Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Zane Nessen tries to stiff-arm a defender in a game earlier this season. St. Mary’s will play in the Division 3 playoffs.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Zane Nessen tries to stiff-arm a defender in a game earlier this season. St. Mary’s will play in the Division 3 playoffs.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Local football coaches talk expanded playoffs

By: Zachary Manning | C&G Newspapers | Published October 23, 2020

 Roseville High’s Robert Salter Jr. rolls out during a game earlier this season. Roseville will compete in the Division 2 playoffs.

Roseville High’s Robert Salter Jr. rolls out during a game earlier this season. Roseville will compete in the Division 2 playoffs.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Warren De La Salle’s Brett Stanley breaks a tackle in a game earlier this season. De La Salle will compete in the Division 2 playoffs.

Warren De La Salle’s Brett Stanley breaks a tackle in a game earlier this season. De La Salle will compete in the Division 2 playoffs.

Photo by Deb Jacques

METRO DETROIT — With the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the start of the football season, every team will have the opportunity to participate in the state playoffs.

Typically, teams needed six wins in a nine-game season to automatically qualify or five victories with an eight-game schedule.

It’s a unique situation. With everyone in, the postseason will now add another week. Instead of the traditional Thanksgiving weekend finish for the 11-man playoffs, the finals will now be played Dec. 4-5.

There are coaches on both sides of the aisle when it comes to the expanded playoffs. Most believe it was right for this season but want to see it back in its original form next year.

Eastpointe High coach Al Demps doesn’t see the playoffs being any more challenging, but he does like the fact that everyone has an opportunity to make a run.

“Sometimes a team might not get going until the end. You might get a team that didn’t win like they wanted to in the regular season that gets hot, come playoff time,” Demps said.

Coaches around the area believe that, with everyone making the postseason, the lower-level teams will have a nothing-to-lose mentality, which could provide some upsets.

Royal Oak High was sitting at 1-4 overall at press time, but coach Ray McMann tells his guys that the playoffs are a new beginning and anything can happen.

“We’re not having the year that we thought we would at Royal Oak, and that’s kind of the mentality we’ve been taking is, ‘Hey, teams are looking past you, so why not you,’” McMann said. “Everybody’s in, so everybody has an opportunity. Everyone’s 0-0 in the playoffs, so why not figure out a game plan that works and get your team to buy into it.”

For higher-level teams, they want to block out the noise and just focus on winning games and making a run.

Rochester Hills Stoney Creek coach Nicholas Merlo wants his team (5-0 at press time) to stick to what it knows and avoid looking past any opponent.

“The fact that you give some of these teams life, with the opportunity to play in the playoffs, that can lend itself to an upset,” Merlo said. “I think the best teams need to stay focused week in and week out and just play their game.”

West Bloomfield High coach Ron Bellamy doesn’t mind having everyone in the postseason for one season, but he would like to have everyone earn their spot again next year.

He doesn’t anticipate many upsets, but he does see an element that could trip some high-level teams.

“I think having some of the one- and two-win teams in, what it does is, maybe they don’t win the football game, but because it’s a playoff game and you have nothing to lose, maybe they can expose some deficiencies on teams,” Bellamy said. “It’s going to be weird. It’s going to be super weird with these playoffs, but that’s what makes it exciting.”

With the expanded playoffs, there are opportunities for matchups that normally wouldn’t be happening. Typically districts are smaller, which helps keep Macomb and Oakland county teams local.

Due to the larger districts, top-tier teams from different conferences will potentially play sooner in districts. For example, West Bloomfield (4-1) and Sterling Heights Stevenson (4-1) are in the same district. Both were near or at the top of the Oakland Activities Association Red Division and the Macomb Area Conference Red Division, respectively.

While fans will enjoy these early-round clashes, coaches believe these matchups should take place deeper in the playoffs.

“Well, it’s incredibly challenging, especially when you add in a team like West Bloomfield and all those athletes,” Stevenson coach Justin Newcomb said. “It’s going to be really challenging to get through that division and that district. Not only with them, but Troy Athens is playing well, Bloomfield Hills is playing well, Troy High’s having a nice season, so you got some teams in there that can really sneak up on you. We’re going to have to play some of our best football once district time starts.”

District play begins Oct. 30. Visit candgnews.com/sports and follow us on Twitter @CandGSports for updates throughout the playoffs.