CHSL football season abruptly ends as four remaining schools bow out; St. Mary's CC still alive

Royal Oak Shrine running back Jacob Sanders watches a loose ball skip away during the Knights' 33-0 regional loss to Fowler. Shrine lost four fumbles in the game, which ended their quest for a Division 8 state championship. This year marks the first time since 1986 the CHSL will not have a representative playing in the state semifinals. (Photos courtesy of Mia Simon)

Orchard Lake St. Mary's, U of D Jesuit, Shrine and Loyola drop regionals; CHSL shut out of semifinals for first time since '86

ORCHARD LAKE — “We had a blown fuse.”

The announcement informed the bundled-up fans at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s on Saturday afternoon that corrections were being made to the PA system.

It also might have been a bit prophetic in view of what was happening on the gridiron: The Eaglets were in the throes of their own system failure in the face of River Rouge’s relentless assault en route to a shocking 49-14 upset in an MHSAA Division 3 regional playoff game.

It truly was a lost weekend for CHSL football. The last four teams of the original 11 who survived the first two rounds all were knocked out from contention for a state championship.

For the first time since 1986, there will not be a CHSL representative in any of the divisions playing in next weekend’s state semi-finals.

It’s not a complete washout for local Catholic schools, however. One archdiocesan high school (and non-CHSL member) is still in the hunt: Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, who will take on Onsted.

An abrupt ending

University of Detroit Jesuit couldn’t keep pace with Detroit Martin Luther King’s nearly 400 yards of offense during a 49-21 loss, as King advances to a District 2 semifinal.

Despite the result, football is on the rise at Jesuit. Coach Matt Lewis, in his second year at the helm, led the Cubs to a 4-0 CHSL Double A record, a Prep Bowl victory, and the school's first district title since 2013. The Cubs' overall 8-4 record is the best since 10-3 in 2001, when the Cubs won the regional.

In Division 7, Detroit Loyola traveled 100 miles to the Thumb, losing 6-0 to Cass City, which has the best small-town defense in the state (five shutouts, allowing seven touchdowns in 12 games). Loyola’s defense isn’t any slouch either, limiting the Red Hawks offense, which averaged 36 points a game, to a 21-yard touchdown pass with eight minutes to play.

The Royal Oak Shrine defensive line takes down Fowler quarterback Caiden Pung behind the line of scrimmage for a sack during a muddy regional contest on Saturday. 

The Bulldogs offense, however, couldn’t capitalize on potential game-winning opportunities as time wound down, failing to convert a fourth-and-inches at the 6-yard line and throwing an interception at the three-yard line.

Coach John Callahan is rebuilding the foundation for Loyola’s return to the glory days of four state finals and a state championship (in 2014).

Royal Oak Shrine suffered a system breakdown in a 33-0 loss to Fowler in a Division 8 regional. The Knights fumbled on their first play, which Fowler turned into a touchdown, and the rout was on. Fowler out-gained Shrine in total offense, 286-186. Shrine was 14 of 36 passing on a day and a field where it was difficult to pass.

Shrine finished 9-3. Coach Oscar Olejniczak is looking ahead to next year and the return of four juniors, eight sophomores and six freshmen, including starting sophomore quarterback Conor Benson and sophomore running back Jacob Sanders.

Maybe, just maybe

Prognosticators around the state who follow high school football favored St. Mary’s to get past Rouge and continue its journey to Ford Field on Thanksgiving weekend.

In the Central Division, St. Mary’s plays in one of the toughest football conferences in the state. Earlier in their quest, the Eaglets persevered in a torrential downpour to shut out Novi Detroit Catholic Central, 13-0, for the Central championship.

The Panthers belong to the much weaker Michigan Metro Blue league. They ganged up on the other three members by a combined 162-13 score. River Rouge played Catholic Central one of its non-league games and won 16-3.

Both teams, sporting identical 10-1 records, came into this showdown on a roll. The Eaglets beat up its district opponents 53-0 and 56-26, River Rouge by scores of 53-0 and 38-8.

The Panthers set the tone from the outset. Quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski swept left end for a 37-yard touchdown, and fullback Deandre Bulley plunged three yards to open the second quarter, and eight minutes later burst untouched up the middle for eight yards and another touchdown.

Just like that, the Panthers led 21-0.

Both sides of St. Mary’s line struggled to stop the Panthers' attack. In its first four possessions, St. Mary’s went four-and-out; they didn't record a first down until midway through the second quarter, via a pass interference penalty.

With two minutes left in the second quarter, the Eaglets provided a glimmer of hope. From his own 31, senior quarterback Grant Henson, who had completed just one of his first six passes, connected with wideout Anthony Enechukwu for 24 yards, then Jason Ross for five yards, Kameron Arnold for 14, and Enechukwu for the final 12 yards of a 10-play, 61-yard drive for a touchdown.

Down 21-7, that little bit of hope lasted just 45 seconds into the third quarter. On the third play, Henson was intercepted, and Rouge cashed in the turnover to increase its lead to 28-7, effectively icing the game.

Hrabowski and Bulley each scored three touchdowns. Bulley was nearly unstoppable, gaining more than 200 yards.

The Eaglets offense recorded just 59 yards running and 71 passing in the first three quarters, and added 130 more in the fourth quarter against Rouge’s second stringers.

St. Mary’s 1,000-yard runner, senior Anthony Anton, was held to 27 yards on 10 carries. Garrett Davis gained 49 yards in 10 tries. Henson completed 9 of 17 attempts (and one interception) for 150 yards.