Air LaPrairie was fueled up and ready for take-off on the Lansing Everett High School football field/runway Nov. 20, just after 1 p.m.
Mark LaPrairie, Rockford's dart-throwing junior quarterback, was armed and dangerous, having picked apart Howell's secondary for 331 yards in the Rams' 31-27 victory one week earlier.
But in this game, LaPrairie's flight pattern was changed dramatically by Plymouth's "Air Traffic Controllers" -- the nickname the team's defensive backs have earned from coach Marcus Wagstaff.
LaPrairie struggled throughout most of the Wildcats' 20-17 victory, completing just 12 of 30 aerials for 221 yards.
Plymouth's secondary has been lock-down good throughout this magical season, and especially in the playoffs, when the receivers tend to get faster and/or bigger each week.
The Wildcat DB's aren't blessed with a lot of size, but their quick and they hit like wrecking balls.
"Coach Wagstaff deserves a lot of credit for our success," said Adedamola Adebiyi, a senior cornerback. "He's a very good coach. Even if you mess up, he doesn't take you out right away. When he does take us out, he coaches us up on the sideline, then gets us right back out there."
The Air Traffic Controllers' tackling prowess was in full display in last week's victory over Rockford. Senior cornerback Anthony LeMerise made a huge red-zone tackle early in the third quarter to prevent a Ram touchdown and force a field-goal attempt.
Senior safety Phil Emminger's crunching third-quarter hit separated a Ram receiver from the ball and put Rockford in a third-and-long jam.
"Probably the most important thing we have to do is stay on top of the routes and read the quarterback," said sophomore Nate Emminger, who has excelled since being promoted from the junior-varsity squad in October.
"It takes speed and discipline," LeMerise said, when asked what skills were necessary to play defensive back.
Plymouth's next opponent -- Lake Orion -- likes to fling the ball around, although maybe not as much as Rockford.
"I get fired up when we play a team that likes to pass a lot," said senior cornerback Vic Hicks. "We know we're going to get a lot of action when we play passing teams."
"The CC game reminded me a lot of the good 'ol days when I played linebacker," said LeMerise, sparking laughter from his DB buddies. "I like coming up and making tackles."
All of the Air Traffic Controllers have made significant contributions during the post-season, including Ali Shahine, who picked off a first-quarter LaPrairie pass to set up a Kyle Brindza field goal.
Ed Wright can be reached at (734) 453-1980 or email@example.com.
This Nate Emminger interception sealed the Wildcats' 17-7 victory over Canton in a Division 1 district championship game. (PlymouthPictures.com photo)