MILLINGTON — The Millington football team has struggled early in its last two postseason games.
It can’t afford a slow start Saturday.
Millington is in the Division 6 state semifinals, the fifth time the Cardinals have advanced this far in the postseason, where it will face perennial power Jackson Lumen Christi Saturday at 1 p.m. at Lansing Catholic High School.
“We’ve had some opportunities in the first half and we haven’t capitalized,” said Millington coach Roger Bearss. “But that’s why you keep plugging away, keep practicing. That’s what makes the game a great game, to be successful, you’re ultimately going to have some adversity. And at some point you need to learn to overcome those things.
“And life is that way too.”
The Cardinals are in the middle of a remarkable run, which is made even more noteworthy by their recent second-half performances.
After easily disposing Hemlock, 50-7, in the first week of the playoffs, No. 3 Millington held just an 8-6 lead over Montrose at halftime of the district final on Nov. 5. Then last week, three fumbles, a key penalty, an interception and two dropped passes in the end zone in the first half almost did the Cardinals in.
But in each contest Millington rose to the occasion. It outscored Montrose 20-3 in the second half to earn a 28-9 win and stunned Detroit Central Collegiate last week, overcoming a 20-0 halftime hole to win 22-20.
But a below-average first half against Lumen Christi could be disastrous.
“They’re a very good team, very well-coached, well-balanced, and they’ve had a lot of success,” Bearss said. “But hey, that’s why we play the game. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
The Titans are one of the top programs in state history with eight state championships — eighth among Michigan high schools. They have made the playoffs 19 years in a row, 26 times altogether and have been in the state semifinals 11 times in the past 21 years.
This year, Lumen Christi is 10-2 and ranked No. 5 in Division 6. It bolted out to a 42-6 halftime lead in its quarterfinal against Napoleon last week, before winning 49-6.
Millington, 11-1, is in the semifinals for the third time since 2009, and the fifth time overall. The Cardinals are 0-4 in semifinal contests.
But this year’s squad may be different.
The Cardinals’ only loss is at Frankenmuth (24-7), who is also playing Saturday, in the Division 5 semifinals. Millington’s defense has allowed only 111 points in its 12 games this year, thanks to star linebackers Jared Roehl and Brady Payne, hard-hitting defensive backs Briar Bearss, Brett Knox, Drew Germain and Kohlton Sherman and experienced linemen Mario Gabriel, Nick Eickoff, Lukas Selich, Jose Ramirez and Dakota Morgan.
“Our kids from Millington are going to hit ya,” Bearss said. “It was kind of nice playing Detroit Central with the athletes they had, they certainly had some speed and some really good athleticism. So what I’m kinda hoping is that we’ve become acclimated to that.”
The Cardinals defense will be tested by the Titans’ all-everything back Bo Bell, who last week torched Napoleon for 146 yards rushing, 84 yards receiving and four total touchdowns.
Many of the Cardinals’ key defenders will be asked to help out on offense too — Roehl and Payne are running backs, Sherman is a receiver and all five lineman play both ways. Quarterback Bryce Bearss, who is the coach’s son along with Briar Bearss, is a 6-foot-4 quarterback who has thrown for over 2,000 yards this year, his favorite targets are Sherman, Cameron Henderson and Jakob Selich.
Per Michigan High School Athletic Association rules, all semifinal games must be played on artificial turf to prepare for the championship weekend — held the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving at Ford Field.
Bearss said his team plans to practice on the turf field today at Lapeer High School.
The winner of Saturday’s game has a date at the Detroit Lions’ home field against the winner of No. 6 Maple City Glen Lake/No.9 Ravenna.
Millington is the highest ranked team remaining in Division 6.