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Michigan high school football's 20 biggest district upsets

MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo logo MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo 10/31/2019 By Josh VanDyke, mlive.com

Ryan Garza

Rick Flemming of Flint Beecher, consoles teammate Deorio Lawson after a 28-0 loss to Vassar in the opening round of the Divison 5 playoffs on Oct. 30, 2009. (Ryan Garza/The Flint Journal) The Flint Journal

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Everyone loves a good underdog story.

Whether it’s David vs. Goliath, UMBC over Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament or the Giants over the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl, we hold those particular moments of unexpected triumph in high regard.

Single-game elimination tournaments often produce some of the best upsets in sports and the Michigan high school football playoffs are no stranger to strange things happening during the week of Halloween each year.

We took a deep dive into MHSAA history books and compiled a list of the 20 biggest district-round upsets in Michigan high school football since 1999, the year the playoffs expanded to include a pre-district and district final round.

Check out our list below.  If there’s a game you think deserves to be on this list, fire away in the comments section.

Ben Allan Smith

Fordson's Abraham Jaafar (34) and Hussein Ajami (12) celebrate a touchdown during the high school football game between Belleville and Fordson at Belleville High School on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. (Photos by Ben Allan Smith)

2018: Fordson surprises Cass Tech

For most of this decade, you could basically pencil in Detroit Cass Tech to make a run to at least the state semifinals. Since 2010, the Technicians had won three state titles, finished runner-up once and reached the semifinals on four other occasions.

One of the first opponents they saw each postseason was the Dearborn Fordson Tractors. The two programs met for the fifth consecutive time in the postseason and many expected Cass Tech to roll to their fifth straight victory in the Division 1 district finals.

The Technicians were the top-ranked team in Division 1 and had outscored their opponents 427-49 heading into their matchup with the Tractors (9-1), who snuck past Grosse Pointe South (24-17) in their playoff opener.

Fordson rallied behind senior quarterback Hussein Ajami, as the Tractors rolled Cass Tech for a stunning 41-14 win to claim a Division 1 district title. Ajami got hot early on in the game, going 9-for-13 passing for 158 yards and four touchdowns in the first half to help Fordson take a 27-14 halftime lead. He ended the game going 11-for-16 for 183 yards and was carried off the field by his teammates.

2018: Chelsea knocks off Grosse Ile

Chelsea (6-3) traveled to undefeated Grosse Ile (9-0) in the opening round of the Division 4 playoffs and came away with a 28-21 upset win that spearheaded a surprising run to Ford Field and a state runner-up finish.

The Bulldogs took an early 14-0 lead over the Red Devils but settled for a 14-7 lead at halftime. Both teams exchanged touchdown drives to start the fourth quarter, and Grosse Ile eventually tied the game at 21-21 with 3:23 left to play.

On the ensuing drive, a risky onside kick by the Red Devils was recovered by Chelsea at the Grosse Ile 48-yard line. After a few running plays chewed valuable time off the clock, Chelsea quarterback Quinn Starkey connected with Hunter Neff for a 28-yard touchdown pass with 36 seconds left in the game to give the Bulldogs a 28-21 lead.

2018: Okemos ends Jackson’s historic season

Jackson enjoyed a special regular season, finishing 9-0 for the first time in school history. The Vikings captured the SEC White division in their first year in the new league and had their sights set on a long playoff run to cap off what was a memorable campaign.

That playoff run proved to be short-lived because of an Okemos (6-3) squad that became the first team all season to outgain the Vikings in a 31-22 road win that few outside the Okemos program would have predicted.

The Vikings took a 22-20 lead on a Dorion Riley touchdown run midway through the third quarter, but the Chieftains responded with a touchdown on the ensuing drive and added a field goal with less than three minutes left to bring Jackson’s historic season to a thudding end.

2017: Sub-.500 Lawrence knocks off Camden-Frontier

Lawrence made the 8-player football playoffs despite a 4-5 regular-season record. The Tigers were paired with undefeated Camden-Frontier, who had outscored their opponents 483-140 during the regular season.

In a low-scoring contest, Lawrence held an 8-6 halftime lead and sealed the upset victory with a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter. On Camden-Frontier’s final drive of the game, quarterback Jake Newell attempted a quarterback sneak but was tackled inches short of the goal line and handed the ball over to the Tigers.

Cedar Springs' Nick Campione listens to his coach in a game on September 23, 2016. (Allison Farrand 5/8 MLive.com)

2017: Cedar Springs outduels East Grand Rapids

East Grand Rapids entered the playoffs with a lot of momentum after a 9-0 regular season. The Pioneers outscored their nine opponents 283-131 and were paired with a Cedar Springs (6-3) program that had never beaten them in their four previous matchups.

The Pioneer defense was only allowing an average of eight points per game heading into their matchup with the Red Hawks and hadn’t allowed more than 20 points in a game all season.

Cedar Springs smashed those averages in just 12 minutes, as the Red Hawks jumped out to a 27-12 first-quarter lead. East Grand Rapids battled back in the second half, but a failed two-point conversion attempt with 7:18 left to play and an interception by defensive back Nick Campione with less than four minutes on the clock sealed the Pioneers’ fate in a wild 41-40 loss in the opening round of districts.

Constantine's Anthony Evilsizor runs the ball during the first half against Schoolcraft on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016. (Bryan Bennett 5/8 MLive.com)

2015: Constantine upsets No. 2 Schoolcraft in overtime

Constantine had to sweat out Selection Sunday after finishing 5-4 in the regular season. The powerhouse program lost a pair of one-score games to Saugatuck (43-40) and Delton (21-18), as well as sizable losses to Watervliet (55-34) and Schoolcraft (42-24).

The Falcons drew a first-round matchup with the No. 2-ranked Schoolcraft in a rematch of a Week 8 SAC Central clash. In the rematch, Constantine rallied to tie the game late in the fourth quarter and scored a wild 31-28 win in overtime in the Division 6 playoff opener.

In the first overtime session, Constantine only gained one yard and was forced to settle for a 28-yard field goal. Schoolcraft was forced to make a difficult decision on fourth down on their first overtime possession and decided to go for it. As the play developed, Schoolcraft quarterback Ricky Clark’s desperation throw was intercepted in the endzone to seal the upset victory.

2015: Novi stuns West Bloomfield

When you enter the playoffs as a 5-4 team, not many people are going to expect much from you.

That was a mistake by anyone who doubted Novi, as the squad rallied from an 0-3 start to make the Division 1 tournament as an at-large team. Its Division 1 opening-round opponent, undefeated West Bloomfield (9-0), had outscored opponents 340-117.

Novi used a pair of big-time performances from tailback Emanuel Jackson and quarterback Alec Bageris to record a stunning 31-28 upset over the West Bloomfield .

Jackson finished with a game-high 189 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns and caught nine passes for another 75 yards and a score. Bageris was 20-of-34 passing for 214 yards and two touchdowns.

Danielle Duval

Mason senior quarterback Jarrett VanHavel runs out of the pocket. (Mike Kohon 5/8 MLive.com)

2014: Mason rallies to bounce DeWitt

Mason won its last five games of the regular season, after starting 1-3, to qualify for the Division 3 playoffs at 6-3 overall. One of their losses was a 25-10 decision to undefeated DeWitt.

The two teams met against in the district finals, but the Bulldogs took a bite out of the Panthers’ title hopes by scoring 20-answered points in the fourth quarter in a 30-14 rout of CAAC-Red rivals and capture their first ever district championship.

The Mason defense forced four turnovers in the game, including three interceptions, and held DeWitt to just 198 yards of total offense. On offense, junior quarterback Jarrett VanHavel was 13-for-21 for 195 yards and one touchdown and added 26 yards and one touchdown on six carries, while tailback Hunter Holbrook rushed for 75 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries.

Parchment's Clay Wilkey breaks through the Schoolcraft defense during a 2013 game. (MLive file photo).

2013: Parchment upsets Jackson Lumen Christi

Jackson Lumen Christi appeared to be on a mission.

The Titans finished the regular season undefeated, were outscoring their opponents 375-98 and entered the Division 5 field with the most playoff points of any team in their bracket.

None of those accolades mattered to upset-minded Parchment, as the Panthers rushed for 359 yards on 57 attempts to secure a 40-35 upset of the Titans in the opening round of the district tournament.

What made the upset even more impressive is that Parchment withstood a record-setting performance by Lumen Christi standout Khari Willis. He rushed for 303 yards and five touchdowns on 31 carries to set a program record for rushing yards in a game.

The Panthers did have an impressive performance of their own. Tailback Clay Wilkey led the Parchment offense with 245 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries.

2013: Dowagiac flips script on Edwardsburg

In Week 8 of the regular season, No. 6-ranked Edwardsburg rolled Dowagiac 36-0 to clinch the Wolverine Conference title en route to a 9-0 regular season. The Eddies had outscored their opponents 390-101, but an inspired effort from the Chieftains defense changed the course of the Division 4 playoff field.

Dowagiac's defense recorded two goal-line stands and the offense added an eight-minute, 14-play fourth-quarter touchdown drive to take the lead for good to stun its conference rivals 21-17 in the opening round of the playoffs.

Brandon Hatch led the Dowagiac offense with 126 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 12 carries.

Mark Copier

Zeeland West's Marcus Lambert runs for a touchdown against Zeeland East. ( Mark Copier 5/8 Mlive.com )

2012: Zeeland West blanks its undefeated rivals

The Zeeland West-Zeeland East rivalry has had plenty of plot twists and memorable moments, but few compare to the 2012 playoff opener between the Dux (6-3) and Chix (9-0).

The two teams met for a shootout in Week 2 of the regular season, which Zeeland East won 60-52 on their way to an O-K Black Conference title. Theplayoff rematch was expected to be another wild offensive fireworks show, but instead, the Dux dominated their previously undefeated rivals by a score of 46-0.

The win catapulted the Dux into a memorable three-year run that saw Zeeland West reach the state semifinals three straight seasons, including state championships in 2013 and 2015.

Melanie Maxwell

Manchester's Jim Kurasz runs past the Clinton defense during a 2012 game. (Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com).

2012: Manchester clips Clinton

Manchester and Clinton have one of the longest-standing rivalries in high school football, as the Flying Dutchmen and Redskins have met 73 times on the gridiron since 1950. Clinton holds a 38-34-1 advantage in the all-time series (since 1950), but one loss by the Redskins will be remembered forever as an upset engineered by their bitter rivals.

In 2012, Clinton opened up the season with a 32-14 win over Manchester and continued to roll through the regular season at 9-0, outscoring their opponents 333-98. The Flying Dutchmen entered the playoffs at 6-3 and weren’t expected to give their rivals much trouble in the opening round of the postseason.

Instead, Manchester used a monster game from junior running back Jim Kurasz to spring a 37-36 road upset over Clinton. Kurasz carried 26 times for 264 yards and two touchdowns.

2010: Saugatuck upsets No. 2 Climax-Scotts

The Saugatuck football team entered the playoffs as an underdog at 6-3.

The Indians kicked off their playoff run with a 54-24 rout of St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (8-1), setting up a showdown with No. 2-ranked Climax-Scotts in the district finals.

Saugatuck made the most of their opportunity, jumping out to a 21-6 halftime lead and scoring two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter to secure a 35-14 road win over the Lakers and win its first district championship.

Tailback Ethan Colton fueled the Indians, as he outgained Climax-Scotts by himself with 245 yards and three touchdowns.

2010: Whittemore-Prescott bounces Traverse City St. Francis

Traverse City St. Francis won back-to-back state championships in 2008-09 and finished runner-up in 2007. The 2010 edition of the Gladiators were battle-tested, having beat Saginaw Nouvel (21-14) and lost contests to Elk Rapids (20-15) and Grand Rapids Catholic Central (29-6) earlier in the year.

Two years earlier, St. Francis clobbered Whittemore-Prescott 55-8 in the opening round of the Division 7 playoffs, so many were expecting a similar outcome as the two teams met again in Week 10 of the 2010 playoffs.

The Cardinals (8-1) entered the postseason with a better record than the Titans (7-2), but many had pegged St. Francis as the team to beat in the Division 7 field. The upset-minded Cardinals used the underdog role to their advantage, playing an inspired contest on defense to secure a 14-7 upset that caused ripple effects through the Division 7 field.

With less than two minutes to play in a 7-7 game, Whittemore-Prescott’s state-champion sprinter Cody Foreman caught a screen pass from quarterback Zach Morgan, made a man miss, then dashed 93 yards for a stunning go-ahead touchdown.

St. Francis quarterback Riley Bullough quickly drove St. Francis all the way to the Cardinals' 5-yard line, but his final pass into the end zone fell incomplete with zeroes on the clock, as Whittemore-Prescott celebrated an upset for the ages.

Ryan Garza

Troy Hecht, of Vassar High School, runs the ball past the Beecher defense during a playoff game at Beecher High School. Vassar defeated Beecher 28-0. (Ryan Garza/The Flint Journal)

2009: Vassar blanks No. 5 Flint Beecher

Vassar (6-3) was sizable underdogs heading into its Division 5 opening-round playoff matchup with No. 5-ranked Flint Beecher (9-0).

The Bucs had outscored their regular-season opponents 285-65, powered by 1,500-yard rusher Torrey Cordell. Vassar had never won a playoff game in school history and was making its first postseason appearance in six years.

Despite the odds, the Vulcans never flinched. A four-touchdown performance by running back Keif Vickers and a dominating defensive effort led by Troy Hecht helped Vassar to a stunning 28-0 upset over the previous unbeaten Bucs in the opening round of the Division 5 district tournament on a rain-drenched night.

Beecher was held to just 60 yards of total offense.

2006: Holton holds down No. 4 Gobles

Before he took over the Muskegon Big Reds, coach Shane Fairfield was helping build a contender at Holton.

His Red Devils squad found their stride midway through the 2006 season, winning five straight games to enter the playoffs at 6-3 in the Division 7 field. Their opening-round playoff opponent, No. 4-ranked Gobles, had outscored its previous opponents 384-92 and was primed for a potential playoff run.

Holton’s defense put together their most impressive performance of the season and stymied the Tigers for an impressive 30-7 road win to open the postseason.

Onsted's Abe Hartline gets tackled by two Lumen Christi defenders. (Erik Holladay 5/8 Jackson Citizen Patriot photo)

2006: Onsted ousts Jackson Lumen Christi

The Jackson Lumen Christi program was bringing home state championship trophies at a historic clip in the early 2000s.

Herb Brogan’s squads won four state championships in five seasons from 2000-04 and finished runner-up in 2005. The 2006 squad had the appearance of another title contender, after finishing the regular season 9-0 and outscoring their opponents 249-89 through the first nine games.

Onsted, who entered the matchup with an 8-1 record, was a team capable of scoring points in bunches. The Wildcats had outscored their regular-season opponents 311-63 and were a narrow 20-19 loss to Addison away from finishing the season unbeaten.

Onsted used a ball-control offense featuring tailback Chris McAnally and quarterback Ryan Sweet to secure a 20-0 road win over the Titans in the opening round of the Division 5 district tournament.

North Muskegon's Travis Falkowski hugs teammate John Fahnenstiel after they defeated Oakridge 21-14 at Oakridge on Friday, Nov. 3, 2006. (MLive file photo)

2006: North Muskegon wins rematch with Oakridge

After a 55-14 loss to Oakridge in Week 3 of the regular season, the Norsemen exacted revenge on their Western Michigan Conference rivals in the district championship game.

Oakridge (9-1) had outscored its opponents 318-65 entering the rematch with North Muskegon (7-3), but the Eagles had a difficult time getting their offense rolling.

North Muskegon jumped out to a 21-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the third quarter, but the Eagles stormed back to make it a one-possession game midway through the fourth quarter. Oakridge had the ball at their own 20-yard line with 1:58 left on the clock but a failed screen pass on fourth down turned the ball over with 1:05 left to play and the Norsemen iced the game away to win the district championship.

2006: Montague turns up the heat on Kalamazoo Christian

Montague was an at-large team in the Division 6 field, after the team won four of its last five games to sneak into the postseason at 5-4.

On the trip to Kalamazoo, the Montague school bus carrying the football team began overheating and the vehicle had to stop on several occasions and delay the team’s arrival. Once the Wildcats arrived at their destination, nothing could slow them down.

Senior fullback Riley Hughes rushed for 170 yards and three touchdowns – all in the first half – to carry the Wildcats to a 35-7 win in the Division district opener over the previously unbeaten Comets.

Muskegon Catholic Central's Brian Harken is dejected as the Pewamo-Westphalia Pirates celebrate after upsetting the Crusaders 12-6 on October 29, 1999. (Michael Fagans 5/8 MLive File Photo).

1999: Pewamo-Westphalia upends Muskegon Catholic Central

A year after reaching the Class C state semifinals, Muskegon Catholic Central was geared up for a potential state championship run. The Crusaders entered the postseason 7-2, with their only losses coming to Division 6 runner-up Hopkins (31-28) and Division 3 powerhouse Grand Rapids Catholic Central (20-13).

Pewamo-Westphalia (8-1) traveled to Kehren Stadium for the opening round of the Division 7 playoffs feeling confident after outscoring their opponents 318-94 through the regular season. The Pirates lone loss of the season was a 3-0 battle with Fowler.

In a defensive struggle, it was Pirates who made the key stops on this particular Friday night and stunned the Crusaders in front of their home crowd by a score of 12-6.

It was the first year that the district tournament format was used with eight divisions and the Pirates made sure it was a memorable inauguration.

(Michael Fagans 5/8 MLive File Photo)

Muskegon Catholic Central's Jim Cassleman is gang tackled by Pewamo-Westphalia defenders led by David Schneider during the Crusader's 6-12 home loss on Friday night, October 29, 1999.

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