Rice and De La Salle set to battle on the gridiron

By: Mike Moore | C&G Newspapers | Published September 10, 2015 | Updated September 14, 2015 4:46pm

 The Warren De La Salle football team will look for a second straight win in its rivalry with Birmingham Brother Rice when the teams square off at 7 p.m. Sept. 19 at Hurley Field in Berkley. Pictured are Pilots players getting ready to take the field for their season opener Aug. 29 against Detroit Martin Luther King.

The Warren De La Salle football team will look for a second straight win in its rivalry with Birmingham Brother Rice when the teams square off at 7 p.m. Sept. 19 at Hurley Field in Berkley. Pictured are Pilots players getting ready to take the field for their season opener Aug. 29 against Detroit Martin Luther King.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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BIRMINGHAM/WARREN — It’s one of those games where, for whatever reason, the hype and the build up intensifies from one year to the next.


League rivals kicking off Central Division play for the sixth straight fall.


Two powerhouse programs known for postseason success.


Oh, and Birmingham Brother Rice and Warren De La Salle squared off twice in 2014, the latter being when the Pilots ended the Warriors’ 33-game winning streak and shot at a fourth state title in four years with a victory in the regional round. The Pilots went on to capture the Division 2 state championship.


As if this year’s meeting needed a little extra spice.


“It’s going to be an emotional game on both sides, and we have to be ready for that,” De La Salle coach Paul Verska said of his team’s 7 p.m. Sept. 19 date with Rice, a game that will be played at Hurley Field in Berkley. “You have to look forward to a game like this. It’s great competition. We’re in a league where there’s somebody playing for a state title almost every year, and that adds a lot to the importance of these kind of games.”


“Obviously, we have our work cut out for us against a very good league opponent,” Rice coach Dave Sofran said. “That’s a defending state champ, and until they lose that, they are the head of the pack. They are ranked very high and have played a couple real tough teams. We’re going to have our hands full, especially stopping their run game.”


Both teams were 3-0 entering last year’s regular-season meeting, a 28-21 Rice victory.


That’s not the case this fall.


After graduating so many senior starters, Rice is 1-2 following last weekend’s 33-7 victory against Elkhart Central (Indiana).


De La Salle, on the other hand, is 2-1, winning consecutive games after falling to Detroit Martin Luther King 12-10 in the opener.


When three, maybe four, losses are all a team can afford and still make the postseason, this is one of those games bordering on a must-win.


“It’s interesting, with us letting one get away in the opener and Rice starting with a pair of real tough games,” Verska said. “I think this game could be a turning point in both of our seasons.”


“With the start of league play, every game matters. And for us, our backs are against the wall right now,” Sofran said. “We have to consider this a league game, obviously, but almost treat it like a playoff game.”


While the Pilots enter the game a bit more seasoned and as a favorite, Verska said there’s no taking the guys in orange and black for granted.


“It’s still Brother Rice,” Verska said. “They have a roster of kids used to winning and used to competing. Tradition has a lot to do with it.”


Verska said the emotional aspect of the game has to be held in check for his guys, who he noted lost last year’s regular-season game due to emotions, specifically late penalties.


“And we have to be better with turnovers,” he added. “We have to protect our quarterback better than we have this year. Defensively, we’ve been good, but have to avoid the big play.”


Sofran said last year’s 26-21 playoff loss really won’t serve as anything more than bulletin-board material for his guys.


“It’s really a new team and a new year,” he said. “You can talk about years prior and past records, but this is such a different team we have. They are in the same boat probably. For us, we have to stop the run and run the ball. That’s Catholic League football. If we can’t do those things well, we’re going to be in trouble. We’ve struggled with that the first few games. We have to find a way to do that on a more consistent basis right now.”

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