Football playoff game against Detroit Catholic Central completes Pioneer's 'holy trinity'
Back in its preseason team camp, every senior member of the Pioneer High School football team was asked to share his goals for the season. Every one of them included getting to Detroit's Ford Field to play in a state championship game.
It is a lofty goal for a team that hadn't won a district title since 2002.
After a 35-10 win over Temperance Bedford on Friday night, the Pioneers are among the final eight teams in the Division 1 playoffs. They’re two wins away from that goal and three wins from the school’s first football state title since 1987.
"Three more games, we got to win them," Pioneer running back Drake Johnson said. "We have no intention of going out next week. We have no intention of getting stopped in the next three weeks."
No, the Pioneers aren't satisfied yet. Johnson, the team's star and leader, made it clear this week's practices would be business-like.
"We can't screw around. There can be no silliness, there can be no let-up in our practices. We have to keep driving forward," said Johnson, who had 348 yards and four touchdowns on Friday. "We can't allow ourselves to get a big head after winning nine in a row. That means nothing. Right now we're 0-0, we're trying to be 1-0 next week."
Pioneer will try to get that 1-0 record at 1 p.m. Saturday when they travel to Detroit Catholic Central. It's a road trip that brings back memories for coach Paul Test.
He was on Chuck Lori’s staff when Pioneer beat Catholic Central in that 1987 championship game.
"We played them here a lot in the '80s," said Test. "We played them in '87 in the Silverdome, we beat them 3-0. We hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth to win the game. We didn't have a first down in the first half, but we won the game."
The game will also complete the "holy trinity" of Detroit-area Catholic League powerhouses, as Test called it. Pioneer opened the season with losses to Warren De La Salle and Birmingham Brother Rice before starting its current nine-game winning streak.
Catholic Central, which has won nine state championships since that 1987 loss, beat Canton 21-14 on Saturday.
The Pioneers know a little something about Canton, too. The Chiefs beat Pioneer in the first round of the playoffs each of the last two seasons by scores of 56-26 and 60-24.
A group of more than 40 parents, counselors, teachers, maintenance workers and even a parish priest accompanied the Father Gabriel Richard football players to a game in Almont Friday for a pre-game tailgate.
The drive took the parents nearly two hours and the group arrived around 4 p.m., three hours before kickoff of the Division 5 district final.
“We’re pretty proud, it’s pretty neat,” said Keith Kirchoff, whose son, Tyler, is a tackle for the Irish. She said Debbie Tracy, known as the “team mom,” was instrumental in making the tailgate happen.
“We just have a great group of people,” Tracy said. “We have a great following with the parents.”
And even though their kids didn’t win the game (Almont won, 42-14), the parents wouldn’t change a thing about traveling to Almont.
“Oh heck yeah, we’d do it all over again,” Kirchoff said when asked if he’d be back next year. “We’re gonna go all the way next year.”
Lights out at Chelsea
The lights at Jerry Niehaus Field were turned off shortly after Friday night's game. But not because Chelsea officials were trying to cut short Adrian's post-game victory (the Maples won the Division 3 district final, 34-14).
As part of a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, the Chelsea High School student council released more than 100 floating luminaries into the sky. Turning off the stadium lights made it a stunning visual display.
Matt Durr and Rich Rezler contributed to this report.
Jason Idalski covers sports for AnnArbor.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.