Playoff season is upon us. And the De La Salle varsity football team, led by first-year Pilots head man Dan Rohn, is ready to go.
The Pilots open up postseason play in Division 2 with a matchup against Roseville High School this Friday at 7 p.m. EST (at Roseville).
Coming off a 2-4 regular season, the Pilots were tested on a weekly basis, including during Catholic League Central Division play.
Rohn & Co. went 1-2 against their Central Division foes, beating Orchard Lake St. Mary's and losing by a combined six points to Birmingham Brother Rice and Detroit Catholic Central, respectively.
Brother Rice and Catholic Central went a combined 11-1 in regular season play, with the Shamrocks finishing the campaign undefeated (6-0).
The smallest margin of victory for each team on the season came against none other than De La Salle -- the Brother Rice loss was by a margin of just two points in double overtime in Week 1, 27-25, and the Catholic Central defeat was by only four points in Week 3, 14-10.
It's a true testament to how tough it is to play in the CHSL Central division.
Even the Pilots' non-conference foes were some of the best in the state of Michigan.
Two of the three non-CHSL schools that DLS faced -- DeWitt and Detroit Cass Tech -- each went a perfect 6-0.
So, when you add up the records of all six opponents from De La Salle's schedule in 2020, you'll find that they finished a combined 26-8, undoubtedly making DLS one of the most battle-tested squads in the entire state headed into the playoffs.
Rohn views all the tough-sledding as having been a "learning tool" for his players on and off the field.
"You know, we played a tough Cass Tech team last week. And I saw more from our kids coming off the sideline in Week 6 after losing to Cass Tech, in the way that they carried themselves and handled themselves, than I did in Weeks 2 and 3," Rohn commented. "Our offensive line came off the field, kind of giving us examples of what they thought we could do and how we could work together. And that's huge growth because we were coming off the field in Weeks 1 and 2 and there were kids pointing fingers at each other and blaming each other. They just hadn't come together as a team yet. So, the growth I've seen in those things are the biggest things, and I hope to build on that going into the playoffs."
First up for the Pilots in postseason play is an aforementioned Roseville team that went 4-2 in regular season action, including 4-1 in the MAC Gold division.
Rohn sees the athleticism that the Panthers possess as one of the best elements of their football team.
"They're an extremely athletic football team, and they've had some success this year," Rohn said. "We've watched a lot of film on them. We've broken some things down. The quarterback (Robert Salter) can do a lot of things. They've got two kids with multiple offers (defensive tackle Malachi Clark and athlete Tyrell Henry) that are going to have an opportunity to play on Saturdays. So, our kids are going to have to come into this game prepared."
During practice this week, Rohn has emphasized to his players the importance this game could have for the surrounding community, with the two schools separated by approximately two-and-a-half miles.
"It's your chance, if you're Roseville, to compete with someone right down the road from you and with someone who's had a lot of success, whereas they maybe haven't experienced as much of it as we have in some of our sports," Rohn explained. "So, it's an odd game, because it's not really a rivalry and we don't play them every year. But, it is a rivalry in a sense, because of the proximity."
If Rohn & Co. beat the Panthers, they will play the winner of Port Huron Northern/St. Clair Shores Lakeview in the District 16 semifinal round.
For the Pilots to make any kind of run in this year's playoffs, Rohn believes it will take eliminating mistakes.
"We need to play some good, clean football," Rohn said. "And I think we've had some opportunities in games. We've been really close. But, then, we miss a block here or there, or we miss a catch or miss a read at quarterback. We've got to clean those things up."
Rohn also touched upon the importance of getting his defense to effectively communicate and producing big plays from an offensive and special teams standpoint.
"On defense, we've got to continue to play the defense that we played earlier in the year. We had a lot of guys flying to the ball and a lot of good communication, putting kids in a position to be successful," Rohn said. "We need to get some big (offensive and special teams) plays, too. We haven't gotten the big play in a while. And big plays allow teams to get excited and to play at a different level."
Stay up to date on the Pilots all postseason long right here at delasallehs.com and on Twitter @DLSFootball_MI.