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High school football picks: Predicting Friday's championship games


David Goricki of The Detroit News breaks down each of the four MSHAA high school football championship games at Ford Field on Friday.

Division 2

No. 3 Warren De La Salle (12-1) vs. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (12-1), Saturday, 1

How did they make it here?

De La Salle was supposed to make it back for Ford Field. After all, De La Salle advanced to the championship game during the COVID-shortened season, losing to Muskegon Mona Shores, then made the return trip to take care of unfished business and got the job done last year, defeating Traverse City Central, 41-14, with quarterback Brady Drogosh throwing for 142 yards and three TDs, and rushing for 174 yards and a TD.

Drogosh, a Cincinnati commit, returns for a third straight trip to Ford Field, along with his star receiver Triston Nichols who caught two TDs in last year’s title game and will be playing with a torn ACL. De La Salle’s defense has also been impressive in limiting opponents to a total of 29 points in four playoff games, led by Illinois-bound defensive end Mason Muragin and linebacker James McDonald.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central advanced to the title game with a 20-17 double-overtime upset of No. 8 Dexter — which showcased Michigan-bound running back Cole Cabana and Michigan State-bound tight end Brennan Parachek — in a state semifinal.

Forest Hills Central has been winning with great defense, limiting its opponents to an average of 8.5 points in the last 10 games and holding Dexter to a TD in regulation and Cabana to 120 yards, but still needing a TD of its own during the final play of the fourth quarter to force overtime.

Players to watch

Brady Drogosh, Sr., QB, De La Salle: Drogosh had a strong junior season to help De La Salle win the state title, then got bigger and stronger, where he is now harder to tackle, at 6-5 and 210 pounds. Drogosh has thrown for 2,015 yards and a school-record 33 TD passes while rushing for 1,188 yards and 17 TDs, meaning he has had a hand in 50 TDs during his senior year.

JT Hartman, Jr., RB, Forest Hills Central: Hartman showed his ability when he rushed for 225 yards on 35 carries in the semifinal win over Dexter, and he's averaging eight yards per carry for the season. He has also done a good job on defense as a linebacker.

How can each team win?

Well, De La Salle has been there and done that, like making trips to Ford Field and winning state titles, coming away with the ultimate trophy in 2014, again in ’17, ’18 and last season.

De La Salle third-year head coach Dan Rohn has to feel confident working with a three-year starting quarterback in Drogosh, who is used to playing in big games and having multiple experienced weapons as well, including receivers in Nichols and Jack Yanachik, a physical running back in Rhett Roeser and impact players on defense in Muragin, McDonald and CMU-bound defensive back Jamari Allen.

Forest Hills Central has to be able to control the clock and get its running game going to keep the ball out of the hands of Drogosh & Co., also needing to find a way to force some early turnovers and take advantage of them to get some momentum, or they could face a long afternoon.

No doubt, Hartman showed he can be a workhorse, and Forest Hills Central’s offensive line needs to open some holes to let him reach the second level.

Prediction

Ford Field has been a home away from home for De La Salle, and that big-game experience is huge, while Forest Hills Central will be making its first championship-game appearance since 1994, a 17-13 loss to Farmington Hills Harrison in the Class A final. Look for Drogosh to have another big game on the big stage by doing damage once again with his arm and legs. Pick: DeLaSalle 32, Forest Hills Central 14

Division 4

Goodrich (12-1) vs. Grand Rapids South Christian (13-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m.

▶ How did they make it here?

Goodrich has dominated the majority of its opponents during postseason play, winning its first regional title in program history with a 40-20 win over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, then earning a 51-26 semifinal win over Riverview, when running back Jace Simerson rushed for a career-high 250 yards and five TDs to send head coach Tom Alward, in his 30th season, to Ford Field for the first time.

Goodrich’s defense has limited opponents to an average of 10 points, shutting down opponents' passing game by allowing less than 70 yards per game, while intercepting 15 passes, including four by Caden Kolanowski and three apiece from Owen Deciechi, Andrew Hamilton and Max Macklem.

South Christian pulled out a 28-21 win over Whitehall in a regional final, then moved on to the championship game by finally defeating old nemesis Edwardsburg, 26-20, led by dual-threat quarterback Jacob DeHaan, after having its season come to an end by the hands of Edwardsburg in the regional title game the previous two years.

South Christian has found ways to pull out close games, which comes up big when teams are playing on the big stage with the state championship on the line.

Players to watch

Jace Simerson, Sr., RB, Goodrich: Simerson has rushed for 1,380 yards and 20 TDs, saving his best performances for the postseason, including that 250-yard performance in the semifinal win.

Jacob DeHaan, Sr., QB, South Christian: DeHaan is a talented dual-threat quarterback for South Christian, throwing for more than 2,400 yards and 28 TDs while running for more than 1,000 yards and 14 TDs. He displayed that talent in a 38-36 win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central, ending C.C.’s  42-game winning streak, when he rushed for 181 yards (18 carries), including an 83-yard TD run in the final minutes, also completing 16-of-24 passes for 127 yards and a TD.

How can each team win?

Goodrich’s defense forces turnovers (21) and if it can force an early turnover and take advantage of it with a score, it will have a chance to get some confidence and turn the momentum to its side.

South Christian can win because of its balance on offense, with DeHaan showing he can pick up yardage on the ground or by spreading the ball around through the air with talented receivers in Seth Ritsema, Carson Vis, Jake Vermaas, Brady Nitz and Nate Brinks who averages six yards a carry as the running back.

Prediction

Look for DeHaan to take care of the ball and use his legs to make a difference in this one. Pick: South Christian 21, Goodrich 14

Division 6

Grand Rapids West Catholic (12-1) vs. Negaunee (13-0), Friday, 4:30

How did they make it here?

West Catholic made it back to Ford Field for the first time since 2017, when it won five straight state championships.

West Catholic can beat you in many ways, showing just that when it scored TDs in all three phases in a 50-24 district final win over Constantine, then scored on big chunk plays of rushing TDs of 26, 37 and 47 yards in a regional final win over Lansing Catholic before its impressive 33-14 semifinal win over Clinton.

Negaunee gets it done defensively, coming through with a plus-15 in the turnover ratio, while showing its ability to pull out close games in the past couple of weeks, with an 18-12 win over Gladstone in the regional final, followed by a 13-12 semifinal win over Reed City.

Negaunee is a run-heavy team, showcasing a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Nico Lukkarinen and Kai Lacar.

Players to watch

Tim Kloska, Sr., RB, West Catholic: Kloska is a big, physical back at 6-feet, 220 pounds and topped the 2,000-yard milestone after rushing for 330 yards (16 carries) and five TDs in the semifinal win over Clinton. He has 2,182 yards (264 carries) and 35 TDs.

Kai Lacar, Jr., RB, Jr., Negaunee: Lacar, a 5-11, 185-pound tailback joins the physical 6-1, 215-pound fullback Lukkarinen to form a strong 1-2 punch in Negaunee’s I-formation attack. Lacar ran for 151 yards on 23 carries in snowy conditions, including a 10-yard TD run for a 13-12 lead in the semifinal win over Reed City.

How can each team win?

West Catholic has a balanced attack, with quarterback Bernie Varnesdeel and a bruising running back in Kloska, and its defense has played well, especially during the last couple of games, showing its ability to force turnovers (27).

Negaunee can win because it has pulled out close games and has the ability to put together long drives with Lacar and Lukkarinen running the ball. Negaunee has done a good job of taking care of the ball (13 turnovers) and needs to continue to value the ball to have a chance at lifting the ultimate trophy.

Prediction

Look for Kloska to have another big game for West Catholic, topping the 200-yard mark with a pair of TDs. Pick: West Catholic 28, Negaunee 14

Division 8

Ubly (13-0) vs. Ottawa Lake Whiteford (13-0), Friday, 10 a.m.

How did they make it here?

Ubly has an unbeaten record due to its play in the trenches, averaging 48 points and 360 rushing yards, while dominating its opponents, including a 49-7 regional final win over Fowler, followed by a 41-14 semifinal win over Iron Mountain.

Ubly gives its opponents little chance of being successful. Heading into the semifinal, Ubly had outscored its opponents by a 252-6 margin in the opening quarter, and by a 202-7 advantage during the second quarter.

Whiteford has also shown its ability to pound the ball on the ground, averaging more than 300 yards rushing and averaging 48 points, led by 1,000-yard rushers in Jake Iott and Hunter DeBarr.

Whiteford showed it could pull out close games, a 38-26 regional final win over White Pigeon, while also displaying its ability to dominate, earning a 44-6 state semifinal win over Clarkston Everest.

Players to watch

Mark Heilig, Sr. RB/DB, Ubly: Heilig has been impressive, rushing for 1,354 yards and 29 TDs and coming up big in big games, breaking loose for 203 yards and three TDs in the semifinal win over Iron Mountain.

Shea Ruddy, Sr., QB/DB, Whiteford: Ruddy is a talented dual-threat quarterback, entering the semifinal game with 19 TD passes and just three interceptions, while also rushing for more than 600 yards and 13 TDs.

How can each team win?

Well, Ubly can jump on teams, then build on leads to crush the emotion of opponents, showing its ability to pile up yards on the ground to control the clock.

A reason Whiteford can win:

Whiteford is more balanced than Ubly, so if Ubly loads the box to try and stop the run, Ruddy could have a big day through the air.

Prediction

Expect Whiteford to try and load the box to try and slow down Ubly’s running game since Ubly has thrown for less than 400 yards this season. Pick: Whiteford 26, Ubly 21