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Birmingham Brother Rice High School football player Cody Ellwanger (left, 2) knocks the ball away before Detroit Martin Luther King wide receiver Mycial Allen (20) can haul it in during second quarter action. Photo taken on Saturday, November 19, 2011, in a game played at West Bloomfield HS in West Bloomfield. The Warriors may need to take to the air to exploit Lowell's defense in the Division 2 state finals. (Special to The Oakland Press/Jose Juarez)


FOOTBALL FINALS: Brother Rice may need to air it out vs. Lowell

Red Arrows have proven vulnerable to the pass in the playoffs

Birmingham Brother Rice High School football player Austin Echols (35) runs for yardage against Detroit Martin Luther King during first quarter action. Photo taken on Saturday, November 19, 2011, in a game played at West Bloomfield HS in West Bloomfield. (Special to The Oakland Press/Jose Juarez)

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BLOOMFIELD HILLS — At first it may sound confusing, but if Birmingham Brother Rice wants to win its seventh state title in school history on Friday at Ford Field, it might have to be good in a portion of the game it hasn’t been as good at this year.

The big reason Brother Rice has advanced to Friday’s 1 p.m. Division 2 state championship game is because of a typically lethal running game that’s been spearheaded by senior running back Devin Church, who has rushed for 1,675 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Church and Brother Rice will no doubt look to run wild again, but there’s going to be one wrinkle.

Brother Rice’s opponent for the game, fellow state power Lowell, has seemed to be vulnerable to the pass this year.

That was evident this past Saturday’s semifinal round, when Walled Lake Western sophomore quarterback Kyle Bambard torched Lowell’s pass defense, throwing for 341 yards and four touchdowns.

Lowell still managed to survive, outlasting Western in overtime, 42-35, but the porous pass defense no doubt that had to catch the eye of Brother Rice coaches in film study this week.

Yes, Brother Rice will still try and establish the run with Church and win the time of possession battle against a Lowell team that also likes to grind it out on the ground behind all-state quarterback Gabe Dean.

However, this game more than any in the playoffs could open the door for junior quarterback Cheyne Lacanaria and senior quarterback Nick Rao to make plenty of plays in the passing game.

Lacanaria and Rao have shared snaps all season in what’s been a two-quarterback system for the Warriors.

“It all depends,” Brother Rice head coach Al Fracassa said. “Our running game is not too bad, so we’re going to try and test that. Hopefully we can throw the ball a little bit, too. If our running game is going well, we’re going to try and see if we can get some first downs and try and see if we can consume the clock.”

That’ll be the plan on offense, while the defensive objective will be one that’s so simple to say but so hard to do: Contain Dean.

Not only does the reigning Division 1-2 Player of the Year brilliantly direct Lowell’s potent rushing attack, he also can rack up big yards passing the ball.

Dean threw for more than 300 yards in the win over Western.

Dean was a sophomore starter for the Red Arrows two years ago when they beat Brother Rice in a state semifinal at Howell, a loss the Brother Rice players who played in that game still remember vividly.

“That’s a lot of motivation for me,” Brother Rice senior captain Cody Ellwanger said. “I want us to win that for the seniors of that year who didn’t have that opportunity. That day has stuck with me for a long time and will definitely be some extra motivation for this game.”

This will be the 11th appearance in the state final for Brother Rice, and it arguably is the most unlikely of them all.

The Warriors lost three straight games during the regular season to drop to 4-4, but won their regular-season finale against Harper Woods Chandler Park and had enough playoff points to earn a berth with a 5-4 record.

Brother Rice has rolled so far through the playoffs, highlighted by a surprising 30-7 thrashing of unbeaten and defending state champion Farmington Hills Harrison in the second round, and hopes to cash in on another title opportunity and win the school’s first state title since 2005.

“It’s always very exciting and it doesn’t get old,” Fracassa said. “It feels brand new to me and all these kids haven’t experienced something like this. It’s all new to them, too. It’s really exciting. This is a chance of a lifetime and if they play their best, good things can happen.”

Ellwanger echoed that it doesn’t get any better than this for the Warriors to overcome all they have to get to this point.

“This has been a dream of mine since seventh grade,” Ellwanger said. “It’s unreal and hasn’t fully kicked in yet, to be honest with you. But we’re grateful for this opportunity. This team has come a long way. A football team overcoming adversity. It only made us tougher.”

E-mail Keith Dunlap at; Twitter: @kd2578

Last Updated: 11/24/2011 2:58:16 AM EST

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