BY DAN STICKRADT
Over the past three decades, six different local schools have reached at least the state semifinals in prep football. Last year Lake Orion made a return trip to that point — and with greater results.
For the first time in three trips to the Final Four, Lake Orion captured its first-ever state championship, topping Plymouth, 21-13, in the Division 1 state finals at Ford Field.
Previously, the last school from the www.northoaklandsports.com coverage area to win a state title was Rochester Adams in 2003. The Highlanders defeated Birmingham Brother Rice, 28-7, for the Division 2 state crown that year.
Before that, it was Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes in 2002. The Lakers toppled Gaylord St. Mary’s, 13-10, in overtime for the Division 8 crown that year.
Troy won the Class AA title in 1994 with a 17-0 victory over Bay City Central. Oxford is the fifth local school to bask in state glory, winning the Class BB state title in 1992 with a 20-13 victory over Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills.
Waterford Lakes leads the way with 12 trips to the state semifinals, the first coming in Class D back in 1982. Lakes also finished as the state runner-up in both 1994 and 1990 and have not had a losing season since 1988.
Rochester Adams also lost in the state semifinals on three occasions, those defeats coming in 2007 to Detroit King (14-7), in 2004 to Muskegon (25-0) and in 2005 to Birmingham Brother Rice (14-7).
That is just a portion of area teams that have shined in the postseason with at least one, Final Four run.
Clarkston lost on the final play of the game in the state semifinals in 2009, falling to Sterling Heights Stevenson, 37-35. It was not the first time the Wolves lost inside the final two minutes of the state semifinals. Clarkston dropped a 14-9 decision to Utica Eisenhower in 1999 and a 17-15 decision to Grand Ledge in 2002. All of those games came in the D-1 tournament field.
Three years ago, Lake Orion also played in the D-1 state title game, where the Dragons dropped a 26-14 decision to Rockford. Lake Orion made it to the state semifinals round once before, falling to Rockford 48-7 back in 1998.
As for Troy, the Colts have also had three other long postseason runs. The first was a state runner-up showing in 1985, when they lost in the Class A state finals to Traverse City (29-3). Troy also lost in the Class A state semifinals to Detroit King in 1990 (19-0) and again in the Division 1 state semifinals in 2007 to Livonia Stevenson (40-35).
Oxford has reached the Final Four on three other occasions to go along with their title-run of 1992. In 1990, the Wildcats lost in the Class B finals to Dowigiac Union (35-14) and to East Grand Rapids in the 1993 Class BB finals (28-25 in overtime). Oxford also bowed out in the Division 2 state semis to Farmington Harrison back in 1998 (48-7).
There is plenty of tradition when it comes to prep football in North Oakland County. There are a combined 133 playoff appearances turned in by area schools since the inception of the MHSAA playoffs in 1975.
All of this tradition and success begs the question: Which local team will be a serious threat to become a Final Four team in 2011? There are several schools that have high hopes for the upcoming season.
But as tradition states, count on the powers to have the best chance to succeed. The numbers prove that theory.
Waterford Lakes leads the way with 22 postseason appearances. Oxford and Lake Orion have 15 apiece, with Clarkston (14), Troy (13) and Auburn Hills Avondale (12) following closely behind. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep has made the postseason seven times, while Troy Athens (5), Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest (5), Rochester (4), Ortonville Brandon (3), Rochester Stoney Creek (2) and Holly (2) also making the field at least twice.
Both Auburn Hills Oakland Christian and Troy Christian Leadership Academy are entering their fourth season of competition and neither have made the postseason in their first three years. Christian Leadership competes in the Christian Football League of Michigan and is not eligible for the MHSAA playoffs due to being a non-member school.
Rochester, Rochester Stoney Creek and Holly are the only local schools that have qualified for the postseason but have never won a playoff game, going a combined 0-8. Stoney Creek, which is entering its 10th year overall, is 0-2 in its two postseason appearances, the same record as Holly. Rochester is 0-4 all-time.
All of that is in the past.
This season 16 local teams will suit up with high hopes, many which will entertain realistic chances at a postseason berth come late October.
There are many questions that need to be answered over the next two months.
n Can Oxford rebound? After 28 straight winning seasons, the Wildcats limped to a 3-6 record in 2010. A new conference (OAA White Division) and a small senior class had a lot to do with that blip. The Wildcats seem destined to right the ship in 2011.
n Lake Orion and Oxford met on the football field in 2010 for the first time since 1983. Oxford defeated the Dragons 34-6 in the previous meeting nearly three decades ago, but the rivalry was suspended due to property damage by students and fans and both teams had played in separate conferences for decades. Lake Orion exacted a little payback against Oxford last season, topping the Wildcats 45-6 in the season opener. The two will continue the rivalry this season at Oxford, which has a new blue turf field to showcase.
n Rochester Adams has the longest run of postseason appearances of local schools with 14, which ranks in the top 10 in the state for active streaks. After failing to make the postseason field from 1975 through 1996, the Highlanders have been on a roll with 14 straight winning campaigns. In retrospect from 1969 to 1996, Adams only had nine winning seasons.
n Rochester ended a long drought last season in more ways than one. The Falcons not only recorded their first winning season since 1999, but also made the postseason for the first time since ’99. Rochester lost its playoff opener to Utica Eisenhower last season, but the talent pool has not run dry. The Falcons are going after their first league crown this season since 1993 and hope to be to qualify for the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time in school history.
n Will Clarkston get a chance for redemption? Three times in the past 12 seasons the Wolves lost in the state semifinals and each time it went down to the final two minutes. Clarkston was plagued by injuries last season after reaching the Final Four in 2009, a game they lost in the waning seconds. The Wolves never had a chance to showcase its talent with several key players missing multiple games. Clarkston is expected to be one of the state’s top teams in Division 1 this season.
n Once a doormat program, Rochester hills Lutheran Northwest has become a quality small-school program in recent years. The Crusaders have won or shared three straight conference titles and been to the state playoffs the past three years. That is the first time that has happened in school history. Can Northwest make it four straight league titles and fourth straight postseason appearance?
n Holly has only made it to the postseason two times (2006 and 2010). The Bronchos have not won a league title since 1952, that coming in the old Wayne-Oakland League. With a large and talented class, can Holly reach the summit in the Flint Metro League and perhaps even win a postseason game in 2011?
There are literally hundreds of other questions that need to be answered in the upcoming weeks. For detailed information about all of the local teams and players, please dig into www.northoaklandsports.com to learn more of what’s in store for Friday Nights Lights here in northern Oakland County.
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