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FOOTBALL FINALS: St. Mary's ready to face tough Mt. Pleasant team in D3 final

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ORCHARD LAKE — For the record, yes, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s was a little thrown off when it found out it wouldn’t be playing East Grand Rapids in the Division 3 state championship game.

After earning a 14-10 win over Battle Creek Harper Creek in a state semifinal, St. Mary’s stepped off the field and expected that it would be turning its attention to a revenge game against East Grand Rapids, which beat the Eaglets in the three of the last four state championship games.

But lo and behold, St. Mary’s found out that Mt. Pleasant had rallied from a 24-0 deficit and kicked a field goal in the final minute to beat the Pioneers, 38-37, so it’ll be the Oilers who’ll stand in the way of St. Mary’s quest for what’s been an elusive fifth state title in school history at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Ford Field.

“When we all came out of the locker room, we were all like ‘We’re ready, we’re ready’ because we were expecting EGR,” St. Mary’s senior linebacker Dylan Zerki said. “All of a sudden, we heard it was Mt. Pleasant, but that doesn’t change anything. We’ve already talked about that. Whatever team comes up has just gotten in the way.”

Indeed, it doesn’t make a difference if it’s Mt. Pleasant, a pee wee team, the Green Bay Packers or the Detroit Lions standing on the opposing sideline on Saturday.

No matter who the opponent is, St. Mary’s is back in the state championship game and is determined to win its first state title since 2000 and end a five-game losing streak in championship games.

Before losing to East Grand Rapids in the 2007, 2009 and 2010 title games, St. Mary’s lost to Muskegon in the 2004 Division 2 final and to Chesaning in the 2001 Division 4 championship.

“We don’t care who we play,” St. Mary’s senior linebacker David Talley said. “It would’ve been better if we had played East Grand Rapids to get that revenge, but it’s all the same.”

In order to end the title-game hex, St. Mary’s will have to become the first team this season to beat Mt. Pleasant, which enters with a perfect 13-0 record.

The Oilers have a lot of firepower on offense, led by senior quarterback Ryan Elliott (just less than 2,000 passing yards for the season), sophomore running back Michael Tweh (1,868 rushing yards) and senior wide receivers Colton Odykirk (791 receiving yards) and Dustin Lee.

“I think 13-0 speaks for itself,” St. Mary’s head coach George Porritt said. “When you’re 13-0 and you win a game like that against East Grand Rapids, it shows you they are a great team, too. A tough quarterback, (Tweh), is a great running back, (Lee) is a very quick kid and (Odykirk) is outstanding. They present a lot of problems. Their defense moves around a lot and it’s really hard to focus in on spots they’re going to be at. The movement they have creates havoc.”

One advantage that could work in the favor of St. Mary’s is experience playing in state title games and familiarity with the surroundings at Ford Field.

The Eaglets have played five times the past three seasons at Ford Field when factoring in Catholic League Prep Bowl games, so they hope that will be helpful against a Mt. Pleasant team that is making its first-ever appearance in a state title game.

“I think you hope that does help you some just being familiar with the surroundings,” Porritt said. “But with high school kids this time of the year, the kids play special. I don’t care what school you’re from. You have to go out there and earn it and that is what makes it so much fun.”

There was some concern about the health of St. Mary’s senior linebacker James Ross after he missed a quarter of the semifinal win over Battle Creek Harper Creek with an injury, but Ross came back and finished that game strong and will be ready to play against Mt. Pleasant.

E-mail Keith Dunlap at keith.dunlap@oakpress.com and follow him on Twitter @kd2578.

Last Updated: 11/23/2011 10:06:48 PM EST

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