The Howell Highlanders, coached by Aaron Metz, have reached their most recent pinnacle in what he and his coaching staff would willingly admit is an ongoing and relentless pursuit towards a Division I state high school football championship.
Howell does have a budding football program and a history of several shorter runs at the Michigan high school "Big Show" (Howell's recent history includes KLAA titles in 2007, 2008 and 2010). However, this will be the Highlanders' initial experience participating in the regional championship game.
Howell enters this contest with 80.444 playoff points, ranked 28th in the state and 992nd in the nation. Despite the lofty credentials Metz, his team and his staff all know that the Howell program faces a very stiff competitor this Saturday afternoon...Enter the Rockford Rams.
The Rockford Football team is coached by Ralph Munger who, over the past 19 years has helped build a football program that was already steeped in tradition. His teams have established a formidable record of 55-7 over the course of the past five years; including several consecutive trips to the state football playoff finals and Division I state titles in 2004, 2005 and 2008.
The Rams enter this contest with 103.889 playoff points, a No. 1 ranking in the state of Michigan and a national ranking of 106th...Need I say more? WAIT—I almost forgot to mention that the Rams will also have the home-field advantage.
On to the Teams
The Highlanders play good, old-fashioned power football yet they have been able to demonstrate some deceptive speed using a number of very capable running backs. Howell will "ram" it down opponents throats (no pun intended) but they do have the speed to race around the corner if that opening exists.
Last week Howell matched up extremely well against Holt (the lone common opponent of each team) and Howell quarterback, Greg Cauley, had one of his better nights on the year.
Keys to this game for Howell will be:
- Limit turnovers—exchange problems have been an issue throughout the season
- Control the line of scrimmage
- Eliminate the deep threat—another issue that has intermittently plagued the Highlanders
Despite getting beat by way of the long ball on occasion, this Howell defense is quite formidable as they have not allowed an opposing offensive touchdown for over 10 consecutive quarters. Opponents instead, have had to rely on the benevolence of the Highlanders; scoring instead via turnovers and/or special teams play.
Forget what you're thinking though, this is a very solidly coached team so you can expect Howell to clean up their special teams play, solidify their exchanges and limit the potential for deep threats by the Rams.
In order to win this contest the Howell squad will need to demonstrate a "killer's instinct;" something that has been sorely lacking throughout the regular season. The Highlanders of '10-'11 have been a little too willing to allow opponents to sneak back into games and that has hurt them in their losses. They do however have the ability to control a game—they simply haven't quite hit their stride (and that is a good thing this time of year).
The Rams on the other hand have demonstrated an ability to advance the pill using both the run and the pass and they exhibit offensive firepower every time they have hit the field this year. Rockford is a strong battler who also possesses what could be termed as that elusive "big-play" capability.
Finally, the Rams do have the advantage of having been here before. In short, Rockford knows how to prepare for and adapt to the pressures of a big game and they do have a history of putting away unprepared teams demonstrating a victory margin of over 40 points on several occasions.
Despite the rankings, the history and the tradition involved, look for Howell to dominate early on in this matchup—that has been their history throughout this season. You can also expect Rockford to stay in this matchup right up through the end.
This is one opponent that the Howell defense cannot "let up on." Mistakes by the Howell team will be capitalized on and that big-play capability of the Rams will be evidenced.
Both Howell and Rockford will try to run the ball—both defenses will make that task difficult. Solid defenses or not, expect some points to be scored as both offenses do have fire power. Rockford's passing game has been superior to Howell's up to this point in the season, so a solid Highlanders pass rush and solid pass coverage will be paramount.
A win by Howell would be a major step forward for this program, but in order for the Highlanders to end up on the winning side of this equation they must be turnover free, deny the long ball and contain what is an explosive Rockford offense. I see a real barn-burner in the making here...
Expect an upset in this one.
A HUNGRY HOWELL TEAM TAKES THE HIGHLANDER NATION TO THAT ELUSIVE NEXT LEVEL!
Howell Highlanders 28, Rockford Rams 24
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