Chippewa Valley secures playoff spot with defeat of Dakota

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published October 7, 2017

MACOMB — In the 28th overall meeting in this rivalry, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley rolled past Macomb Dakota 37-7 to gain the club's playoff-clinching sixth win of 2017.

The Big Reds (6-1, 3-1 Macomb Area Conference Red Division) utilized a strong running attack and smothering defense to retain ownership of the Superintendent's Trophy while also exacting revenge for a loss to the Cougars in last year's postseason.

"Our kids talked about that this week. We still had a bad taste in our mouth from losing to them in the playoffs," Chippewa Valley coach Scott Merchant said amidst a large on-field celebration. "You don't have to say a lot during this week. We're only two miles apart, the kids grow up together and know each other. (Dakota) has a great program here, so we were pretty motivated."

Four different players notched touchdowns on the night for Chippewa as the unit piled up over 350 yards of offense.

"First of all, you have to credit our offensive line," Merchant said. "Dakota is a very good football team so we were blocking some good players up front. People think were only a passing team, but we can be a running team depending on what the defense gives us."

The Big Reds totaled 244 yards on the ground, led by a duo of junior running backs. Andre Chenault (108 yards, two touchdowns) and Ja'Von Kimpson (97 yards, one touchdown) had 10 carries each.

"We have a good set of backs, some senior linemen and a good quarterback," Merchant remarked. "Teams have to decide how they want to defend us. If they want to take away our passing game, which is pretty good, then we feel we can run the ball. We try to be balanced, and then we're going to take whatever they give us. It was nice to see how physical we played tonight."

Merchant said that junior quarterback Tommy Schuster threw for over 300 yards the week prior, a 44-0 victory over Utica High. He was pleased to showcase a running attack that neared that same total, citing confidence in Chenault, Kimpson and Schuster to each carry the ball.

"This means a lot, we had a great game," Chenault said. "Our offensive line played a good game by giving us good blocking. They opened up the holes, and we just did our job because they were doing their job."

After Dakota (5-2, 2-2 Red) junior quarterback Mark Tocco opened the game's scoring with a 6-yard scamper, both Schuster and Chenault recorded rushing touchdowns in the second quarter to give the Big Reds a 14-7 halftime lead.

Chippewa returned the second half kickoff near midfield before sustaining a drive that earned four first downs. Kimpson ended the possession with a 2-yard plunge into the end zone.

"We were a little sloppy in the first quarter, but we started to clean things up a bit in the second quarter," Merchant explained. "We executed better in the second half and knew we needed to come out and score on our first drive. That's what the kids did and we kept the pedal to the medal."

After Kimpson's score, a heavy rain began to fall on an already damp and foggy field. Dakota's offense struggled to succeed in the conditions, showcased by their first drive of the second half, which featured two sacks and a failed fake punt.

Two plays later, Chippewa quickly turned the turnover into points as Schuster found junior wideout David Ellis for a 49-yard catch and score. Dakota's subsequent possession notched four first downs but was ended with an interception by senior defensive back Brian Naidus.

"It's tough to play from behind," Cougars coach Greg Baur said. "We had to start throwing the ball a lot, and that got us out of our running stuff, which we were hurting them with."

The Big Reds notched two more sacks of Tocco while adding a field goal and another Chenault rushing touchdown before the final buzzer.

"Our defense had a heck of a game, that Dakota offense is quite good," Merchant said. "(Tocco) is a great quarterback, and they have some great skill players. To me, seeing our defense only give up seven against a team like that shows what an amazing job our defensive staff does with all of the kids on that side of the ball."

Baur admitted struggles on both sides of the ball, pointing to injuries plaguing his defense.

"We're down five starters on defense right now," Baur lamented. "By the end of the game, we were down at least six. No excuses from us though, they beat us and congratulations to them, but defensively we just don't have enough bodies right now."

Dakota will end the regular season on the road, closing out league play at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 at Romeo High before heading to Macomb L'Anse Creuse North Oct. 20 in a non-division affair.

"We have a game next week against a real tough Romeo team at their place so we'll look at the film to fix our mistakes," Baur said. "Hopefully we can try to heal up because we're a mash unit right now."

The Big Reds will go to Sterling Heights Stevenson at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 before hosting New Baltimore Anchor Bay Oct. 20 to finish the regular-season slate. Chippewa's lone loss on the season was to Utica Eisenhower Sept. 15, marking the only time this season Ike has had a game decided by less than 17 points.

"We went toe to toe with our league's best, showing (Eisenhower) what we can do," Merchant remarked. "We've gotten better since then. Our goal is to just keep getting better. We have Stevenson next week and clinching the playoffs tonight was big. We just want to keep rolling."