Catholic League Clash Week 9: Prep Bowl Preview

By: Mike Moore | Online Only | Published October 22, 2015

 De La Salle running back Tru Wilson rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries in the first meeting with St. Mary's. Wilson will likely shoulder the load again Saturday night for the shorthanded Pilots.

De La Salle running back Tru Wilson rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries in the first meeting with St. Mary's. Wilson will likely shoulder the load again Saturday night for the shorthanded Pilots.

Photo by Donna Agusti

The same two teams, but so much is different in so many ways.

On Sept. 25, the Warren De La Salle and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s football teams collided in a Catholic League matchup that came with plenty of hype, but ended with one team waltzing out of town with a lopsided victory.

Nearly a month to the day later, the Eaglets and Pilots are set to close the 2015 regular season against one another in the same place both hoisted state championship trophies in 2014.

“But we’re going to have a much different lineup this time around,” De La Salle coach Paul Verska said of the 2015 Catholic League championship, set for Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Ford Field. “We’re down four or five starters who we’ve been counting on. So, we’re looking forward to it with the kids we have left.”

Verska and the Pilots went to Orchard Lake in September and exited with a 31-8 victory.

“They were able to get some big runs last time, and then their quarterback did a great job scrambling,” St. Mary’s coach George Porritt said of his team’s only loss this season. “At the same time, we didn’t run the ball last time. We have to be able to do that to be successful.”

Since the loss, St. Mary’s has won a pair of league games — 37-0 over Brother Rice and 14-7 over Novi Detroit Catholic Central — before having a bye last week.

Still, Porritt said there wasn’t much to be gained by having two weeks between games.

“We actually lost one player,” he said of a practice injury. “Truthfully, it was a long two weeks. We didn’t know where we’d playing in the final week, so it was tough to prepare for a specific opponent.”

The Eaglets (6-1 overall, 3-1 in Central Division) didn’t know their spot in the Prep Bowl was certain until Catholic Central defeated De La Salle 21-14 last weekend.

All three teams finished 3-1 in the Central, but point differential against one another left Catholic Central on the outside looking in.

There’s little question as to why the Pilots won the first game, taking a 31-0 lead before a late Eaglets touchdown.

De La Salle was able to rush for nearly 300 yards that night, needed just 31 passing yards and were aided by a defense that forced four turnovers.

Tru Wilson led the way for De La Salle, rushing for 127 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Josh Wilk passed for the 31 yards, but also rushed for 114 on 14 carries.

Despite being shorthanded, Verska said there won’t be much change in his team’s approach.

“We’re going to try to run the ball, which is what we do best,” he said. “We have to play solid defense, and we can’t give up the big play.”

While the week off could lead to some rust, the St. Mary’s defense likely won’t hand out another 300-yard rushing effort.

In the victory against Catholic Central, a traditional power running the ball, the Eaglets allowed less than 150 total yards.

“We’re ready to go all out,” Porritt said of his team when asked if anything would be held back with the state playoffs less than a week away. “We want to win the Prep Bowl. We lost last year in a great game to Rice. We’re going to finish one thing before we start worrying about the next.”

“This is a very big deal, and no, you really can’t hold back,” Verksa said when asked about playing more conservative with so many regulars set to miss the game. "It is what it is. We’ve developed our identity. We have to go there and do what we do best. We’re going to go there and try and improve and get ready to win a game and get ready for the playoffs.”

When De La Salle rolled past the Eaglets in the first meeting, something just seemed up with such a lopsided result between two such dominant teams. A 23-point difference, either way, isn’t likely in the rematch. Both teams are going to try and run the ball, with the passing game sprinkled in when necessary. De La Salle falling to Catholic Central and a freshman quarterback last week may be a slight indication as to how shorthanded the Pilots really are. And that just may be the biggest difference in this one. While St. Mary’s certainly didn’t desire a week off, the rest couldn’t have hurt. And in their last action, the Eaglets’ rushing attach was stellar, and the defense was suffocating. Both teams are primed to defend their state titles, and playing in a game like this before the playoffs began can only help. But the strength of any great team often depends on, and comes down to, health. And in this one, the healthier team will prevail. My pick: St. Mary’s

Other Prep Bowl games (all Saturday at Ford Field)
Detroit Loyola (6-2) vs. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (7-1) — 1 p.m.
Another rematch here, as Prep’s only loss this season was a 42-17 setback to Loyola in late September. Prep has rolled to three solid wins since then, but Loyola’s only two losses this year are to St. Mary’s and De La Salle. Simply put, the Bulldogs are on another planet when it comes to the lower levels of the Catholic League, and this game looks like more of the same. Loyola has won six consecutive Prep Bowls, few of them close games, either, like last year’s 70-6 throttling of Dearborn Divine Child. It won’t be that one sided, but the Bulldogs are primed for a seventh title in a row. My pick: Loyola

Riverview Gabriel Richard (6-2) vs. Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes (8-0) — 4 p.m.
Lakes won the Week 7 meeting 35-8, and there’s not much reason to think much has changed in two weeks. The Lakers are averaging more than 41 points per game, while giving up a whopping 5.25, and 18 total since Week 3. My pick: Our Lady of the Lakes

Last week’s record: 4-1

Season record: 31-5