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McCabe: Parma Western takes one giant leap into playoffs | USA Today High School Sports

Dave Mifsud

Dave Mifsud

Parma Western football coach Dave Mifsud was conducting his parents’ meeting last spring when he went to the video screen.

“I pulled up my long-term goals, which was part of my application packet,” he said. “I said in Year 3 we’d be in the state playoffs.”

That might have seemed like a reasonable goal at most schools, but at Western it was like John F. Kennedy proclaiming we would put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

“The first time I met the team, April of 2013, I didn’t talk to them about winning,” Mifsud said. “I said our goal was to get to the playoffs.”

Well, here we are in Year 3 of Mifsud’s tenure at Western — and there was a reason the football team found itself in the school auditorium Sunday evening, waiting to see the name Parma Western appear on the selection show for the first time ever.

It capped an amazing weekend that began with a 28-0 victory over Dexter which earned the Panthers their sixth victory and a spot in the playoffs.

Michigan high school football playoff matchups!

When the game ended, the fun began.

“It was awesome after the game,” Mifsud said. “Ryan Hackworth, our athletic director, set things up and made it such an event afterwards. He knew I was worried about jinxing it. It was all moving too fast for me to take everything in clearly, but they shot something up and confetti was coming through the air. He let the fans come on the field and we had a celebration, but it wasn’t like chaos.”

Chaos would be an apt description of the Western program before Mifsud left perennial playoff participant Dearborn after 16 years as head coach looking for another challenge.

His players may have looked at Mifsud like he was the man in the moon when he talked about the playoffs.

“I’ve hammered it into the kids all season, goal No. 1 is to perform your best every day and goal No. 2 in to compete at a high level,” he said. “Goal No. 3 was to be the first Western High School team to qualify for the state playoffs. All season I would say, Goal No. 1 and goal No. 2, if you achieve these you will achieve No. 3.”

Before the team left the locker room Friday, Mifsud said something for the first time in his three years as their coach: “Tonight’s the night. It’s the first time we can say we achieved all three of these goals.”

It helped that sophomore Steele Fortress completed 11 of 15 passes for the second week in a row, making him 22 of 30 for 386 yards and five touchdowns over the last two games combined.

That is part of the reason why Western was able to enjoy a terrific weekend that ended with the selection show’s announcement of a first round game against Coldwater.

“I think we put it all in good perspective going into the game and I think they really embraced the moment after the game,” Mifsud said. “It was a great thing for the kids and the community.”

Two powerhouses bump up into Division 2

The biggest adjustments when the 256-team playoff field was set came in Division 2, which got infinitely more difficult. Muskegon, which has lost in the state finals the last three years, and Lowell were bumped up from Division 3, which is where they were ranked all season.

That means No. 3 Muskegon Mona Shores, the Division 2 runner-up a year ago, will have to get by Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern this week and then have a possible rematch with No. 7 Muskegon, which it beat, 21-18, in Week 8. Of course, the Big Reds will have to beat No. 5 Traverse City Central this week before it worries about Mona Shores.

Awaiting the winner from that district will probably be No. 4 Lowell, a state contender year in and year out. And that is just to get to the semifinals where a team like No. 2 Walled Lake Western or No. 6 Farmington Hills Harrison could be waiting.

Zeeland West could get state finals rematch

Another noteworthy adjustment came in Division 4 when Zeeland West, which was ranked No. 1 in Division 3, slipped down a division.

That means that West and its two-tight end, full-house backfield will be on a collision course for a championship game rematch against No. 2 Birmingham Detroit Country Day, which defeated West, 37-30, in the 2007 championship game.

Saints alive! Division 6 will be tough

A monumental shift occurred in Division 6 when Traverse City St. Francis moved up from Division 7, where it had seemed destined to meet Detroit Loyola in the finals.

Instead, No. 2 St. Francis could wind up with a semifinal game against No. 1 Ithaca, which has played in the last five state championship games and had its 69-game winning streak, as well as its run of four-straight state championships, snapped by Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, which could also wind up in the Division 6 finals again.

Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.

Mick McCabe’s football rankings heading into playoffs


Mick McCabe’s picks for state champion in each division:

Division: 1


Record: 8-0

Division: 2

Detroit King

Record: 9-0

Division: 3

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s

Record: 7-1

Division: 4

Zeeland West

Record: 9-0

Division: 5


Record: 9-0

Division: 6


Record: 9-0

Division: 7

Detroit Loyola

Record: 7-2

Division: 8


Record: 9-0


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