Sunday, November 23, 2014

Comparing the QB's of Clarkston and Saline in Division 1 State Finals

Overview:  The 2 teams have used 3 very good QB's this season but should expect to see only 2 on Saturday 1 pm in the State Championship game at Ford Field.  Saline has rotated in between Senior QB Trent Theisen and Junior QB Josh Jackson.  Clarkston again is led by Senior QB DJ Zezula who led the Wolves to their 1st State Championship in 2013.

Josh Jackson in 2014 Playoff game for Saline | Source: Jeff Corrion / The D Zone

Trent Theisen - 2015 and Josh Jackson - 2016

- The Saline Hornets have platooned between the 2 QB's.  Theisen led the Hornets to a 9-2 record last year, the only 2 losses were to Bedford who lost in the Regional playoff game.  In 2013, Josh Jackson had transferred from Ann Arbor Huron so couldn't play for Saline.  The two QB's each have shared a possession to start the game and the hotter hand goes the rest of the game, which has formed an interesting dynamic for the Hornets who have won 12 games in a row.

Both QB's are built for the spread and have the mobility and arm to execute their offense.  Through 13 games Josh Jackson is 107/159 for 1,626 yards and 16 touchdowns plus 2 interceptions.  Trent Theisen is 72/110 for 1,038 yards and 13 touchdowns plus 4 interceptions.  On the ground, Jackson has rushed for 701 yards on 93 attempts and scored 9 touchdowns.  Theisen has rushed for 234 yards on 42 attempts and scored 5 touchdowns

Despite Jackson not showing up in the box score vs. Cass Tech he still was responsible for moving the chains pretty consistently on Saturday.  Jackson was accurate on all but 1 pass that was intercepted by Cass Tech.  Saline could go back to the platoon strategy for the Clarkston game but it will be tough to keep the ball away from Jackson, still pretty fresh off of his 6 touchdown performance vs. Canton the week earlier.

DJ Zezula in 2013 State Finals game | Source: Ken Dettloff / The D Zone

DJ Zezula - 2015

-  DJ Zezula took over the Quarterback position completely as a Junior last year and commanded the Clarkston offense that led the Wolves to a Division 1 State Championship.  Zezula accomplished a lot while at Clarkston and will go down as one of the top OAA QB's in history.  As a Sophomore, Zezula had a big time completion to move the chains and a few players later Clarkston scored to defeat Lake Orion, in a battle of unbeatens and more recently Zezula threw for over 2,300 yards and 19 touchdowns in 14 games last year to lead Clarkston to the Division 1 Championship. Zezula is a smooth dual threat QB who equally hurts defenses with his arms and legs.

Through 13 games, DJ Zezula is 101/151 for over 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns plus 3 interceptions.  On the ground, Zezula has rushed for 745 yards on 120 carries for 14 touchdowns.

Clarkston was a heavy favorite in mostly every game they played in this year and won a majority of their games comfortably.  The running game of Clarkston has been so dominant this year that the statsheet and scorelines are relatively low.  Zezula will look to make the Saline defense off balance.

Trent Theisen in 2013 Regular Season game | Source: Jeff Corrion / The D Zone

  • Teams have slept pretty hard on DJ Zezula.  The precise throwing dual threat QB only holds a preferred walk-on from Michigan State but really should be getting last minute D1-FBS and FCS looks this Winter.
  • As a Freshman at Huron, Josh Jackson was offered by the previous staff at EMU but the new staff didn't hold the offer.  Jackson will be busy this offseason looking for a "new first offer."
  • Trent Theisen is signed to play Baseball at Ball State as a Catcher.

Combined Stats:

  • Jackson / Thieisen - 43 TD's and 6 interceptions
  • Zezula - 34 TD's and 3 interceptions

De La Salle's Stritzinger looking to win his second championship at Ford Field

Division 2 Final: Warren De La Salle vs Muskegon Mona Shores is Friday at 1:00 on Fox Sports Detroit


By Evan Paputa

Recruiting Editor


Allen Stritzinger lines up at cornerback against Southfield in the 2014 semi-finals. /Evan Paputa
Allen Stritzinger has played for a championship at Ford Field before, but when he takes the field Friday afternoon, it will be unmeasurably more important for him that his Warren De La Salle team comes out victorious. A middle school league championship that he won was a great accomplishment, but he wants to win there again as his Pilots face off with Muskegon Mona Shores in the Division 2 final at 1:00.

“I played there before when I played for St. Anne in the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) championship,” the sophomore Stritzinger (6-foot-0, 178-pounds) said. “But now that I’m in high school playing for a state title, it’s way more exciting and important than before.

“It’s a dream come true. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time and now we finally made it,” he said.

Playing for a state championship at Ford Field is something that Stritzinger has dreamed of since he was in grade school. He has admired the teams and players that have shined on the big stage on Fox Sports Detroit.

“I just remember all those times when I was little I was watching teams play there. Now that I get a chance to play for a championship there I am just excited to see the atmosphere,” he said.

De La Salle enters the state championship game sporting a 10-3 record. All three losses came in the final 30 seconds to Brother Rice, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and Dearborn Fordson. At times the Thanksgiving weekend trip to Ford Field didn’t seem likely to the average fan, but Stritzinger and his fellow Pilots knew for a long time they were capable.

“We first noticed throughout the winter, summer workouts, and the 7-on-7’s that we had a very hardworking team that wanted nothing but to win,” he said. “We prepared each day based around making it to the state championship game and winning when we made it.”

On offense, Stritzinger is the main running back that gets about fifteen to twenty carries for at least 100 yards a game. Complimenting him is senior quarterback, Joey Garbarino, who runs successfully as well.

“I’m only able to put up numbers for our offense because of my offensive line creating unbelievable holes for me, making more space for me to run,” he said. “They get their job done which helps me get mine done.”

Throughout their playoff run De La Salle has faced just about every offense in the book. Brother Rice spread their wide receivers out and passed the ball around. Southfield on the other hand spread everybody out, but ran the ball with their quarterback, running back, or motioning wide receiver.

Mona Shores poses a threat with a division 1-level quarterback in Tyree Jackson (University of Buffalo), but De La Salle is not fazed. They stopped Michigan-bound Brother Rice quarterback Alex Malzone in the regional final. It is unclear, however, if Jackson is able to play due to an injury suffered in the Sailors’ semi-final win over Farmington Hills Harrison.

Allen Stritzinger defending Southfield.
/Evan Paputa
Defensively, Stritzinger plays cornerback on the outside and is normally matched up one-on-one with one of the oppositions’ best receivers. Mona Shores will run a variation of the spread offense with or without Jackson.

“I like playing cornerback against teams that spread out their offense because it gives us an opportunity to match up against their receivers,” Strizinger said. “Also, the way our defensive line gets pressure makes our job a little easier for us defensive backs.”

Overall, Stritzinger is happy to still be playing football this late into the season. As for Mona Shores, he is eager to learn from his coaches about them.

“We know that they are a good team, obviously. We haven’t watched much film on them yet, but when we do we will have a detailed understanding of them,” he said. “Our coaches break down the film perfectly for our team’s understanding.”

Saline Knocks Out Cass Tech in D1 Heavyweight Semi-Final, 30-15

Saline celebration following their 30-15 win over Cass Tech for their first State Finals appearance
Source: Jeff Corrion / The D Zone

It's the game on the bracket everyone in state looks forward to when the brackets are released in October.  The right side of the Division 1 bracket normally has 4 teams who can win a state title, all 4 district champions have a legit chance of reaching the state finals and today at Troy Athens it was the top 2 remaining teams left standing.

Saline and Cass Tech entered this Heavyweight battle with as much momentum as possible, Cass Tech defeated Chippewa Valley and Saline defeated Canton the previous week. Cass Tech entered the game on a perfect 12-0 streak and Saline had won their previous 11 games after losing their opening game vs. Mona Shores.

For The D Zone's preseason rankings, both Cass Tech and Saline were highly thought of.  Cass Tech was ranked #3 and Saline was #4. Both teams more than proved their rankings leading up to this battle.

To start the game it was Saline who immediately made their intentions of what they would do to the previously committed Michigan RB, Mike Weber who tore through Chippewa Valley the previous week for 404 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Saline quickly forced a 3 and out, stopping Weber in hordes of Hornets and the punt was muffed and Saline took over at the Cass Tech 30 yard line.  Cass replied back with their stout defense forcing a 3 and out and a 35 yard field goal with the wind was blocked.

The 1st quarter would be back and forth as would the 2nd quarter, until Cass Tech put together a drive fueled by runs by 2015 RB Mike Weber and 2017 QB Rodney Hall.  Cass Tech nearly punched it when Mike Weber ran to his right but he jumped over the pylon and was ruled down at the 1 yard line.  Saline appeared to stuff him on the next play but Weber rolled to his right at the goal line for the 1 yard TD to make the score 7-0 with 4:05 left in the half.

Weber and Hall formed a lethal QB/RB duo this year | Source: Jeff Corrion / The D Zone

Like a true heavyweight fight, Saline would return the punch.  Aided by some pinpoint throws by 2016 QB Josh Jackson, Saline quickly got up field as they went through the wind down to the 6 yard line when 2016 WR Jeb Palka took a sweep to the left from 6 yards and cruised into the end zone, the PAT was good and just like that was a 7-7 game.

It would not last that long though as Cass Tech was quickly forced to punt, following a high snap on 3rd down that Hall had to fall on, the snap was low and Saline would get the ball in the red zone. They couldn't translate the momentum into a touchdown but a 35 yard field goal by William Breen gave Saline the 10-7 edge with 37 seconds left in the half.

Cass Tech got into Saline territory, aided by a pass interference but the half ended on a screen pass to Mike Weber, he was slow to get up but would be fine.

Saline would start the 2nd half with the ball and 2015 DB Tyrone Miller fielded the kickoff, burst upfield and cruised through the Cass Tech coverage team to give Saline a huge 17-7 lead.  Before people could sit down they were in awe at how fast Miller got up field and towards the left sideline.

Saline would come up with another huge stop on Weber and Cass Tech as they pushed him out of bounds a yard shy of the marker on 4th down. The previous play was a 4 yard loss thanks to a tackle by Grant Ellis as soon as Weber reached the corner.  Saline would look to add more as the 3rd quarter ended but Jackson's pass would be picked off by 2015 DB Keshawn Gilmore.

Cass Tech would quickly put theirself in a good position thanks to a diving catch by Dwight Blakey and an 18 yard run by Rodney Hall. Cass Tech appeared to have cut the deficit but a holding call negated a 14 yard touchdown run by Hall and that was followed by a holding on Saline on the next play.  On 4th and 7 following a timeout, Hall was intercepted by 2015 OLB Stephen Slattery on an attempted screen pass.  Slattery snuck underneath the play, as Hall didn't see him and Slattery returned it 79 yards for a touchdown.  The PAT snap was bad and the score would hold at 23-7 with 9:31 left.
It was a Heavyweight battle all game long in Division 1 Semi-Final | Source: Jeff Corrion / The D Zone

Just as quickly as Saline had Cass Tech 6 feet deep, Cass Tech turned the tables with a 55 yard heave by Rodney Hall that Blakey got behind the defense as he was falling backwards, to give Cass Tech new life.  With 5:35 remaining, Hall bought time and found an open 2016 WR Demetric Vance open in the back of the end zone for an 8 yard touchdown.  Mike Weber added the 2 point conversion to cut the deficit to 23-15.

Cass Tech nearly flipped the tables completely on Saline when the kickoff was bouncing towards the end zone when a Saline player touched the ball at the goal line and was hit into the end zone.  Cass Tech recovered the ball. It was initially ruled a touchdown but a calm, Coach Joe Palka on the Saline sideline echoed the rule to the sideline referee, who went in to have a discussion with the other referees before it was ruled a touchback.

According to the National Federation of State High School Association which is the body that writes the rules of competition for most high school sports and activities in the United States. It was a touchback for this reason as published in the rule book, "It is a touchback when: A fumble is the force, or a muff or bat of a backward pass or a fumble after either has touched the ground is the new force, which sends the ball to or across the opponent's goal line and provided such opponent is in team possession or the ball is out of bounds when it becomes dead on or behind its goal line."

Saline about wrapped up the game a few players later on their own 40 yard line, Jackson dropped back and found a well covered 2015 WR Cameron Cole but he broke loose from the tacklers before getting tackled at the 15 yard line.  From there it was a few plays later before 2015 RB Kevin Gross fought his way in for a tough 8 yard touchdown run with 38.5 seconds left to extend the lead to 30-15 and send Saline on their way to their first state championship appearance.

Saline will meet Clarkston at 1pm on Saturday, 11/29.

Mike Weber had 40 carries this week and was held under 150 yards and after having 32 carries the previous week for over 400 yards.  It was simple, the Saline defense was extremely zeroed in on Weber and schemed to perfection, hardily was Weber one on one with a defender.  When he was one on one, he was hit squarely and tackled.  Otherwise there were always 2+ plus Saline defenders on Weber.  The two people responsible for this was 2015 LB's Chris Terech and Grant Ellis.  Terech was visibly vocal all day long, leading the Saline defense, pre-snap.

Both Offensive Line's were phenomenal as the QB's for the most part were pretty well protected and picked their time to throw.

Both young QB's did all they could to lead their team to wins.  Josh Jackson made all the throws and had few rushing yards but still was able seemingly gain positive yards.  Cass Tech 2017 QB Rodney Hall was an absolute nightmare for Saline's defense rushing the ball but had limited carries so wasn't the difference.  Hall is slippery in the pocket, escaping all pressure before getting up field.  The Sophomore QB will continue to improve, arm strength and mechanics will be much better as a Junior.