FOOTBALL: Clarkston finally set for big stage, will face mighty CC for D-1 state crown | North Oakland Sports

FOOTBALL: Clarkston finally set for big stage, will face mighty CC for D-1 state crown

| November 30, 2013 | Comments (0)


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DETROIT — As it turns out, a season-opening loss turned out to be a great teaching tool and humbling experience for Clarkston’s football team.

The Wolves, ranked in the top five of the Super 25 preseason poll by multiple publications back in August, suffered a stunning 12-7 loss to Rochester Adams in the season opener.

Clarkston, which reached the Division 1 regional finals a year ago before a loss to Rockford — the Wolves were ranked No. 1 for more than half of last season and entered the 2012 postseason a perfect 9-0 — began this season with two thirds of its starting lineup back in uniform and a host of Division I and Division II college prospects on the roster.

“I think we learned a lot from those losses,” said veteran Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson, who took over the Wolves program in 1987, about the season-opening loss to Adams and the regional finals setback to end the 2012 campaign. We weren’t on the same page. I think we were looking at the (press) clippings a little bit.”

Since the loss to Adams, the Wolves (12-1) have reeled off 12 straight wins, including four in the postseason, and have been crushing opponents left and right. Clarkston’s only close game in the D-1 playoffs has been a 30-27 victory over Oxford in the pre-district game.

What is so different about this year’s run is that Clarkston, ranked second in the final regular season poll, is still alive in the tournament entering the final weekend of the season. For the first time, Clarkston will play for the state championship when the Wolves face perennial state power Novi Detroit Catholic Central at 1 p.m. Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit.

With over 100 years of high school football in the past and several close class, Clarkston finally will have its moment in the sun.

“It was our goal from the first day of the season,” said Richardson. “But we won’t change anything. We’ll do what we’ve alwayshave done, prepare the same way that got us here.”

Clarkston’s multi-dimensional team has outscored the opposition 455-167 through 13 games with two shutouts. Nine of the Wolves’ opponents have been held to under 20 points in a game and five times to 10 or fewer points.

Healthy and explosive, Clarkston’s offense has been particularly on fire in the postseason, as the Wolves have outscored the opposition 189-91.That’s 47.25 points a game against playoff teams and just 22.8 points against.

In each week of the postseason Clarkston has increased its points total — Oxford (30-27), Romeo (42-10), Rochester Adams (56-28) and Flint Carman-Ainsworth (61-26). The 61 points is the most Clarkston has ever scored in the postseason, while the 56 points against Adams in the regional finals also ranks amongst the top 10 of the most points the Wolves have scored in a game

Still Clarkston, one of Michigan’s largest high schools with a deep-rooted football history does not own a state championship in football, having lost in the Final Four three times in the past — all in the last 14 years. The Wolves lost to Utica Eisenhower in 1999 (14-9), Grand Ledge in 2002 (17-15) and most recently Sterling Heights Stevenson in 2009 (37-35).

All three of those games Clarkston held the lead late in the fourth quarter. Utica Eisenhower used an interception to score on a late drive and Grand Ledge had a long drive in a swirling wind and snow to take down the Wolves the following year.

FAST TRACK: Clarkston two-sport star Ian Eriksen has chosen Eastern Michigan.File Photo | Larry McKee,

FAST TRACK: Clarkston two-sport star Ian Eriksen has been one of the key players in the Wolves’ run to their first state championship game appearance in school history .File Photo | Larry McKee,

Perhaps no defeat in school history was more crushing than the 2009 semifinals loss to fellow state powerhouse Stevenson. In game at Troy Athens, a couple of controversial calls went Stevenson’s way and the Titans scored the game-winning touchdown on the final play of the contest.

The win over Flint Carman-Ainsworth was more than a statement, but the Wolves simply pummeled another team in the Final Four — in their fourth attempt at reaching that point..

But in order to win the coveted state title, the Wolves must surpass one of the most successful programs in Class A/Division 1 over the past 40 years. Catholic Central is 10-5 all-time in state title games, winning the state championship in 1979, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2009. The Shamrocks were also the state runner-up in 1987, 1988, 1991, 2011 and 2012 and have had countless other long state tournament journeys over the yards under legendary coach Tom Mach.

Catholic Central, which lost in the finals each of the past two years to Detroit Cass Tech, has been winning on defense this season. The Shamrocks have outscored its opponents 355-158 with four shutouts in 13 games, including avenging Cass Tech in the state semifinals, 28-0.

CC has outscored its playoff opponents, 134-74. Catholic Central even scored the last-minute, game-winning touchdown in the regional finals to stymie previously-unbeaten Temperance Bedford, 34-33.

“We just need to go out and play Clarkston football and never worry about who we are playing,” said Richardson. “Every team in the playoffs is good, or they wouldn’t be there. We’ll be ready.

Senior Ian Eriksen (Eastern Michigan), who missed part of the season with an injury, was the state’s leading rusher a year ago and is a dynamite running back with track speed. He is healthy and rushed for over 300 yards in the semifinals win over Carman-Ainsworth. Junior quarterback DJ Zezula has been sterling all season, passing for more than 2,000 yards.

Seniors Nick Mattich (Western Michigan) and brother Adam Mattich, another D-I talent, anchor the offensive line and David Beadle (Michigan State) is a terror on the defensive front.

Senior kicker Shane Hynes (Kent State) is another D-I weapon, as is Tim Cason (Purdue), the Wolves’ top receiver in a deep well of offensive talents. Clarkston has several other college-ready prospects up and down its roster — all playing for the same common goal..

“We do have a lot more balance, and I think DJ’s development this year is a reason for that,” said Richardson. “He’s come a long ways. He’s a college prospect at quarterback. No doubt about it.”

Clarkston enters the final weekend of the 2013 season with perhaps its most talented team and hopes far wider than the state of Michigan. Time will tell if the Wolves will be raising a new championship banner in their gymnasium any time soon.

Clarkston has more than paid its dues.

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