Thanks to players like Max Wittwer and Mark Tocco, Utica Eisenhower and Macomb Dakota keep on keepin’ on.
The two Macomb County high school football powerhouses continue their rivalry Friday at 7 p.m. when Eisenhower hosts Dakota at Utica’s Swinehart Field.
“There aren’t a lot of secrets between the teams,” Dakota coach Greg Baur said. “It’ll just come down to fundamental football.”
It’s the MAC Red Division opener for both teams, who are led by quarterbacks that have long ties to their programs.
Wittwer is a senior and three-year starter under center for Eisenhower.
"He was a waterboy for us when he was a kid,” Eagles coach Chris Smith said. “He grew up dreaming about playing Eisenhower football."
Tocco is a junior and his father, Paul, is the head basketball coach at Dakota as well as an assistant on the football team.
“Their quarterback is a good runner and athletic,” Smith said of Tocco. “He’s a playmaker.”
Both teams opened the 2017 season in impressive fashion, thanks in large part to the play of each quarterback.
Eisenhower defeated an Oak Park team loaded with top recruiting prospects, 24-7. Dakota knocked off three-time defending Division 3 state champion Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 31-24.
“I just liked our offense,” Baur said. “We ran the football and controlled the clock.”
As a team, Dakota rushed for 260 yards against St. Mary’s. Tocco made the most of his first varsity start, rushing for 127 yards and one touchdown and passing for 125 yards and three TDs.
“His decision-making process was outstanding,” Baur said.
Thursday’s victory was an encouraging sign for the Cougars, who lost 30 seniors and have only four starters returning on offense from last year’s squad that went 7-4 overall.
“They grew up fast the other night,” Baur said.
Wide receiver Jeron Kelly, the Macomb County champion in the 100-meter dash, leads a talented set of offensive players that includes Dustin Solomon, Dawson Sloan and Ronye Walker.
Baur said linebacker L.J. Hassell led the Dakota defense against St. Mary’s. Defensive end Nick Audia anchors a line that also features juniors Riley Orlando and Jeremiah Major.
The Dakota defense will face a tough test in Eisenhower’s Wittwer. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound quarterback ran for one touchdown and passed for another in the Eagles’ victory over Oak Park.
“He’s a great leader on and off the field,” Smith said. “He carries himself well. It’s all about what’s going on with the team.”
Assad Bujaida rushed for a touchdown, and Ian Kennedy also caught a TD pass for Eisenhower in the win over Oak Park.
Three-year starter Derian Doherty powers the offensive line, and senior defensive end Henry Janeway, who has committed to Army, leads the Ike defense. Other top players are wide receiver/safety Ben Mets, slotback Jack Morris, cornerback John Fantauzzo and outside linebacker Drake Myny.
Eisenhower, which defeated Dakota twice last season, has had a .500 record or better in every year since 1984. The Eagles have made the playoffs in 17 of the last 18 years.
Last season was a vintage year for Eisenhower. The Eagles swept through the regular season en route to a MAC Red Division championship, and they advanced to the state semifinals.
Dakota also boasts an impressive pedigree. The Cougars have made 16 straight playoff appearances, and the school won state championships in 2006 and ’07.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Baur said. “They’re the defending (league) champion. Until someone beats them, then they’re the champs."