In the fall of 2005, Eric Stiegel was an assistant freshman football coach at Gibraltar Carlson and didn’t understand the depths of the Grandville-Rockford rivalry.
It was in 2005 that Grandville last beat Rockford. It then proceeded to lose 14 straight times, beginning with a 2005 state playoff loss.
“All I knew was that I was 0-4,” said Stiegel, who took over a Grandville program in 2014 that had had seven consecutive losing seasons.
But Stiegel no longer is winless against Rockford, after the Bulldogs posted a 20-9 victory in a Division 1 district championship game Friday. The key play came when Connor Fisher blocked a Rockford punt and Isaak Opatik recovered it in the end zone to put Grandville ahead for good.
Defensive coordinator Brian Haveman put in two punt-block plays for the game, and the second one turned the game around.
“We really didn’t come after a lot of (punts) this year; we were kind of saving some of them,” Stiegel said. “We attacked their left side first, and a lot of that was to set up and try to get their protection to move, and then we attacked their opposite side on the opening punt of the second half.”
Gavin Peddie kicked a pair of field goals that gave Grandville a 13-3 lead, and the defense took it from there.
“Our defense was pretty dominant all night,” Stiegel said. “They had about six or seven straight three-and-outs, so we felt good coming after that punt. But even if we roughed him or anything, our defense would hold.”
Grandville’s best defense was its offense, a T-formation full-house backfield with two tight ends that emphasizes running the ball and controlling the clock.
The Bulldogs ran 60 plays to Rockford’s 30 and had the ball for more than 33 of the 48 minutes.
“It was one of those games where you feel like you’re doing the right things as a coach by running the offense you do and having a stout defense,” Stiegel said. “Being able to play a game like that and being able to grind it out against a really good team like Rockford was great.”
It was a monumental win for Stiegel, but it was even bigger for the community, which prides itself on its football program and couldn’t stomach losing to Rockford for so many years.
“After the game, it was almost like there was a little bit of a relief,” he said. “Somebody asked if it was getting the monkey off our back. I said, no, we got the big Ram off our backs. It was a big deal because they’re one of the flagship teams in the state, especially on the west side of the state.”
Now Grandville will take on another one of the state’s flagship programs when it plays for the regional title at 10-time state champ Novi Detroit Catholic Central.
It helped that one of the teams in Grandville’s preseason scrimmage was CC.
“I’ll put it this way: They’re not an unknown to our kids,” Stiegel said. “When you see Detroit Catholic Central, and they have however many state championships, there can be a little bit of an aura going in to a place like that. It was a huge thing for us to just be able to compete with those guys.”
Clarkston credits OAA schedule
Coaches like to talk about “program wins,” but what Clarkston experienced when it throttled Davison, 31-14, in a Division 1 district final, was a “league win.”
The Wolves, who won state titles in 2013 and ’14, lost two games this season, while Davison was rarely challenged. Its closest game was a 20-0 win over Midland.
“I think our schedule — the Oak Parks, the Southfields — helped us win that game,” said Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson, naming the teams that beat the Wolves. “Playing quality people, as we have all year long, helped. Opening with Lapeer. Our league is pretty darn good, and it helps us. I think that was one of the differences in this game.”
The other was a dynamite defense that held running back Tyriq Reid, who had run for more than 1,800 yards, to about 60 yards — without designing a defense to stop him.
“When we watched film, we really didn’t think it was him that we had to stop, it was the quarterback,” Richardson said. “The quarterback hurt us in the first half; he was the one making it go.”
Making Clarkston go were quarterback JT King and running back Michael Fluegel.
Clarkston now hosts Romeo, which Jason Couch and Curt Reinas coached to the state title last season and opened this season by losing to Oxford.
“I think Curt and Jason have done a tremendous job with them since the start of the year, when Bud (Rowley) beat them,” Richardson said. “They’ve improved tremendously and they’ve done a great coaching job with them.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.