Menominee students will be heading to Ford Field Saturday to cheer on their unbeaten Maroons in their Division 5 state championship game against Grand Rapids West Catholic. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Menominee students will be heading to Ford Field Saturday to cheer on their unbeaten Maroons in their Division 5 state championship game against Grand Rapids West Catholic. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
MENOMINEE - The Ford Field sign was in place outside the Menominee locker room on the first day of practice.

Three and a half months and 13 victories later, the Maroons are heading toward their dream.

Grand Rapids West Catholic kept its dream alive after a 1-4 start and a 12-9 loss to Portland in last year's state title game has fueled the Falcons' hunger for its second state championship.

Menominee goes for its fourth state title when it clashes with West Catholic (9-4) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Ford Field.

The Maroons want a payback for last year's 20-17 semifinal loss, the third straight playoff loss to the Falcons.

"They lost to Portland by a field goal last year and we lost to them by a field goal," Menominee coach Joe Noha said. "It's going to come down to who wants it more."

West Catholic's five senior captains haven't let the Falcons forget the pain of walking off Ford Field after a loss last year.

"That hurt quite a bit because we didn't play our best," coach Dan Rohn stated. "We have a great group of senior leaders who believe in what we're doing. They wanted to get back there and finish what we started."

Russell, running back Andy Corey, receiver/defensive end Mitchell Stanizek, linebacker Max Boorsma and receivers Drake Wooten and Brad Burns return from last year's state final team.

"Their skill people are similar to last year and they have a pretty good-sized offensive line," said Noha. "Their speed is similar to Oakridge. I think we match up with their speed pretty well."

Noha pointed out that the Falcons will use the entire width of Ford Field with their spread offense that creates space for their running game.

Corey and tailback Lasarian Majewski are small, quick backs that can make the most out of small openings.

Corey has more than 5,000 rushing, receiving and kick return yards in his three-year career, including 781 rushing yards on 137 carries (5.7 average) and 12 touchdowns this year.

"He's the heart of their team," said Noha. "He reminds me of Aeron Forsberg except he's about 10 or 15 pounds bigger. He's a high-spirited, high-energy guy who can change the outcome of a game. When they need a play, they go to Corey."

Majewski has rolled up 866 yards on 116 carries (7.5 average) with 12 touchdowns.

"He's small and quick and you have a hard time seeing him behind their big line," Noha said.

Russell is a dual threat with 2,238 passing yards and 19 touchdowns and 504 rushing yards.

"They want to run the ball out of their spread," said Noha. "They have kind of a west coast offense. Russell will throw swing and hitch passes to Corey but they don't pass (deep) too often.

"We can't allow them to run the ball vertically. Our defensive front has been good."

Rohn calls Stanitzek (6-4, 225) "as physical and dominating as anyone at this level."

The Maroons neutralized Standish-Sterling tight end Clay Walderzak, who will play Division 1 ball at Central Michigan, in their regional title win, and are ready for the challenge of containing Stanitzek.

"He's definitely a playmaker," Noha said of Stanitzek. "They 'll use him as an H-back, like Jacob Pedersen (of Wisconsin) out in open space to block for Corey. Wherever he is, they have a tendency to go.

"We don't have any Division 1 players, but we have players who play with Division 1 heart."

Noha expects the Falcons to use the same five-man defensive front with the linebackers crowding the box like they used last year.

Linebacker Max Boorsma leads West Catholic with 146 tackles and Stanitzek has 98 tackles.

The rallying cry last week for the Maroons was "36." Menominee rushed for just 36 yards against the Falcons last year.

"That's going to come back this week," said Noha. "We passed for more than 300 yards against them last year but ran for just 36 yards. That's hard to believe. That has to change.

"If we don't run for more than 36 yards, we're going to be in trouble."

All-state linebacker Ryne Francour, tackles Mason Kewley and Brandon Chouinard, defensive ends Brilinski and Brown and the pass-swiping secondary of Sullivan, Harris and Aeron Forsberg lead an unforgiving Menominee defense.

The West Catholic defense has amped it up a few levels in the playoffs, allowing just 41 points against quality competition.

The Falcons will try to do what nobody since Antigo in the season-opening game has been able to do - slow down a Maroon attack that is averaging 54.5 points in the playoffs.

Priority No. 1 for West Catholic will be stringing out Menominee's outside game until the linebackers can close and make tackles.

"Facing Menominee is never easy," said Rohn. "Their program and their coaches are one of a kind. Their speed and strength is second to none. We're going to have to be able to keep them off the edge because they're so quick."

Tailback Justin Brilinski has rushed for 1,073 yard on 145 carries, James Brown has pounded defensive game plans for 912 yards on 142 carries with 27 touchdowns and Devon Harris has 627 rushing yards on 63 carries.

Brilinski has passed for 1,100 yards and Harris, Shaun Sullivan and Devon Barley add a game-breaking dimension with their ability to shake loose defenders and gain big yards after the catch.

Senior Lucas LaPerriere and sophomore Sam Hartwig lead the Maroon offensive line and all-state kicker Evan Pohlmann will help the Maroon control field position with his no-return kicks into the Ford Field end zone.

Menominee has had its fill of watching West Catholic end its season. The Falcons have bumped the Maroons out of the playoffs the last three years.

West Catholic outscored Menominee 55-34 in a regional title shootout in 2011 and the defense rose up in a 24-20 semifinal win over the Maroons in 2010 on the way to the state title.

Like a couple of gunslingers destined for a showdown, Noha felt Menominee and West Catholic would end up as the last two Division 5 teams left standing.

"Once they got in the playoffs it seemed almost prophetic that they would play us," said Noha. "They've been there before and they expect to be there. They're like us. They believe they can win every game. It's going to be a battle of wills."

The game will be televised live on Fox Sports Detroit.

A homecoming for the Maroons will be held when the team arrives back in town Sunday night.
Menominee MAROONS
(12-0)

20 Antigo 0
42 Milwaukee Riverside 7
42 Harbor Beach 21
56 Gladstone 6
42 Kingsford 13
44 Escanaba 0
56 Marinette 27
62 Milwaukee Madison 12
51 Marquette 7
Playoffs
63 Houghton 6
47 Grayling 14
49 Standish-Steling 27
59 Muskegon Oakridge 28
Playoff offense - 218 points (54.5 avg)
Playoff defense - 75 points (18.7 avg)

Grand Rapids West Catholic Falcons
(9-4)

25 Muskegon Oakridge 31
20 Comstock Park 39
17 Grand Rapids S. Christian 34
49 Unity Christian 26
16 Forest Hills Northern 19
49 Greenville 19
36 Cedar Springs 14
56 Northview 28
21 Forest Hills Eastern 20
Playoffs
27 Portland 14
38 Lansing Catholic Central 13
35 Olivet 14
35 Clarenceville 0
Playoff offense 135 points (33.7)
Playoff defense 41 points (10.2 avg.)