By DOUG DONNELLY
No Tri-County Conference football team has ever won a state championship. But, for the first time in the league’s 43-year history, two of its teams have advanced to the state semifinals in the same season.
Hall of Fame coach Scott McNitt will lead Clinton when they play Grand Rapids Northpointe Christian at noon Saturday in Battle Creek while Whiteford, coached by Tecumseh resident Jason Mensing, will play Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes in the Division 8 semifinal in Hazel Park.
The rest of the TCC’s coaches aren’t surprised with the post-season success the league is enjoying this fall. Morenci and Summerfield also made the playoffs.
“We play in a tough league and, as a competitor, I wouldn’t want it any other way,” said Madison coach Taz Wallace. “In order to win in our league each week it’s important that you’re executing at a high level on a consistent basis and those are the things that are allowing both teams to continue their respective runs in the playoffs.”
Morenci coach Mike McDowell coached Morenci in the 1990s, then returned four years ago. He said the league keeps getting stronger.
“The four years I’ve been back, I think the top half of the league has had outstanding teams, but this year a couple more teams improved, making each week a challenge,” he said. “Your kids are battle-tested against good teams and good coaching so your confidence is high.”
Whiteford won its first-ever Regional championship Saturday with a 48-14 win over highly-ranked Climax-Scotts, a team that had given up 39 points all season.
“The difference was our schedule,” Mensing said. “We’ve played some good teams week in and week out in the TCC.”
Mensing, who has also coached at Addison and Tecumseh, has a coaching staff with several Lenawee County connections. One of the assistants is Jay Gilmore who played at Morenci in 1995 when the Bulldogs reached the state championship game. Clinton defensive coordinator Jeremy Fielder played on a Britton-Deerfield team that reached the state semifinals in 1999.
“Both coaching staffs are tremendous,” said Britton-Deerfield athletic director Erik Johnson, who coaches football at Summerfield. “They know how to exploit an opponent’s weakness and how to put their players in the best position to be successful.”
Marcus Hosman from Britton-Deerfield got his first look at the TCC this season, coaching at Britton-Deerfield.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect of the TCC,” he said. “I found that the quality of football played in the TCC this year was excellent. The experience and quality of the coaches in the league speaks to the success we are seeing this year in the MHSAA playoffs. Looking at what Whiteford and Clinton have been able to do to other league champions show how deep and talented the TCC was this season.”
Clinton’s dynamic duo of Mathew Sexton and Noah Poore continue to amaze.
“Clinton is so explosive and opposing teams in the playoffs do not seem to realize how good Sexton and Poore really are,” McDowell said.
Clinton is trying to return to the state finals. It made it to the Division 6 finals in 2013, losing to national power Ithaca.
Sand Creek lost in the 1992 Class DD state final under coach Ernie Ayers. Ayers said the thing that impresses him about both the two remaining TCC teams in the playoffs is they are strong on the fundamentals of football.
“The most obvious thing about Clinton is speed,” he said. “They have it and their other players are very sound fundamentally so the speed players get opportunities to make plays on offense and special teams.
“Whiteford has just continued to improve every week, especially up front. They also are very good at the little things – the fundamentals. For both programs, that speaks volumes to the quality of coaching, communication and players’ willingness to learn and continue improving.”
Here’s the scores of all of the TCC teams in the state semifinals and state finals:
TCC teams in Semifinals (4-8)
1977 Class D: Flint Holy Rosary 22, Sand Creek 0
1987 Class D: Martin 20, Sand Creek 14
1991 Class D: Mendon 14, Sand Creek 8
1992 Class D: Sand Creek 14, Schoolcraft 12
1995 Class C: Morenci 28, Burton Bendle 0
1996 Class C: Morenci 55, Southgate Aquinas 33
1999 D7: Gobles 24, BD 13
2000 D7: Gobles 12, BD 0
2003 D7: Hudson 29, Sand Creek 6
2005 D7: Unionville Sebewaing 49, Sand Creek 7
2007 D7: Mendon 34, Sand Creek 0
2013 D6: Clinton 49, Shelby 3
TCC teams in state final (0-4)
1992 Class D: Lake Linden-Hubbell 16, Sand Creek 3
1995 Class C: Muskegon Catholic Central 19, Morenci 7
1996 Class C: Ravenna 30, Morenci 14
2013 D6: Ithaca 41, Clinton 22