Thanks to seniors like Nick Hastings, Davon Sears and George Talley III, Center Line’s football team has recorded a season for its history book.
For the first time, the Panthers won a league championship, qualified for the playoffs and defeated arch-rival Warren Lincoln all in the same season.
“Our senior class is very special,” said Center Line coach Ben Torres, now in his fourth season as the Panthers’ leader. “I told those kids if you stay here, you will be champions.”
That indeed happened. Center Line won its final three games of the season to win the MAC Bronze Division and claim its first league title since 1996.
The Panthers also will make their first playoff appearance since 2005 when they play at Detroit Country Day on Friday in a Division 4 matchup.
“We’ve been resilient,” Torres said. “We’ve had some games that haven’t gone our way. We could have folded up. But we went and won three in a row.”
Hastings, the team’s quarterback, leads a class of 14 seniors.
“Nick’s had a special year,” Torres said. “The straw that stirs the drink for this team is Nick.”
Sears and Talley are standouts on both the offensive and defensive lines, and right tackle Jermond Harshaw is the team’s captain.
Senior running back D’Iante Taylor gives the offense a boost, and Hastings has a couple of playmakers in receivers Jaylan Johnson and Jakarris Vereen.
Center Line never wilted in the regular season. The Panthers suffered a 60-6 setback in its season-opener against Madison Heights Madison, but regrouped to eventually defeat Lincoln in Week 5 for the Brown Jug in a rivalry game that dates to 1947.
When Center Line lost to St. Clair, the Panthers fell to 3-3 overall. But the Panthers rallied again, closing the season with three straight victories - including a postseason-clinching triumph over Marysville last week.
“Our defense has started to play a lot better,” Torres said. “We’ve stepped up. In order for us to make a push, we knew we needed to step up defensively.”
Center Line will have to step up again against a storied Detroit Country Day program. The Yellowjackets have won won three state championships and played in the state finals five other times.
“They have a tremendous history of having great players,” Torres said. “They’re physical up front.”
Born to run
Like Center Line, Gibraltar Carlson opened the regular season with a loss. Like the Panthers, the Marauders bounced right back.
Carlson started off with a 49-35 setback to Woodhaven, but the Marauders ripped off eight straight victories to claim a share of the Downriver League championship and a second straight playoff appearance. They will host Trenton in a Division 3 game on Friday night.
“Our kids kept battling in practice,” Carlson coach Jack Giarmo said. “Our kids did a great job of improving.”
Carlson has put up eye-popping numbers on the ground, rushing for 3,316 yards in nine games (an average of 368.44 per game).
Four players have rushed for more than 500 yards: fullback Tommy Sucharski and brothers Ian Stewart, Brandon Stewart and Bryce Stewart.
Brandon and Bryce are twin running backs, and Ian is a junior quarterback who sets the tone for the team.
Ian already has drawn interest from several big-name colleges, including Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. He has rushed for 643 yards and eight touchdowns, and he’s passed for three more TDs. He also plays linebacker and is tied for the team lead in tackles.
“He’s a very unselfish player,” Giarmo said. “He keeps working hard, and he’s a great leader.”
Giarmo also believes the defense has improved as the season has progressed, and he credited linemen Justin Barger, Dominic Bodner, Hampton Higgins and Walter Turner for their strong play.
Carlson will face a familiar foe in Trenton. The Marauders defeated the Trojans 35-24 in Week 2.
“It was a tough game,” Giarmo said. “They’ve gotten better, too. When you play a team twice, it’s difficult.”
The Carlson-Trenton game is far from the only rematch. In fact, Birmingham Groves will play at Birmingham Seaholm just one week after Groves defeated Seaholm 26-9.
Both teams are 7-2.
Watch out for Belleville.
The Tigers enter the postseason undefeated, and they’re averaging 42.4 points per game.
Belleville has a pair of MSU recruits in offensive tackle Devontae Dobbs and wide receiver/defensive back Julian Barnett. In addition, senior linebacker Tyrece Woods has committed to Michigan; linebacker Marvin Ham is headed to Boston College; and defensive end Jalen Hunt has pledged to Iowa.
That’s on top of junior cornerback Andre Seldon, who already has made a verbal commitment to Michigan.
The Tigers have scored 50 or more points in three games this season, including 51 in a Week 3 victory over Dearborn, their first-round playoff opponent.