By Mark Blentlinger
The road to a state football championship for Schoolcraft’s team has often gone through Jackson, where Lumen Christi believes it’s the top dog in Division 7 playoffs. They proved indeed they are on their home field, Nov. 15, beating the Eagles 35-30 in a closely fought duel. The Jackson team is now in the state finals for the fifth year in a row, having beaten Cass City in the quarterfinal game.
The Eagles handed the 10-0 Lawton Blue Devils their first loss to end the team’s season Nov. 8. The high-flying Eagles were able to put up a total of 591 yards against Lawton’s 298, winning 47-10 and giving the team another week of practice and closer to Ford Field.
The next week, however, was not going to be a walk in the park. The Eagles would be hitting the road and heading east to Jackson and Lumen Christi to take on the three-time Division 6 state champions. This year, however, the Titans are in Division 7 and planned on winning another state championship. The Titans sported an 11-0 record; the Eagles, 10-1. The first meeting of these two teams came three years earlier, in the Division 6 District Championship in Schoolcraft, where the Titans were able to stop an Eagle drive with an interception in the end-zone, resulting in a field goal to win 37-34 in overtime. The Titans were facing a Clark then as well – Ricky Clark, a two-time Kalamazoo football player of the year.
Now the Titans would be facing off against Kobe Clark, who was also on the 2016 team as a freshman, playing alongside his older brother. The scene was set. It was a cold Friday night, with snow piled all around the outside of the turf field and heaters on the sidelines.
The Eagles’ first possession ended with a punt on a fourth down. The home team showed some serious ball movement and with all of their size on the offensive line, took the lead on a 33-yard run by number 6, Walker Plate, and the scoreboard read 7-0 Titans.
With another four and out from the Eagles, the Titans hit paydirt again on a one-yard run from Plate. The first quarter ended with the Titans up 14-0. Early in the second quarter, the Titans would find themselves holding a 21-0 lead. The Eagles were able to finally light up the visitor sideline and scoreboard with a 13-yard pass from quarterback Alex Thole to fellow junior Harmon DeVries. Unfortunately, the extra point was wide of the goal posts. The Titans would add another seven before the half ended, giving them the 28-6 lead. Midway through the third quarter, it looked like the Titans were no longer worried about the Eagles and led 35-6. The Eagles, however, were not just going to roll over and give up. Alex Thole hit Parker Lawerence in stride with a perfect 83-yard pass, for an Eagle score. Unfortunately, the Eagles extra point attempt failed again.
Within the first minute of the fourth quarter, Thole’s pass found Lawerence again for a 2-yard score, but again, the extra point eluded the Eagles. With 7:51 left in the game, the duo of Thole to Lawerence struck again, this time on a 72-yard touchdown pass, adding six more for the Eagles. The Titans and their fans began to squirm a little. Thole then added his fifth touchdown pass of the game to Jimmy Downs, from 15 yards out. With another missed extra point, the clock read 1:05. An onside kick failed to go the required 10 yards. The Titans took a knee three times to seal the deal, giving them the win 35-30 and the Regional Championship.
“We were able to put together some quick plays that gave us a chance to come back,” Head Coach Nate Ferency said after the game. He’s proud of the offense, giving Thole time to make his reads and get the ball to the playmakers. “I couldn’t be prouder of all of my guys for never giving up.”
Player of the year candidate, Kobe Clark, fought back tears and said, “I am so proud of all of my teammates. We continued to fight right to the very end. We fought and never gave up.”
The Schoolcraft Eagles will be losing 17 seniors, but Coach Ferency said, “I hope the foundation has been laid by this team and we continue the path we are on.”