Berrien Springs and Dowagiac begin their quests for a Division 5 district championship this week.
The Shamrocks (8-0) will host Kalamazoo United (5-4) at 7 p.m. Friday at St. Joseph and the Chieftains (6-3) will travel to face Hopkins at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Shamrocks faced United in week three of the regular season and came away with a 23-12 victory. After an 0-3 start to the season, the Titans have won five of their last six games, including a 35-27 win over perennial power Schoolcraft in the season finale.
The Titans are led on offense by quarterback Christian Bartholomew, who completed 6 of 14 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns and added 96 yards on the ground in the win over Schoolcraft. Senior running back Garrett Warner had 26 carries for 177 yards and two touchdowns and defensive end Gus Magnell tallied three sacks.
“They’re physical,” Berrien Springs coach Bill Bergan said. “They have good offensive and defensive fronts. Their quarterback is a dangerous runner. Our defense is really going to have to step up if we’re going to keep their offense in check.
“We cannot play from behind the chains. We’re not built to overcome those odds. We’re better when we’re on time and getting our run game going. That opens up our play-action and allows us to thrive.”
The Shamrocks are doing what they can to keep players fresh heading into Friday’s game. According to Bergan, leading rusher Danny Vinson practiced today for the first time this week. Quarterback Nick Nelson and receiver Anthony Latin were held out of practice on Monday and started practicing on Tuesday, while lineman Kevin Blaylock returned to practice on Wednesday.
“We’re trying to get ourselves healthy,” Bergan said. “It’s been a long season. We’re getting our guys back and ready to go.”
Dowagiac coach Randy Brooks made it clear that the next step for his program is to win a district title, something it hasn’t done since 2011.
Their opponent in that title game? Hopkins.
Hopkins rolled through its first eight games of the season, outscoring opponents 266-60 before falling to Menominee 48-38 in the season finale. The Vikings will try to run the football and they have capable backs in Carson Delao and Colin Weber. Drew Weber, Ethan Gilder and Chase Groenhout are standouts on both lines.
“We watched several of their games,” Brooks said. “In the games we watched, they only punted three times. They’re an offensive juggernaut.”
Dowagiac quarterback Cailyn Murphy has accounted for 1,128 total yards of offense and 13 touchdowns. Running backs De’Ondray Henry, Hunter Williamson, DJ Lanier, and have a combined total of 1,280 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“Offensively, we can’t turn the ball over,” Brooks said. “We have to cut down our offensive mistakes. Missing blocking assignments, dropping passes, things like that. We’re getting better but we need to keep improving. Defensively, we’re going to have to stay low and wrap them up.
“If we can slow down the run game and make them one-dimensional, it will improve our chances.”
Dowagiac faces a challenge in Hopkins, but Brooks thinks his team is peaking at the right time.
“We’re getting healthier towards the end of the season,” Brooks said. “All of the pieces are starting to come back into the puzzle. We’re as close to full strength as we were to start the season and we’re ready to go.”
Contact: email@example.com, 932-0371, @HPMaxwellHarden