Cubs, Eaglets, Bulldogs and Knights advance to regional tier in MHSAA playoffs

Shrine players jubilantly celebrate their come-from-behind 23-6 victory over Deerfield that sends them to the MHSAA Division 8 regional for the first time since 2016. (Photo courtesy of Maria Ruhle)

ROYAL OAK — Is there anyone who enjoys playing football more than the student-athletes at Shrine High?

Well, maybe those at University of Detroit Jesuit who are surprising everyone but themselves in these MHSAA playoffs, turning back Farmington, 11-10, in a defensive struggle to advance to a Division 2 regional for the first time since 2013. Their “reward” is facing No. 3-ranked Detroit Martin Luther King (9-2) at 6 p.m. Friday (Nov. 15) at King’s Lorenzo Wright Field.

Also joyous were the players at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, who pretty much did what was expected in a 56-26 demolition of Flint Kearsley to move on to a Division 3 regional. The No. 3 Eaglets (10-1) host No. 5 River Rouge (10-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 16).

Detroit Loyola had a nondescript 4-4 regular season but seems to have found its groove, shutting out Madison Heights Madison, 16-0, for a Division 7 regional date, its first since a string of six straight seasons from 2011 to 2016. The Bulldogs (6-4) head to the Thumb area to Cass City (10-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday.

On the other side of the coin, there’s no joy for the Riverview Gabriel Richard gridders, whose district title hopes were squashed by Division 7 No. 3 Jackson Lumen Christi (10-0), 42-14, ending their 8-3 season.

Shrine advances to regional

Shrine players were beside themselves hugging, jumping and yelling, and even a couple of tears were shed when the game-ending horn sounded, the pent-up tension released by a 23-6 comeback victory over Britton Deerfield, who had soundly beaten Shrine a month ago by two touchdowns.

The Knights (9-2) will play their first Division 8 regional in three years when they host Fowler (10-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday. The two teams have played each other once, in a 2016 pre-district, which Shrine won 21-14.

“This means a lot,” said a jubilant coach Oscar Olejniczak. “It’s the biggest win in my career.” Olejniczak came to Shrine two years ago, succeeding legendary John Goddard, from U-D Jesuit, where he directed the Cubs for four years.

“You know, we don’t have a player over 200 pounds,” he said on his way to the locker room. “But we depend on our physicality and our defense. And we run a lot of formations. We played with a lot of confidence.”

Sophomore running back Jacob Sanders rushed for 114 yards, scored a touchdown and intercepted a pass in Shrine’s 23-6 win over Deerfield to move on to the next step toward a state championship. (Photo courtesy of Maria Ruhle)

It took Shrine nearly five minutes to grab a 3-0 lead on Charlie Mulcahy’s 25-yard field goal. Deerfield needed a mere 19 seconds to take the lead back. Quarterback Nico Johnson hit wide receiver Cooper Goble in stride for a 61-yard touchdown. The extra point kick sailed wide left and Shrine suddenly was behind 6-3.

That, as it turned out, was the sum and substance of Deerfield’s 195-yard total offense, coming off a 429-yard offense in the pre-district game a week earlier. For the rest of the game, the Knights’ awakened defense kept Deerfield on its own side of the 50-yard line for 39 of 54 scrimmage plays.

Alex Armenio, Ugo Ike, Aaron Smith, Payton Bero and Petr Mehall combined to drop Deerfield runners for 31 yards in losses. In addition, Jacob Sanders intercepted a pass and Armenio and Marty Massucci recovered fumbles.

Meanwhile, the Knights’ offense was humming behind a pair of sophomores, quarterback Conor Benson and running back Sanders.

Midway through the second quarter, Benson connected with end Charles Niehaus for consecutive passes of 12, 31 and 15 yards, setting up Sanders’ 6-yard touchdown burst up the middle to restore Shrine’s lead to 10-6.

Benson tossed a pair of touchdown passes, both to a wide open Anthony Massucci: one for 37 yards in the second quarter to make it 16-6 at the half, the other for 16 yards in the third quarter.

Benson completed 11 of 19 attempts for 160 yards. Sanders rushed 27 times for 114 yards.

In games involving non-CHSL archdiocesan Catholic schools:

In Division 4, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (10-1) will host Flint Powers Catholic (9-2) at 7 p.m. Friday.

In Division 6, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (9-1) will host Montrose (10-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Navarre Field in Monroe.