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Kalamazoo-area high school football power rankings heading into 2021 playoffs

MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo logo MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo 10/27/2021 Patrick Nothaft,

KALAMAZOO, MI – The leaves are changing colors, a chill is in the air, and its time for high school football teams to put their seasons on the line.

The most thrilling part of the prep football season is here, as teams around the state begin their playoff runs with Round 1 matchups on Friday.

The Kalamazoo area has several teams that should challenge for district, regional and even state titles, so its no surprise that — local teams found their way into the final set of Associated Press football rankings, with Portage Central checking in at No. 8 in Division 2, Vicksburg at No. 5 in Division 4, Constantine at No. 1 in Division 6, Lawton at No. 4 in Division 7, White Pigeon at No. 6 in Division 8, Centreville at No. 8 in Division 8 and Martin at No. 6 in the 8-player poll.

But where do those talented teams stand among the area’s best across all divisions?

We’re breaking down Kalamazoo’s top teams in the ninth and final edition of the area’s prep power rankings, and this week’s biggest risers were Plainwell, Kalamazoo United and Mendon, who all pulled off impressive wins in Week 9.

Follow along to see where teams stand heading into the playoffs.

On the bubble: Three Rivers (5-4), Richland Gull Lake (5-4), Paw Paw (5-4), South Haven (6-2), Lawrence (7-2), Climax-Scotts (6-3), Parchment (6-3)

10. Mendon (7-2)

Previous ranking: Honorable mention

The Hornets adjusted nicely to their first season of 8-player football and showed that the game still comes down to blocking and tackling, as their perennially strong ground game rolled through opposing defenses all season, including in Week 9′s 62-28 win over Eau Claire.

Mendon will need another strong performance from its offensive line and talented backfield trio of Chris Dupree, Evan Lukeman and Connor Oatley in Round 1 of the playoffs, when they meet Lawrence’s explosive offense.

9. Kalamazoo United (6-3)

Previous ranking: 10

United’s balance on offense has been one of its strengths this year, but the Titans’ defense has also been stellar, holding opponents to 17 points per game despite a difficult schedule that featured five playoff teams.

The Titans have been better against the pass than against the run, but they’ll need to focus on slowing down South Haven’s ground game if they want to make it four consecutive seasons with a playoff win.

8. White Pigeon (8-1)

Previous ranking: 7

White Pigeon’s ground game rumbled for nearly 500 yards in a 44-21 win over Leslie, which has become the standard for the Chiefs this season. Jack Davidson and Dylan Carper form arguably the best running back duo in the area, and the seniors combined for 364 yards in Week 9. While a one-dimensional offense tends to be the exception more than the norm in the state finals, being able to rely on a turnover-averse, ball-control offense often suits teams well in early November, when Michigan’s unpredictable weather can make things tough on the passing game.

The Chiefs will look for another strong rushing effort Friday at home against Decatur (4-5).

7. Plainwell (6-3)

Previous ranking: 9

Plainwell played a tough regular season schedule that included five playoff teams in its last six games, and the Trojans ended that stretch with one of their best wins of the season – a 20-14 victory over Paw Paw, which secured homefield advantage for Friday’s Round 1 playoff game against Grand Rapids South Christian (6-3).

After navigating that treacherous late season schedule, Plainwell will be ready for the Sailors in a matchup of the Trojans’ 2017 first-round upset win.

6. Centreville (6-2)

Previous ranking: 6

Centreville bounced back from a last-second Week 8 loss to Muskegon Catholic Central with a 53-13 win over Buchanan, in which Tyler Swanwick threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs have an improved passing attack this season, and that versatility on offense, plus its stingy defense, will make them a tough out during the playoffs.

But the eighth-ranked Bulldogs play in the toughest district in Division 8, by far, and they’ll need to get past No. 4 Addison (8-1) in Round 1, then face the winner of top-ranked Hudson and 2019 state champ Reading in the district finals. It’s a tough draw for Centreville, but if the Bulldogs can get out of districts, they’ll be the favorite to repeat as state champs.

5. Martin (9-0)

Previous ranking: 5

Martin made history during its 55-0 Week 9 win over the Red Arrow Raiders, as junior quarterback J.R. Hildebrand rushed for a single-game school record 338 yards (on just six carries), and the team broke its record for points in a season with 431.

The Clippers are clicking on all cylinders, and after bringing back most of last year’s team that reached the state semifinals, their sights are set on the Superior Dome, which holds the 8-player state championship games. First up on that journey is 7-2 Tekonsha.

4. Lawton (9-0)

Previous ranking: 4

Lawton’s explosive offense showed up in Week 9′s 42-21 win over Saugatuck, which wrapped up the SAC Valley title and put the Blue Devils’ season average at 55.2 points per game. Junior Carter Cosby also returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and if Lawton can continue to excel in all three phases of the game, Ford Field is definitely on the table.

The Blue Devils have a manageable district bracket, with a Round 1 matchup against Homer (5-4) and a potential district title bout between the winner of Union City (5-4) and Niles Brandywine (4-5).

3. Constantine (9-0)

Previous ranking: 3

Constantine capped its first undefeated regular season since 2010 with a 46-12 win over South Haven, in which no Falcon rusher eclipsed 100 yards, but four ran for at least 50. The Falcons have a deep and talented backfield, which allows the offense to have fresh legs late in games, and that will certainly come in handy during the playoffs, when running clocks won’t be so common.

Constantine begins its playoff run at home against a Watervliet (5-4) team the Falcons defeated 42-28 in Week 6.

2. Vicksburg (8-1)

Previous ranking: 2

Vicksburg matched its best regular-season record in program history when it defeated Otsego 49-14 in Week 9. The Bulldogs have a potent passing attack led by senior quarterback Evan Anderson, but the run game has been coming along and tallied 231 yards and all seven touchdowns against Otsego. That balance will make Vicksburg a tough matchup in the playoffs, which begin with a home game against rival Three Rivers (5-4) in a rematch of the Bulldogs’ 46-27 Week 6 win.

1. Portage Central (7-2)

Previous ranking: 1

Portage Central rolled to its fifth consecutive win when it defeated Battle Creek Harper Creek 26-7, giving the Mustangs four victories in six games against playoff-bound opponents. The Mustangs do a great job of playing complementary football, thanks to a run-heavy offense that chews up the clock and allows the defense to stay fresh late into games.

Aiming for its first district title since 2013, Central begins its playoff run against Jackson (5-4) in a rematch of last year’s 28-12 Round 1 Mustang win.

More high school football coverage

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2021 MHSAA high school football playoff brackets, with first-round pairings


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