Brighton, Canton, Northville and Walled Lake Western finished first in their respective football divisions of the Kensington Lakes Activities Association, and there’s probably no one happier about that than Western coach Mike Zdebski.
“Sometimes people knock you that you don’t play anybody, but we had them all,” he said.
The Warriors not only won all five of their KLAA North division contests, but their schedule also includes victories over Canton (33-30 in Week 2) and Northville (48-34 the following week). Should they win at Brighton on Friday, they’ll have a clean sweep over all the other division winners.
Under the KLAA's current format, the final regular-season games match teams from neighboring six-team divisions that finished in the corresponding spot in the standings. The North teams play at the site of the West schools, while South schools travel to Central sites.
The victors of the games between division winners are declared conference champions. Western (7-1, 5-0 North) is at Brighton (7-1, 5-0 West) for the Kensington Conference championship, while Canton (6-2, 5-0 South) at Northville (7-1, 5-0) will decide who wins the Lakes Conference crown.
“This is the first time we’ve played Brighton since the '90s when they had Drew Henson,” Zdebski said. “They have a couple of quarterbacks who are talented and they’ve gotten better offensively as the year has gone on. They’re solid on defense too.”
Northville and Canton, meanwhile, are two longtime rivals from the KLAA’s forerunner, the Western Lakes League, and thus are familiar with each other. Northville – which dealt Brighton its only loss this season -- won conference crowns last year and in 2013. Mustangs coach Matt Ladach is pleased to play for another one.
“When my staff came together nine years ago, it was our goal to become one of the premier teams in the KLAA,” he said. “I feel like we’ve done a really good job, and our players over the years have really bought into everything we’re trying to teach them.”
Western, which has won the past three years, has had the most success of any school since the KLAA championship format was established in 2009. Zdebski said a win Friday will take on added meaning since Western is one of the 10 schools slated to leave the league next year to pursue other options.
“Yeah, it’s bittersweet,” he said. “We’re going to talk about it this week. It’s the last time for this conference and we’re going to let the kids know the significance of it. We’re moving into something different.”
The defectors include the conference’s entire North division (the three Walled Lake schools, the two Waterford schools, and White Lake Lakeland), the two South Lyon schools (from the KLAA Central), and Milford from the KLAA West. In addition, West division member Pinckney will leave, returning to the Southeastern Conference.
Western’s new league hasn’t been named yet, and the football schedule format hasn’t been set.
“The ADs are in all those meetings right now and getting things all ironed out with the by-laws. If Pinckney would have stayed it would have been 10 teams, but it’s going to be a 9-team league,” Zdebski said. “Right now the by-laws say one trophy.”
Even though Northville is one of the holdovers, Ladach said he doesn’t quite know what the future will bring, either.
“Every year brings new opponents and every year brings new challenges, and we’ll be excited no matter what conference we’ll be playing in,” he said. “We’ll have the same goals next year no matter what.”