BY DAN STICKRADT
OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. — Even with a tradition rich pool of prep football programs in the region, last season was an anomaly in terms of postseason success.
Although 10 local schools — Auburn Hills Avondale, Clarkston, Holly, Lake Orion, Ortonville Brandon, Oxford, Pontiac, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, Rochester Adams and Troy Athens — all made the postseason in 2011, only three won a playoff game and not one single school with local ties advanced beyond the district finals.
Schools form the www.northoaklandsports.com coverage region were a combined 3-10 in the second season a year ago. Clarkston, Notre Dame Prep and Adams all won their first-round contests but lost in the district finals.
Chances are a similar type of drought won’t leak into this season.
Several teams have stacked rosters potentially good enough for postseason success this season and several others are eyeing significant improvements in 2012.
Look for Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, Troy, Rochester and Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest to all bounce back and potentially become playoff teams. Rochester Stoney Creek could also be on the rise.
Holly, which ended a 59-year league title drought by finishing in a three-way tie for the flint Metro League title last season, will likely engage in a five-team race in that conference and be a playoffs contender.
Clarkston and Lake Orion could be top-10 teams in the state in Division 1 and the premier programs in the area.
Troy Athens hopes to remain in the top half of the OAA Red Division after reaching the postseason in 2011 for the first time in seven years. Notre Dame Prep could be one of the better CHSL schools and Adams is going for an area-leading 16th straight postseason berth.
Oxford, which had a streak of 28 consecutive winning seasons snapped in 2010, returned to form last season by finishing second in the OAA White Division and making the playoffs for the 17th time in 23 seasons.
DECADES OF EXCELLENCE
Over the past three decades, six different local schools have reached at least the state semifinals in prep football. In 2010, 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 posted winning seasons each year from 1989 to 2010.the streak ended last season, as the Lakers finished 4-5.
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.
Four 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 143 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 2012? Again last season should be anomaly.
But as tradition states, count on the powers to have the best chance to succeed. The numbers prove that theory.
LEADING THE WAY
Waterford Lakes leads the way with 22 postseason appearances. Oxford and Lake Orion have 16 apiece, with Clarkston (15), Troy (13) and Auburn Hills Avondale (13) following closely behind. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep has made the postseason eight times, while Troy Athens (6), Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest (5), Rochester (4), Ortonville Brandon (4), Holly (3), Pontiac (2) and Rochester Stoney Creek (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, Pontiac, 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 0-10. Stoney Creek, which is entering its 11th year overall, is 0-2 in its two postseason appearances. Holly is 0-3 with all of its postseason appearances coming since 2006. Rochester is 0-4 all-time.
All of that is in the past.
This season 17 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 Will Clarkston get a chance for redemption? Three times in the past 13 seasons the Wolves lost in the state semifinals and each time it went down to the final two minutes. Clarkston was plagued by injuries two seasons ago after reaching the Final Four in 2009, a game they lost in the waning seconds. The Wolves had two forfeit two games last season and were upset in the second round by Walled Lake Central, the same team that upset Lake Orion in the district opener.
Clarkston is expected to be one of the state’s top teams in Division 1 this season.
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 in 2010 with a 45-6 victory. Last season, Oxford gained the upper edge with a 42-20 triumph.
The two will continue the rivalry this season at Lake Orion.
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 15 straight winning campaigns. In retrospect from 1969 to 1996, Adams only had nine winning seasons.
Last season Adams picked up a forfeit win over Clarkston which guaranteed them a postseason berth. Without the win, Adams would have been in jeopardy at 5-4, although it likely would have gained an at-large berth due to a very strong schedule.
n Rochester ended a long drought in 2010 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 in 2010 but the Falcons were sacked by injuries and suspensions last season.
The 2011 campaign ended with a 4-5 record, but not before Rochester gained several players back and closed with three straight wins.
This season the Falcons are going after their first league crown this season since 1993 and hope to be to qualify for just their fifth time.
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 from2008-10 and been to the state playoffs five times in 13 years.
Northwest had multiple injuries last season which led to a 4-5 record. This season they enter the MIAC league race as one of the co-favorites along with Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett.
n Holly has only made it to the postseason three times (2006, 2010, 2011). The Bronchos won their first league title since 1952 last October, that coming in the old Wayne-Oakland League.
Holly has a chance to win back-to-back leagues for the first time since the 1940s and make the postseason for the third consecutive year and fourth time in seven seasons.
n Notre Dame Prep ventured through a 14-game win streak over parts of the 2010 and 2011 seasons. After opening 0-5 in 2010, the Irish won their final four games that season, went 9-0 in the regular season in 2011 and finished 1-1 in the postseason a year ago.
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 — and beyond.
Prep football and the boys of fall are here.
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