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FOOTBALL SEMIFINALS: St. Mary's ready for rematch with Harper Creek

Grant Niemiec and Orchard Lake St. Mary's will take on Battle Creek Harper Creek for the second straight year in the Division 3 semifinals. The Eaglets won last year's meeting, 14-10.

ORCHARD LAKE — Though this week marked the beginning of practices for the winter basketball season, Orchard Lake St. Mary's dual-sport coach George Porritt won't be turning his attention to the hardwood just yet, as his Eaglets football squad remains in the hunt for another state title on the gridiron.

For the fourth straight season, St. Mary's finds itself preparing for a Division 3 semifinal game, as the Eaglets will take on Battle Creek Harper Creek at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Chelsea High School.

The game will be a rematch of last year's semifinal, in which St. Mary's squeaked out a victory, 14-10, on a go-ahead touchdown with just 45 seconds remaining. The win over Harper Creek was easily the Eaglets' biggest challenge in capturing the 2011 state title.

A year later, the memory of last season's close-call against the Beavers remains fresh in the minds of the Eaglets' players.

"They've definitely got some size and they're all fundamentally sound," St. Mary's senior Parker McInnis said of Harper Creek. "They've got some tough kids that love to hit. We took them lightly last year and they turned out to be a really good team. We're not going to do that again this year."

Both St. Mary's and Harper Creek feature run-oriented offenses with a pair of accomplished running backs. McInnis and Grant Niemiec expect to be busy on Saturday for the Eaglets (10-2), who have made a habit all season of assembling scoring drives of 10 or more plays that help win the time of possession battle.

Harper Creek's offense is led by seniors Kasey Carson, who has amassed 1,799 yards rushing this season, and Connor Bauserman (548 yards).

"It's going to be a great matchup again," Porritt said. "Harper Creek is a team that's been (in the semifinals) a lot of years.

"I think we've been playing very well of late. Things have come together and we're fairly healthy. The kids have understood that they've got to get a little bit better each week and they've worked hard at it."

En route to the semifinals, St. Mary's had little difficulty simply outscoring its opponents. The Eaglets ousted first-time postseason participant South Lyon East, 59-7, in the district semifinal and overpowered Auburn Hills Avondale, 49-14, a week later. Then, St. Mary's dismissed Detroit East English Village Prep on Saturday, overcoming a first-quarter deficit to pull away convincingly, 42-26.

As for Harper Creek (10-2), a place in the semifinals appeared to be less of a certainty the past three weeks, as the Beavers' playoff games have been much closer contests. It took a late-game field goal to lift Harper Creek to a narrow 26-24 win over Tecumseh in Friday's regional final.

Setting aside everything that has led up to Saturday's semifinal, Porritt said his team's focus this week has been on the elimination of mistakes.

"It's the same clichés — You can't have turnovers and you can't have penalties," Porritt said, noting that his team has surrendered a kickoff return for a touchdown each of the past two weeks and intends to correct that.

"It's a semifinal game and you know the other team is going to play so hard. Mistakes and turnovers become such a big part of the game."

For the 25 seniors on the Eaglets' roster, the preseason goal of achieving back-to-back state titles is just two games away from completion.

"These last few weeks, I've kind of started taking everything in and not for granted," Niemiec said. "Even getting yelled at by a coach, you kind of cherish it. It's going to be tough, but if we end it right, I won't be sad at all to see (my career) end."

Should the Eaglets advance on Saturday, they would await the winner of the other Division 3 semifinal between DeWitt and Grand Rapids Christian.





Last Updated: 11/15/2012 12:25:16 PM EST

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