4Frenzy is back with another exciting matchup for the Game of the Week. The Canton Chiefs will face their longtime rivals the Plymouth Wildcats.
Highlights will air on Local 4 News Friday at 11p.m., Saturday at 6 a.m. and streaming on Local 4+.
These teams are classmates by day but rivals under the Friday night lights. Canton and Plymouth have been rivals for years due to the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park encompassing three schools: Salem High School, Canton High School and Plymouth High School. The close proximity of the Canton community makes this game personal.
“We’re separated by 200 yards really,” said Plymouth Head Coach Greg Souldourian. “Our kids have classes together. These kids grow up playing sports together and then they go to two different schools so it makes it a little bit more personal. They’re neighbors. It’s not like in some communities where they live in different parts of town. It’s also amped up by the size of the schools. We have almost 6000 kids on campus. So that aspect amplifies the rivalry because it’s the show in town right now.”
The Wildcats come into this game after losing 32-14 against Churchill in week one and losing 39-7 last week against Northville. Souldourian, looking to pull off an upset against the Canton Chiefs, is predicting a physical battle.
“It’s going to be a fight in a phone booth,” Souldourian said. “The more physical team will win. It’s a war of attrition kind of thing. The first three minutes of the game is the most important. We have to weather the storm and just do our job and it’ll all sort itself out.”
The Wildcats have several starters with playing experience from previous seasons including senior MLB Tyler Harris, three-year starter RB Evan Cosgrove and three-year starter QB Sam Plencner.
“Evan has been a three-year starter for us on the varsity level,” Souldourian said. “He is a coach on the field. He is the son of a coach. His dad’s on our staff so he’s very trustworthy on the field. He’s gonna get the call right, he’s going to make a play for you when you need a couple of yards. And Tyler Harris is our mike linebacker, he’s the heart and soul of our team. Nobody questions Tyler. When he says something, that goes with the players... because he puts in the work. Our quarterback, Sam Plencner, is only a junior but kids just kind of naturally gravitate to him. He put a lot of effort during the off-season learning more about the quarterback position. We met once a week minimum.”
Canton has won four of the last five games against Plymouth and since Souldourian got the head coaching position in 2020, the Wildcats have been 2-16. Even with limited success on the field, Souldourian emphasizes trusting the process, worrying less about outcomes and teaching valuable life lessons through football.
“At the end of the day, you’re trying to set up guys to be great husbands, fathers, brothers and etcetera. So everything we do is centralized around that and getting the most out of them and pushing them to the limits that they didn’t know they had.”
On the flip side, the Canton Chiefs come into this game after a 29-14 defeat against Livonia Franklin in week one and a 34-25 victory over Howell last week. Canton Head Coach Andy LaFata elected to only run the ball against Howell and finished with total rushing numbers of 58 carries for 333 yards without a single pass. The Chiefs had three backs break the 100-yard mark.
The Chiefs will look to carry their success from last week into this rivalry game that is very important to the community.
“Every game in the KLAA is a big game, but when you share the halls with the other team it’s important to play well,” said Lafata. “This game is between players who grew up together, played youth sports together, share a classroom together and both want to win more than anything. Around Plymouth-Canton it means a heck of a lot, to a heck of a lot of people. In 7th grade these kids get randomly drawn to one of the three schools(Canton, Plymouth, Salem) and once they get notified of their high school, this is the game they can’t wait to play.
Lafata was hired as the head coach in 2018 and has led the Chiefs to a record of 27-15 since then. Last year the Chiefs finished with a 7-4 record after losing the district title game against Belleville. Canton hasn’t had a losing season since 1999 and is expected to contend every year. Lafata’s coaching style emphasizes hard work, consistency and pride for the community.
“We call it hometown football at Canton,” said Lafata. “All of our kids are from this town and we pride ourselves on playing for our town. Our motto as a program is ‘You get what you put in, and people get what they deserve.’ Hard work has always and will always be what the program is built on. My coaching style influences our culture by being consistent throughout the offseason and during the season on what it takes to be a Canton Chief. I want to see them grow as young men. This group has had so much adversity during their high school experience that they had no control over. I know they can be great so it’s my job to do everything I can to help them along their journey.”
This year Canton returned only two starters. Josiah West and Caleb Williams, who each play running back and receiver, are the only Chiefs who played regularly last year.
“It’s a work in progress,” Lafata said. “We have to get to know these players and not expect them to be anyone from last year or the years prior. That’s the fun of high school football, every year we get a new group and have to be phonetically consistent teachers. It can be a challenge but it’s one we embrace.”
With largely a brand new roster, Coach Lafata expects for players to rise to the occasion and assume bigger roles with the team this season.
“I’m looking to find more unsung heroes who step up and play key roles for us during the year,” Lafata said. “Each year a player or two surprises us and steps up to fill a void. This year I’m looking for those players to rise up so we can become the best team we can be.”
Both teams seek bragging rights every year over the battle for “The Park.” Even though there’s a longstanding rivalry, there’s a lot of respect between these two teams.
“We are working around the clock,” Lafata said. “They are a good team with a lot of good players and an experienced staff. We have to match their intensity all week in practice to be able to compete on Friday night.”
“We have the most respect for their staff and what they do over there,” Souldourian said. “They tie their shoes just like us. They walk from class to class just like us and we’re looking for the opportunity.”