OTTAWA LAKE – Whiteford has been in the playoffs eight consecutive seasons and won at least one game in the playoffs for six straight years.
It’s that kind of tradition that first round opponent Royal Oak Shrine Catholic coach Oscar Olejniczak is concerned about.
“I told our kids to not let their record fool you,” Olejnicak said. “They are extremely talented and extremely well-coached.”
The Bobcats are in a little different position than in recent years, having made the field with a 5-4 record. But, at least six Whiteford seniors were part of the 2016 team that made it to the state finals and the 2017 team that won the Division 8 state championship. Senior starting offensive tackle Josh Hagan, for example, was brought up to the varsity his freshman and sophomore seasons as the Bobcats made deep playoff runs and was a starter on last year’s squad that lost in the second round. That means he’s been around for 50 games between JV and varsity.
“There’s not the same level of giddiness about being in the playoffs when you’ve been around before,” Whiteford coach Jason Mensing said. “It’s all about preparation and focus now. When you’ve been around that and made some runs, you are focused. That sets a tone.”
The Bobcats have played five teams that have made the playoffs this season, going 2-3 against those teams. That includes wins over Sand Creek and Britton Deerfield and losses to Blissfield, Schoolcraft and Clinton. Whiteford’s offense has been strong all season, averaging 35.6 points a game.
“We’ve left some points out on the field the last couple of weeks,” Mensing said. “We turned the ball over a few times. That’s something we’ve got to shore up.”
The Bobcats have three running backs with more than 500 yards rushing in senior Nick Marchant (889), junior Devon Shaw (748) and sophomore Cole Giesige (644). Freshman quarterback Shea Ruddy will be making his 10th career start and has 770 yards passing. Marchant is the top receiver with 15 receptions for 235 yards.
Whiteford will get a boost Saturday when senior running back D’Ondre Shaw makes his return to the team. Shaw has been out all season dealing with a heart ailment but was cleared to practice this week and play on Saturday.
Hagan is one of the two starting tackles along with two-year starting sophomore Noah Bauman that anchor the offensive line.
Eli Dyer leads the defense with 41 tackles while Brodi Tesznar has 37 stops and nine tackles for loss. Giesige has three interceptions.
Mensing said the Bobcats need to shore up their pass defense against Shrine. The Bobcats have given up 89 points in two weeks.
“We had some issues in the secondary last week that we can’t have,” he said. “We didn’t have the most discipline we can in our coverage. It’s fixable. My hope is that loss last week gives us an opportunity to fix those things. We have to fix ourselves.”
Shrine is young. Quarterback Connor Benson is a sophomore who has been the Knights starter since midway through his freshman year. He’s passed for more than 1,700 yard this year. Talented tailback Jacob Sanders is another sophomore who has put up good numbers with more than 900 yards rushing.
“We are extremely young,” Olejnicak said. “We are starting to come into our own. We are working hard to get better. We have a good mix of seniors, too.”
One of those seniors is receiver Anthony Massucci, who Olejnicak called the leader of the team.
Mensing said the Knights will give Whiteford multiple looks and have talented players.
“They have a nice football team,” he said. “They have a good pass game and a good tailback. They run a ton of sets and are very diverse in their packages. Getting aligned correctly will be a key for us.”
Shrine is the No. 1 seed in the district, which is based on the MHSAA points system. They went 1-1 against Tri-County Conference opponents this year, beating Madison and losing to Britton Deerfield. The Bobcats beat both of those teams, although the BD game went into triple overtime.
“That’s how we know how tough the competition is,” Olejnicak said of the common opponents.
Both Whiteford and Shrine played just one Saturday afternoon game this season. Shrine’s stadium doesn’t have permanent lights, but they are brought in for a couple of home games during the season.
“We are super excited to be in the playoffs,” Olejnicak said. “Everybody loves playing at home.”
The Whiteford-Shrine winner will take on the Britton Deerfield-Detroit Public Safety Academy winner.
Coach: Jason Mensing, 8th year (76-18)
Playoff history: This is the 20th time Whiteford has qualified for the playoffs, including eighth straight. They won the 2017 Division 8 state championship.
Blissfield 33, Whiteford 14
Whiteford 60, Stryker 12
Schoolcraft 54, Whiteford 24
Whiteford 42, Madison 14
Whiteford 44, Morenci 14
Whiteford 28, Sand Creek 6
Clinton 44, Whiteford 20
Whiteford 58, Britton Deerfield 56
Summerfield 33, Whiteford 30
Rushing: Nick Marchant 121-889, 12 TDs; Devon Shaw 119-748, 9 TDs; Cole Giesige 90-644, 9 TDs.
Passing: Shea Ruddy 42-70, 770 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving: Nick Marchant 15-235, 1 TD; Skyler Collins 9-170; Braedon Mills 7-169, 5 TDs; Cole Giesige 8-137, 1 TD.
Tackles: Eli Dyer 41 tackles
ROYAL OAK SHRINE CATHOLIC (7-2)
Coach: Oscar Olejniczak, 2nd year (12-7)
Playoff history: Shrine has made the playoffs 19 times, including a streak of 12 straight seasons from 2003-2014.
Shrine 28, Whitmore Lake 14
Shrine 45, Madison 35
Shrine 36, Detroit Voyager Prep 0
Shrine 41, Marine City Cardinal Mooney 7
Shrine 31, Madison Heights Bishop Foley 7
Britton Deerfield 30, Shrine 14
Clarkston Everest Collegiate 27, Shrine 14
Shrine 44, Detroit Old Redford 0
Rushing: Jacob Sanders 909 yards, 17 TDs
Passing: Conor Benson, 1,737 yards, 15 TDs, 8 Int
Receiving: Anthony Massucci 37-500, 3 TDs; Charlie Niehaus 32-554, 8 TDs; Jacob Sanders 16 receptions, 2 TDs.
Tackles: Aaron Smith, 65 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 sacks