Livonia Stevenson coach Randy Micallef’s parting words to his football team Sunday night were: “Welcome to the playoffs.”
With a 5-4 record and on the bubble, those were words he could not be 100% sure would be spoken until the final MHSAA football playoff pairings were revealed live on television with only moments to spare before the show ended at 8:00 p.m.
“It was a great feeling to say that to the team, especially after getting that fourth loss we were a little unsure about it,” Micallef said about the Spartans’ 3-4 record after the first seven games of the season. “The kids rebounded well and now we have an opportunity to play on.
“The kids could have come in and just gone through the motions after our fourth loss, but they understood we had an opportunity to win two games and see where things go. So that was the exciting part to see. They didn’t quit, just like late in the game Friday night we were down a couple touchdowns with about 6 minutes left in the game.”
After losing to Northville, 30-24, in Week 7, Stevenson defeated South Lyon East, 40-28, then came back on Plymouth to win in the closing minutes of the regular season finale. The winning play was set up by an interception return to inside the Plymouth 10-yard line by Nathan Micallef, followed by Stevenson quarterback Chris Tanderys’ scramble to score from the 7-yard line and the 53-49 victory over the Wildcats.
That means Stevenson is now scheduled to play in the Division 1 pre-districts at Dearborn (8-1), Friday at 7:00 p.m.
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“We just want to get out there one more time,” Stevenson receiver Nick Poulus said before the matchups were revealed on television. “We’ve had an up and down year this season but I think we have the talent to compete in the playoffs. We were pretty resilient and that’s what the Spartan attitude is. Never give up, and that’s what we did Friday night.”
Tanderys voiced similar thoughts.
“We played Friday night’s game like a playoff game, knowing if we won we’d give ourselves a chance to get in and that’s all we can ask for and control,” he said. “Friday showed the identity of our team. We’re a bunch of hard working kids who are never going to quit, never going to give up.
“Even when we got our fourth loss we looked around and said we have to win. It turned into two really good weeks of practice. Everyone was pushing each other and even though it was an up and down year, we have to finish. And I think we finished very strong. We came together as a team and found a way to win.”
Only schools with at least six wins are guaranteed a playoff berth. Stevenson was one of seven teams in Division 1 that made it in with 5-4 records, including Kensington Lakes conference foes Howell, Novi, Waterford Mott and Grand Blanc. Additional Division 1 qualifying teams from the KLAA were Canton, Brighton and Northville; all at 7-2.
“Our league is outstanding, “Micallef said. “We’re disappointed about the teams leaving for next year but it’s good football each and every week so I’m proud to see that many teams from the KLAA made it.”
In its final year as a conference, the KLAA sent 13 teams total out of 24 – eight in Division 1 and five in Division 2 where South Lyon (5-4) will play at Walled Lake Western (8-1); Walled Lake Northern (6-3) goes to Pinckney (7-2) and the fifth team, Livonia Franklin (6-3), travels to Woodhaven (7-2).
Micallef had been looking in advance at Dearborn and a couple other teams as potential district opponents.
“They are well coached and they are similar to us as far as their athletes,” he said of the Pioneers. “I think we match up in terms of the offensive and defensive line, and the skill kids. Their quarterback is very good; I don’t think he’s thrown an interception this season. So it will be, can we protect the ball and play some defense.”