Prior to the start of every season, coaches throughout the Catholic League speak highly of one another with boastful claims of how difficult each league seems to be from one fall to the next.
The resounding theme always centers on a rough and tumble regular season giving way to playoff prosperity.
This weekend, four teams from our coverage area will have a chance to prove that on the field.
Here’s a quick look at our local Catholic League squads and their first-round matchups in the 2012 playoffs.
Birmingham Brother Rice
Division 2 pre-regional at Port Huron High, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m.
The defending D-2 champs barely made the playoffs at 5-4 last year, then rolled to five straight wins, four in enemy territory, and yet another state crown.
After a 7-2 regular season, the Warriors open their defense on the road yet again, taking on a Port Huron High team that also went 7-2, and like Rice, closed the season on a three-game winning streak.
“I’m just happy we made it,” coach Al Fracassa said with a laugh when asked about playing on the road again. “To be part of this tournament is what really counts, no matter where we play. You really can’t be picky this time of year.”
Fracassa said the key for his guys will be slowing down a Big Reds offensive attack that averaged more than 30 points per game this season and did so while facing five playoff teams along the way.
“They seem to have 100 different variations with their offense, and the quarterback can really fling the ball around,” Fracassa said. “We have to be at our best defensively.”
Rice can certainly boast about its own showing this season so far, going 3-1 in Catholic League Central Division play while averaging 26.5 points all year and allowing just 15.4.
“When we’ve lost or been down, we’ve made too many mistakes,” Fracassa said simply. “It’s the obvious things, like fumbles or dropped passes, or whatever, but that takes you off your game. And in this one, I think the team with the fewest mistakes will win.”
Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
Division 3 pre-regional at home vs. South Lyon East, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m.
Another 2011 state champ from the Catholic League, St. Mary’s begins its title defense at home Friday night against a South Lyon East team that scrapped into the postseason with a 5-4 record.
That won’t matter to coach George Porritt and his guys, though.
“At this time of year, everybody is 0-0 and anybody can beat anyone,” Porritt said.
St. Mary’s enters the tournament after going 7-2 this year, including a 27-10 victory against Novi Detroit Catholic Central in last weekend’s Prep Bowl at Ford Field.
The simple goal for the Eaglets is to get downtown one more time in 2012.
“I think we’re in a good position right now,” Porritt said. “We’re getting healthy, and I think we’re ready to go. Every enjoys this time of year, and the guys are looking forward to the challenge.”
South Lyon East is making its first-ever appearance in the postseason, and doing so mainly because of an offense that averaged nearly 25 points in its five wins, including 28 and 26 in the final two weeks of the season, both wins.
But in the Cougars’ four losses, their spread offense was essentially shut down, and literally shut out twice.
“They are going to try and throw it around a lot, and they have a good quarterback and some good receivers,” Porritt said. “The key for us is disrupting that. If you can take a spread team out of its rhythm, you’ve got a good chance of really slowing them down.”
As for the Eaglets, expect the offense to pound the ball over and over again.
“It’s what we do best,” Porritt said.
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep
Division 4 pre-regional at home vs. Livonia Clarenceville, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m.
Unlike St. Mary’s and Rice, teams facing playoff foes with no previous encounters, Notre Dame Prep won’t have to look very far in the rearview mirror to gain a game plan for its Saturday night home date with Clarenceville.
The teams met just two weeks ago, a 29-7 Prep victory.
“It makes it a little tough, because they are going to come out and want to prove something to us and prove something to themselves,” Prep coach Kyle Zimmerman said. “But knowing we beat them gives us a lot of confidence. I mean, we have it from playing so well all year, but it’s nice to know we’ve won once already.”
Prep (8-1) will be without starting quarterback Joseph Kutil, who broke his collar bone in last weekend’s Prep Bowl loss to Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard.
Junior Brenden Newvine, a transfer who started a playoff game for Clarkston High two years ago as a freshman, will make his first start under center for Prep.
“He’s played the position before and understands what to do,” Zimmerman said. “He had a great camp and really battled for the starting quarterback position anyway, so he’s a guy we can count on.”
Clarenceville (6-3) won three of its final four games, but was essentially shut out in the meeting against Prep, its only loss since Sept. 21.
“If the defense is strong again, and we get out to a good start, we’ll be in good shape,” Zimmerman said. “We held them without a score until the very end last time, and we feel we can do that again.”
Royal Oak Shrine
Division 7 pre-regional at U of D Jesuit vs. Detroit Loyola, Oct. 27 at 1 p.m.
Of the four Catholic League teams featured here, Shrine is likely the only one that enters the pre-regional as an underdog.
And coach John Goddard welcomes that.
“Hey, the word ‘upset’ is in the dictionary for a reason,” Goddard continued. “We’re going to go into this game, have some fun and see what happens.”
Shrine ended the regular season 5-4 thanks to a convincing 26-0 win against Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett in the final week, setting up Saturday’s date with Detroit Loyola (9-0), the same team that’s eliminated Shrine from two of the past three postseasons and won this year’s meeting 51-20 two weeks ago.
The Bulldogs beat Shrine 29-0 in the second round last year.
“They are the big, bad wolf, no other way to put it,” Goddard said. “We just have to be Little Red Riding Hood.”
This year’s appearance marks the 10th straight for Shrine, which has missed the playoffs once since 1998.
Loyola hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2006, has gone 20-1 since last year and is averaging 47.1 points per game while allowing just 6.3.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Goddard said. “We’ll play with a lot of pride, we’ll have some fun, and we’ll see happens.”