For the fifth time in seven years, Brother Rice and Rochester Adams locked horns in the playoffs, with the Warriors proving victorious 24-7 in Friday's meeting in Rochester Hills.
The final score didn't reflect a defensive battle that was close for a good portion of the game, but ultimately the lack of a passing game from the Highlanders kept them from keeping pace with Brother Rice. Adams quarterback Tyler Hammett failed to complete a pass in five attempts going into halftime, partially due to several dropped passes.
Turnovers also proved to be costly for Adams, including a fumble in their own territory that led to an 18-yard touchdown catch by Brother Rice's star receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley from quarterback Frankie Popp.
"You can't turn the ball over and not play well against a team like this," Adams coach Tony Patritto said. "We limit the turnovers, we play our best game and [we would be] playing next week."
The Warriors (8-2) used several formations to advance against the big defensive lineman of Adams, but their offense started to run on all cylinders when they relied more on junior running back Jimmy Pickens, who racked up 22 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown.
"They play the three-front, and we've had problems with the three-fronts, but we really buckled down and took our assignments well," Pickens said. "[We had] good blocking today, it can't get much better. The whole offensive line is seniors, so they realize if they don't block they're going home."
Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa said that personnel changes on the offensive side of the ball helped assist in opening holes for the running game.
"We're starting to run the ball better, but we got a few [new guys] to block," Fracassa said. "Pickens is a great athlete. He can be as good as he wants to be."
Adams (6-5) again relied on their strength of running the football, but failed to make plays in key situations. They outmatched Brother Rice offensively in the first half by carrying the ball 24 times for 165 yards, but the Highlanders struggled in converting third downs last week against Fenton, and it was an issue again this week.
"We've been very successful running the ball the last four times we played them," Patritto said. "This year we're not very dynamic with our passing game, but we had guys in spots to make plays and we just didn't make plays."
Long drives by Brother Rice on offense seemed to siphon the life out of Adams deeper into the game, who didn't seem to match the intensity and desire of the Warriors both on the field and the sidelines. An 11-yard pass to Martin-Manley converted a fourth-and-long situation, and a 32-yard field goal by Warriors' junior kicker Adam Gorski helped cap a 17-play, 74-yard drive that lasted over eight minutes and sealed the game. Martin-Manley finished with five catches for 51 yards, and fellow senior receiver Nate Saldivar-Garcia matched his five catches for 71 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown pass from Popp for the first score of the game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the linebacker core of the Warriors made plays more consistently than the talented front seven of Adams. Junior linebacker Tim Hamilton finished with 10 tackles, including eight in the first half. Senior linebacker Justin Cherocci seemed to have a hand in every play, and totaled 11 tackles.
The Highlanders only score came after running back Tyler Martin scooped up a fumble by Adams junior quarterback Andrew Hammett and took the ball to the 2-yard line of the Warriors, followed up with a scoring run by junior fullback Sukhman Sidhu.
The Fracassa-led Warriors now advance to the Division 2 regional final against Midland next week.