Head north on US-127 and before you reach Mt. Pleasant, you will pass the state’s hotbed of high school football — Ithaca.
With a refurbished concrete football stadium, Ithaca has won 34 consecutive games and the two-time defending Division 6 state champs have a home worthy of their football program.
Through private donations, a large concourse was added and both sides have been redone. Team rooms were built into the side of the hill.
“On top are huge viewing platforms that come right out to the track,” said Ithaca football coach and athletic director Terry Hessbrook. “You’re 15 feet up in the air and you’re right out to Lane 8 of the track, so you’re closer to the field than if you were sitting in the stands. For track events I can’t imagine how many people are going to be down there. We’ll probably have to reinforce the ceiling.”
Hessbrook, in his ninth season as head coach, knows why the Yellowjackets (6-0) have been so successful.
“We have a tremendously gifted group of kids coming through the school,” he said. “You don’t win without having players. Vince Lombardi had great players. They have just bought in to what we are doing. We try to outwork people. We have to work harder than everybody else we’re going to play because you’re not always going to be better than them.”
Ithaca has been better than everyone so far and that was apparent when it defeated previously unbeaten Carrollton, 33-21, after trailing three times in the first half Friday.
“I think the kids got tested,” Hessbrook said. “Every time Carrollton did something, we responded right away. I was really pleased with that.”
Junior quarterback Travis Smith is the one who makes Ithaca’s unbalanced spread offense so effective. He completed 12 of 26 passes for 181 yards and five touchdowns against Carrollton and added 71 yards rushing.
Smith took the reins from Alex Niznak, who led Ithaca to the 2010 state title, and no team is as effective in the offense as the Yellowjackets.
“We’re always four wide at a minimum and we try to spread people out and let the quarterback get the ball out quickly to the playmakers,” Hessbrook said. “Travis makes good decisions and we’ve got some kids that can really run. When we first started in the spread years and years ago, we ran deep routes every play.
“Every pass play, everybody ran as deep as they could and we threw it as far as we could. We didn’t know what we were doing. We were learning on the fly.”
Now the offense is more controlled and the people in town have gone wild over the results.
“It is really strange around here right now,” Hessbrook said. “We had a 50/50 (raffle) that was for almost $800. We’re not that big a community to have people throwing their money in. It’s a neat atmosphere. The renovations make it so cozy for us.”
THE BEST OPTION: Woodhaven quarterback Nick Maher threw just five times Friday, but he kept the ball on the triple option 30 times and ended up with 342 yards rushing.
When Maher pitched the ball, it often went to Mickey Sutton, who had over 260 yards and five touchdowns in an amazing 64-36 victory over previously unbeaten Wyandotte.
It was the most points the Bears have allowed in more than 60 years.
“That is exactly what happens when the option works,” said Woodhaven coach Keith Christnagel. “People say we don’t pass, we don’t do that, but you have to decide which one of them you’re going to cover and go from there. Everyone wants to stop Nick Maher and he pitches the ball. He made some great decisions and our pitch backs are getting the ball and they’re getting some clean running.”
The victory was so impressive because it was assumed Wyandotte (5-1) was going to win the Downriver League title after it beat Taylor Truman (5-1), which had beaten Woodhaven (5-1).
“We’d have a decent season and we get to Wyandotte and they beat us up every year,” Christnagel said. “We watched what they did against us when they beat us last year. Coach (Phil) Short, our offensive coordinator, spent a lot of time trying to figure out what would be the best thing for us to do and he did an outstanding job coming up with some changes and wrinkles we’ve never shown before.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.
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