Birmingham, WarrenSeptember 13, 2011
Brother Rice and De La Salle open Catholic League play in style
By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer
BIRMINGHAM — In the long and storied rivalry between the Birmingham Brother Rice and Warren De La Salle football programs, there’s very few occurrences that have yet to play themselves out in some fashion or another.
The teams have met to decide Catholic League titles, to advance in league or state playoff runs, or to just showcase some of the best football the state has to offer.
In 2006, the Warriors and Pilots faced each other three times in a six-week span.
But on Sept. 18, the newest and latest twist will be center stage when they open the Catholic League portion of the schedule with a Sunday afternoon date on Fracassa Field, the team’s regular practice facility, at Brother Rice.
“In all the years I’ve coached, I’ve never had a true home game,” stressed Rice’s Al Fracassa, the team’s coach since 1969. “We’ve always rented a field, whether it be at (Beverly Hills) Groves, or Berkley or (Lathrup Village) Southfield-Lathrup or wherever.
But for this, they are going to set up the bleachers and do it all up for us so we can play a real home game on a Sunday afternoon. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Not just because of when and where the game is, but also because of who’s involved.
Through two weeks of the 2011 season, Rice and De La Salle were a combined 4-0.
Rice opened the year with a dramatic 28-21 victory against Detroit Martin Luther King and followed that by beating Ann Arbor Pioneer 27-14. As if those weren’t tests enough, the Warriors traveled to Ohio Sept. 9 to face St. Francis DeSales in a game played after press time.
De La Salle hasn’t had an easy go of it, either, out-gunning Pioneer 43-28 in the opener before beating Flint Carman-Ainsworth 34-6 on Sept. 2.
The Pilots faced Dearborn Fordson after press time.
But everyone involved with the Sept. 18 game, scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff, knows the importance surrounding the Central Division opener.
“It’s always a big game, but it’s especially so this year,” Pilots coach Paul Verska said. “The first game in the league kind of sets the tone for the year, and if you don’t find a way to win, you’re instantly between a rock and a hard place. … But you know the excitement will be there, you feel it in the school and at practice. It’s so much easier to get the guys focused for a game against a team like Brother Rice.”
Verska admitted his offense has been a welcome surprise so far.
“It’s been great to see, and better than I thought it would be,” Verksa said. “But our offensive line play has gotten much better, Shane (Morris) has looked great, and the receiving core has made plays when needed.”
Morris, a junior quarterback, had five touchdown passes in two weeks despite seeing limited time in both games because of lopsided scores.
“Of course, the flip side of it is the fact we have to be better defensively against a team like Rice,” Verska added. “They are going to run the ball and run it well. If we can try and force them into more passing situations than they’d like, we’ll have a good chance.”
“We’ve got a good stable of backs that have carried the ball real well so far,” Fracassa said of his offense. “I think we’ll be able to score some points, but the key is going to be defense. That quarterback (Morris) seems to be as good as advertised. We know they’re going to throw the ball and be tough on the run. I don’t know if it’s going to be high scoring or if I even want a high-scoring game, but defense is going to have to be our strength.”
Throwing out records and past games is often a cliché surrounding big rivals and their current meetings, but it’s tough to ignore the not-so-distant history between these two.
Since 1995, Rice won 15 of 16 games between the teams. But since 2007, the rivals have split four games, with the average difference in score sitting at just five points.
“There’s a good reason for those close games, too,” Fracassa, whose team lost last year’s meeting 7-0, with a laugh. “Teams like this get up to play one another. There’s a ton of pride and respect on the line, and you can’t help but be ready for it.”
“Games like they have been lately have everything to do with how intense the rivalry is,” Verska added. “You expect a great game against a great team, no matter what.”