback Michael Phillips. The signal caller has posted 23 touchdowns with 0 interceptions. He’s given his offense every opportunity to score efficiently on all their possessions this season.
Here are four keys to Friday’s District Championship:
1. Run the ball effectively.
The Pioneers have shown to be effective on the ground this year (139 yards per game) when they commit to it. Running back Hussien Hannawi has averaged 73 yards per game and will need to be the workhorse Friday night, if DHS is to upend the top team in Division I football. If the Pioneers can rush the ball with consistently, it will allow them to control the clock, which will be critical against the high-octane offense that Tech brings, led by national standout superstar WR/DB Donovan Peoples-Jones. In short, keep Cass Tech’s offense on the sideline and chances grow exponentially that Dearborn could march on to the Regional.
2. Make other players, besides Donovan Peoples-Jones and Donovan Johnson, beat you.
This one is easier said than done. But Dearborn’s defense has been stout all year long — allowing less than 12 points per game — albeit the Pioneers’ defense has not seen an offense like Tech’s. Few defenses have. If Dearborn can rattle Peoples-Jones and stop the run at the same time, perhaps senior QB Rodney Hall will be forced into some uncomfortable decisions.
Cass Tech must…
1. Disrupt Michael Phillips.
The Pioneer QB has been perfect this year — 23 TDs, 0 INTs. The fast, ball-hawking defense of Tech has forced quarterbacks into trouble all year. If they do the same Friday night against Phillips, the team will find itself with a lot of opportunities to turn Dearborn mistakes into points.
2. Get out fast and get out early.
Cass Tech is no first-timer to big games, unfriendly enemy territory, or high expectations so don’t expect nerves to be much of a factor. But to score early and score often will help to put Dearborn behind — a position they haven’t been accustomed to playing from this season. If the Pioneers feel pressured early and panic, mistakes are more prone to happen. No team can afford to make many mistakes against Cass Tech.
Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.