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Michigan high school football notes heading into the state semifinals

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Birmingham Groves’ offense keeps getting better and better, just in time for a matchup against Warren De La Salle.

Groves enters the Division 2 semifinal game versus the defending state champions with a 10-2 record and its offense hitting on all cylinders.

The Falcons average 33.7 points per game, and they have scored 35 points in each of their three playoff contests, including a season-high 53 in last week’s victory over Livonia Franklin.

“You add a couple of wrinkles each week, and all of a sudden it kind of hits,” Groves coach Brendan Flaherty said. “The big thing is the experience. The juniors who were first-year starters in the first two game aren’t as nervous anymore.”

The results bear Flaherty out. 

After opening the season with consecutive losses to West Bloomfield and Oak Park, Groves has rolled to 10 straight victories. 

“I can say it’s great now,” Flaherty said of the team’s 0-2 start. “At that time it wasn’t so great.”

The Falcons have won nine of their games by 14 or more points, and their closest game since the end of August was a 35-28 triumph over Rochester in Week 4.

Senior Captain Demonte McCurdy, a three-year starter who played in Groves’ 2016 state semifinal team, sparks the Falcons.

McCurdy rushed for a touchdown in last week’s victory over Livonia Franklin, and he is one of three captains on the squad.

“He lets his actions speak for him,” Flaherty said. “He’s just a great kid. He lives in the moment. He plays his best in the big moments.”

Henry Van Faussien, a linebacker, and Josh Salter, a running back and defensive back, also are captains for Groves.

Another standout is Khalil Dawsey, a cornerback and slot receiver who has committed to Harvard

“You’re as good as your seniors,” Flaherty said. “And our seniors have played really well, especially in the last four games.”

Groves will have to work hard to make its points against De La Salle on Saturday at Hazel Park. The Pilots have surrendered only 20 points total in its three playoff contests, and they are allowing 9.4 points per game as they try to repeat as Division 2 state champions. 

“They’re enormous, they’re huge,” Flaherty said. “They have a lot of guys who love playing football. They have that experience.”

‘Gritty’ does it for Saline

Saline coach Joe Palka has a word to describe his football team: gritty.

Palka says that term fits for a team that uses a stingy defense and efficient offense in winning 11 straight game since dropping its season-opener against Clinton Township Chippewa Valley.

And it’s a word that aptly describes the Hornets’ dramatic 13-12 overtime victory over Rockford in last week’s Division 1 regional championship game.

“Last week we played a gritty, mentally tough game,” Palka said in an email. “We took care of the football and played to our defense. It was a physical game. We played great defense and manufactured enough offense to win. We showed great mental and physical toughness at the end of the game.”

Safety M.J. Griffin spearheads a defense that is thriving in its third year under coordinator Duane Wilson. 

Linebackers Alex Morrison and Connor Terech lead the team in tackles, while Brad Wisniewski heads the squad in sacks.

On offense, quarterback Andrew Arbaugh has passed for more than 1,500 yards. 

His top target is tight end Brendan Murphy, and Brenden Munday leads the team in rushing.
Saline will get a grit check on Saturday when the Hornets take on defending Division 1 state champion Clarkston at Okemos. Clarkston defeated Lapeer 13-0 last week.

“Clarkston plays great defense and are very balanced offensively,” Palka said. “They are disciplined and have some size on their lines that we will have to deal with. They run well and react quickly. 

“We will need to play great defense again but will have to be ready for a good passing game,” he said. “On offense we will need to play our best game of the year and be able to find a way to run the ball more effectively.”

Battle of the unbeatens

Two state semifinal games will pit undefeated teams against each other.

In Division 1, 12-0 Chippewa Valley faces 12-0 Belleville at Troy Athens. And in Division 7, unbeaten Cassopolis takes on undefeated Madison Heights Madison at Jackson.

Both games are Saturday at 1 p.m.

Predict the games