Dow High and Fenton may not quite be mirror images of each other, but as playoff opponents, they’re intriguingly similar.
Both football teams bring a dynamic young quarterback, a high-scoring spread offense, and a nine-game winning streak into their Division 2 football district final at Fenton on Friday. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
“This is a pretty even matchup,” said Dow coach Jason Watkins, whose Chargers are averaging 38.7 points a game while Fenton is averaging 37.1. “We both have similar athletes in similar spots (on the field).”
Chargers’ junior quarterback Bruce Mann has thrown for almost 2,400 yards and 30 touchdowns with only four interceptions, and has run for over 500 yards and 10 more scores.
Mann has thrown for 536 yards in the past two games alone.
For the Tigers, Flint Metro League First Team sophomore QB Josh Czarnota (6-feet-1, 195 pounds) has thrown for more than 1,500 yards and 21 TDs with eight INTs, and has covered 755 yards on the ground with 10 TDs.
“He’s poised beyond his years,” 10th-year Fenton coach Jeff Setzke said of Czarnota, who’s one of eight underclassmen on the Tigers’ starting offense. “He’s blessed with a good arm and can throw the ball well, but he also has good feet.”
“He doesn’t play like a sophomore,” agreed Watkins. “He runs well downhill. He looks like a good decision-maker.”
Mann has thrown nine TD passes each to 6-foot-6 Mike Robb and 6-foot-5 Devontae Stine and eight TD passes to Justin Cook. Through nine weeks, Robb had 740 yards receiving, Stine had 475, and Cook had 416.
“To some degree, I don’t know that you can defend them. They’re going to score their points,” Setzke said of Dow’s offense. “They have big, tall receivers, and their quarterback is extremely accurate.”
Czarnota’s top trio of receivers includes senior Kevin Lack with 489 yards and five TDs, junior Greg Lukas with 354 yards and four TDs, and junior Zach West with 321 yards and seven TDs.
Under Setzke, the Tigers have always been known for their team speed.
“That’s a staple of our program,” he said of speed and agility training. “We start that in late January and continue it until the season starts.”
Mann is Dow’s leading rusher, followed by Johnny Wilson with 394 yards and eight TDs through eight games.
The Tigers are led on the ground by Metro League First Team junior back Dylan Crankshaw (958 yards, 13 TDs).
Fenton’s defense, allowing 19.6 points a game, is led by senior end Chase Lynch (6-4, 220) — who Setzke said is an NCAA Division I prospect — inside linebacker Peyton Coffman with 108 total tackles, Lukas with seven interceptions at cornerback, and senior safety Ben Hajciar with three interceptions.
Dow’s defense, allowing 15.9 points a game, is anchored by junior linebacker Spencer Stephenson (51 total tackles through eight games), senior linebacker Brad Drenckpohl (44.5 tackles), and senior defensive backs Cook (39 tackles) and Jared Mohammed (30 tackles and eight pass breakups), among others.
Robb has bolstered the defense for the past two weeks and already has three interceptions, having returned two of them for touchdowns.
Watkins said that while his Chargers have improved every week, they still have better football left in them.
“We’ve been getting better from week to week,” he said. “But we’re looking to get faster and play harder and more physical. I would say we got a ‘B+’ or an ‘A-’ last Friday night (in a 42-7 playoff win over Midland High). I’m still looking for that ‘straight-A’ performance.”
While Dow has won its last three games by an average of 32.7 points, Fenton has won its last three by an average of 3.3, including last week’s 21-20 playoff win over Holly.
“We’ve had very tough games down the stretch, but that’s how you want to get ready for the playoffs,” Setzke said. “ … The goal is to get better every week, and I think we’ve accomplished that on both sides of the ball.”
Dow and Fenton have split their only two previous meetings — a 24-0 win by the Tigers in a 2010 district final, and a 30-21 win by the Chargers in a 2013 district semifinal. The two teams also met in a 7-on-7 tournament at Ford Field this past summer.
“When you’re playing a team as sound as they are, executing is going to be huge,” Watkins said of the keys to beating Fenton. “Just one turnover will make a huge difference.
“Defensively, we will have to bend but not break. We can’t give up the big plays. And special teams could be big this week,” Watkins added.
Friday’s winner will go on the road for next week’s regional final against the winner of Friday’s Birmingham Groves (10-0) at Walled Lake Western (10-0) game.
Dow is seeking its first district championship since 1997, when the Chargers were Class A runners-up.