Ferndale High football beats Hazel Park in OAA Blue clash

By: Mark Vest | C&G Newspapers | Published October 14, 2017

FERNDALE — Ferndale High’s football team secured an Oakland Activities Association Blue Division co-championship in exciting fashion, as the Eagles beat Hazel Park High 20-17 in double overtime Oct. 13 at home.

The Eagles and Hazel Park both finished at 5-1 in the OAA Blue, splitting the division championship with Auburn Hills Avondale.

With its win, Ferndale is 7-1 overall. The Vikings go to 5-3 following their loss.

After Hazel Park got a field goal to take a 17-14 lead in double overtime, Eagles quarterback KeShawn Smith ended the game on a 4-yard touchdown run.

Aside from earning what coach Eric Royal said was the program’s first division championship since 1997, Ferndale has qualified for the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

“(I’ve) got the easy job,” Royal said. “These boys are building the culture. They are building a winning tradition around here. … As a program, this is what we need to take that next step forward. I’m so proud of the whole program.”

With Ferndale trailing 7-6 late in the fourth quarter, Royal elected to allow the Vikings to score in order to get the ball back.

That decision turned out to be a good one, as Smith connected with receiver Anthony Merriman on a scoring play of about 9 yards out with approximately four seconds remaining on the game clock.

Following a successful two-point conversion, the game was tied at 14-14 at the end of regulation.

Neither team scored in the first overtime.

The only score of the first half came via a short touchdown run by Ferndale running back Zoser Little in the second.

After a failed two-point conversion, the Eagles led 6-0.

Hazel Park’s first touchdown came in the fourth when quarterback Damian Ewald hit receiver Isiac Manier on a pass from about 12 yards out.

After a successful extra-point attempt, the Vikings led 7-6.

Merriman gets to come away from his senior season as an OAA Blue champion.

“It’s something I wanted to accomplish as a Ferndale player, and I’m happy that I did,” Merriman said. “(It) made all the practices, being sore, camp, and fighting through all the tough times — made it all worth it.”

Although coach Kyle Rowley was disappointed that Hazel Park doesn’t have an  OAA Blue title all to itself, he also understands the task at hand.

While teams with five victories can earn a spot in the playoffs, his squad needs one more win to automatically qualify.

The Vikings final regular-season game is at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at home against Madison Heights Bishop Foley.

“(Got to) win next week to get in,” Rowley said. “Let (them) feel sorry for themselves now, but come Monday morning, Bishop Foley, playoffs, is how we’re going.”

Hazel Park won its first division championship since 2010.

“They never gave up and that’s why I’m proud of (them),” Rowley said. “How many people in Hazel Park or anywhere around this area thought Hazel Park would be 5-3, OAA champs, and an opportunity to go to the playoffs? Not many.”

Since losing to Avondale Sept. 8, the Eagles have won their last five games. As tough as that loss was at the time, it may have been the turning point in Ferndale’s season.

The week after that loss the team went on to beat Birmingham Detroit Country Day, which may have helped save the team’s season.

“Taking that win put us on a rocket ship all the way up to where we are right now,” Royal said. “It gave us momentum beating Country Day, but it was from the focus that we gained from the Avondale loss.”

Ferndale plays at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 away against Dearborn Edsel Ford.