Rochester Hills running back Cam Burford carries the ball during a playoff game Nov. 6 against Clinton Township Chippewa Valley at home. Burford had two touchdowns on the ground in the game.

Rochester Hills running back Cam Burford carries the ball during a playoff game Nov. 6 against Clinton Township Chippewa Valley at home. Burford had two touchdowns on the ground in the game.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Stoney Creek downs Chippewa Valley to reach district final

By: Jacob Herbert | Online Only | Published November 7, 2020

 Stoney Creek's Grant Lowery celebrates a touchdown during the win over Chippewa Valley. Lowrey picked up Cam Burford's fumble and carried it into the endzone for the score.

Stoney Creek's Grant Lowery celebrates a touchdown during the win over Chippewa Valley. Lowrey picked up Cam Burford's fumble and carried it into the endzone for the score.

Photo by Deb Jacques

ROCHESTER HILLS -- When Nick Merlo took over as the Rochester Hills Stoney Creek football coach in 2018, the team won just three games in his first year. Since then, the win totals have been on the rise. Now in his third season, the Cougars are 7-0 and will be playing in their first district title game thanks to a 28-21 win over Clinton Township Chippewa Valley Nov. 6 at home.

“It takes everyone in the program,” Merlo said about the positive changes in his program. “It’s not just Cam (Burford) and it’s not just the defense, it takes everyone. It’s the kids, our coaches, our administration, our teachers and our parents. It takes everyone to make this kind of change. It’s not me. We had a great sophomore group when we started but the reality is that it’s taken everybody.”

It was the Cam Burford show for Stoney Creek as the senior carried the ball nearly 50 times for 246 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on defense. His touchdowns came on runs of 11 yards and 2 yards. Burford would have three touchdowns if it weren’t for a fumble inside the 5-yard line that was picked up by offensive lineman Grant Lowery and ran into the endzone. 

Quarterback Ryan Eckhout also came through in clutch situations. The senior, on more than one occasion, was able to locate the open receiver to help the team convert many third-and-long and fourth-and-long conversions. The Cougars were 5 of 6 on fourth down conversions in the game. 

Eckhout finished the game with one touchdown pass. He was able to find Eric Boothe wide open for a 27-yard score on a fourth and 21 late in the first half. The Cougars were able to confuse the Big Reds defense as the punt team came on the field at the exact same time the offense left the field. Amidst the mixup of substitutions, Eckhout and Boothe stayed on the field and we’re able to give Stoney Creek a 14-7 lead.

“We believe that there truly are three phases of the game,” Merlo said of the fourth down conversion. “We spent a lot of time on special teams and I’m really proud of how we executed that play. When you play in big games against good teams you have to make choices like that.”

Stoney Creek will advance to a Division 1 district final where it will host Romeo High, who beat Macomb Dakota 15-14 Nov. 6 on the road. The date and time for the game were not available at press time.

The Big Reds got their first score of the game on the team’s first play from scrimmage. Trailing by seven, quarterback Ryan Schuster found Cephus Harris open over the middle for an 84-yard touchdown with 5:26 to play in the first quarter.

Chippewa Valley would not score again until there were seven minutes to play in the third quarter. Schuster found Jaillen Howze on a 53-yard touchdown connection to pull the Big Reds to within one score.

Not to be outdone by Stoney Creek’s fourth and 21 conversion, the Big Reds converted an onside kick and got the ball back with a chance to tie the score late at 21 in the third quarter.

“We practiced it all week so we could use it tonight,” Big Reds coach Scott Merchant said. “We cut it to seven and we had seen something where we felt like we could do that. That was the perfect time to do it because we had momentum.”

Tie the game is exactly what they did as running back Darrel Hawkins was in the endzone five plays later on a 10-yard touchdown run. However, the Big Reds would give up a score to Burford late and went on to lose the game 28-21.

Chippewa Valley finishes the season 3-4 overall and 2-3 in the Macomb Area Conference Red Division. 

“Our kids never gave up and they kept battling,” Merchant said. “That’s kind of like what our world is doing right now. We’re going through hell basically. I’ve never been through a football season like this. We had plenty of times we could have given up on the season but the kids kept battling. That’s what it’s all about.”