Thirteen state championships and dozens of postseason appearances have made the Farmington Hills Harrison Hawks one of the state's top football programs.
Throw in legendary coach John Herrington, and the Hawks (6-4) have enough to intimidate even the most competitive teams in Michigan.However, somewhere amid the dozen or so penalty flags in the second half, somewhere in between stalled drives, turnovers and fourth-down conversions, the Fenton Tigers (9-1) found a way to play in the present and not play the past Friday in their 22-19 predistrict victory over Harrison.
Tigers coach Jeff Setzke stressed "not playing the past" throughout the week, urging his players to accept the challenge of beating the 2012 version of the Hawks.
Overcoming a 13-8 deficit in the first half was just part of Setzke's winning equation. Sealing the deal with stout defense – along with the creating turnovers and minimizing mistakes – and relentlessly pursuing Hawks quarterback Je'Van Shaw was the other part.
"I think it was a test of wills in the second half – they made mistakes, and we made mistakes," Setzke said near the north end zone, just yards away from the scoreboard. "The kids showed a lot of resiliency, and we stayed after (Shaw and Harrison)... In a big game like this when it's one-and-done, you do what you have to do to move on."
Harrison running back Lorenzo Collins entered the Tigers' home with 634 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, stats that were far more impressive (on paper) than any Tigers ball carrier.
However, with the help of defensive lineman Jacob Keesee, Fenton capped Collins' night, allowing him to scatter for a paltry 50 yards on a couple handfuls of carries.
Shaw, an incredibly mobile quarterback, was forced to use his legs and dared to use his arm. Although he made a trio of accurate completions, the Tigers defense essentially made him a non-factor.
"We just knew what we were doing," Keesee said in the Tigers locker room. "He was fast, quick around the edge -- we just knew that we had to meet him at the edge, force him into the inside, get the cutback lanes and take him out. We prepared and prepared. We knew what we were up against. We knew they were a good football team."
Like Setzke, Keesee expressed an immense amount of admiration for Harrison's heritage and pedigree. But, like Setzke, Keesee knew he could only compete against the players before him -- not the Harrison stars of old that made the Hawks such a respected force.
"The past is the past, and this is the present," Keesee said. "We have to just keep playing and move forward."
The first half appeared to be the beginning of an offensive shootout. Fenton and Harrison marched down the field at will, seemingly laughing in the faces of the defenses.
Shaw had a pair of rushing touchdowns, 10 yards and four yards, in the first half that combined with Garius Coleman's two-point conversion run that gave Harrison a 16-13 lead.
Trent Grimes burst in the end zone on an eight-yard off-tackle scamper in between Shaw touchdowns to put Fenton on the scoreboard.
Zac Maas' 32-yard field goal put the Hawks on top, 19-13, but that kick wouldn't give them a lead for long. With 1:15 remaining in the second quarter, Tigers quarterback Connor Davidson connected on a 10-yard touchdown toss with Scott Lukas, tying the game 19-19 prior to Mitch Shegos' point-after-attempt.
A safety gave the Tigers the would-be final edge, 22-19, with just over seven minutes to play in the third.
Setzke didn't mind the "ugly" final two quarters. His mixture of pass-heavy sets in the first half complemented his spread-option looks from the second. As long as Harrison didn't score, Setzke was happy.
He knew that he had a defense capable of answering the call, and it did just that.
"They're a team that likes to run (the ball)," Setzke said. "And we were able to take them out of their comfort zone."
A predistrict win may not be a career-defining triumph, but it's certainly enough to raise a few eyebrows. Fenton has recently been to the quarterfinals and defeated upper-echelon programs like Midland Dow and Midland High in the "second season."
A victory over coach Herrington's Hawks was a step in the right direction, even if it was just a push toward a third straight district title for Fenton under Setzke, who took over the program eight years ago.
"I think that it's a real statement game for our program," he said. "We've played some incredible teams over the past three years, and we've beaten great teams.
"I think now we're arrived to where people say 'Hey, Fenton can play football.' But we're not done."