Dakota makes enough big plays to defeat St. Mary's, 35-28
Macomb – Two of the state’s top teams combined for 63 points in the season opener on Thursday yet it was a defensive play that proved to be the game-clincher.
Jaylen Hall had three touchdown receptions, Evan Sivec returned a punt for a touchdown and No. 3-ranked Macomb Dakota held on to defeat No. 2-ranked Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 35-28 before a near capacity crowd at Dakota.
Dakota quarterback Brett Droski was 10-of-15 for 248 yards and four touchdowns but his fine showing, and that of his offensive teammates, might have went for naught if not for Chris Magee’s fumble recovery on Dakota’s 11-yard line with 2:17 left.
"I was in the right place at the right time," Magee said.
Dakota trailed 14-7 in the first quarter then scored 21 consecutive points to take a 28-14 lead on Hall’s third touchdown reception, a 74-yarder from Droski with 7:16 left in the third.
Even that score was set up by a defensive play. And it was Magee, again, who stood tall.
St. Mary’s faced a fourth-and-2 at the Dakota 27 and just about everyone in the stands knew who St. Mary’s coach George Porritt would call on. RaShawn Allen is a 5-9, 200-pound running back and Dakota had trouble containing the senior all game. Allen appeared to have picked the right hole but Magee, a 5-10, 165-pound senior defensive back, was waiting for him. Magee stopped Allen a yard short of the first down and on the next play Droski and Hall hooked up for the third time.
“It’s all about heart, not about size,” Magee said.
St. Mary’s closed to within 28-21 on Caden Prieskorn’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Ky’Ren Cunningham with 6:33 left in the third but Dakota’s special teams came to the forefront when Sivec returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown and Dakota regained its 14-point lead with 10:13 left.
Allen’s 35-yard touchdown run with 8:02 left cut the Cougars’ lead in half and the Eaglets looked to be in fine shape to tie the score when Dwayne Chapman recovered a fumble on Dakota’s 13 with 2:55 left. St. Mary’s gave it back two plays later and Dakota ran out the clock.
“All we had to do is run the ball,” Porritt said. “We made too many mistakes.”
On one fourth-quarter drive inside Dakota’s 20 the Eaglets committed three major penalties that pushed them back to midfield. That drive stalled and they were forced to punt.
Allen rushed for 200 yards on 26 carries but the real surprise happened when Dakota had the ball.
St. Mary’s, the defending Division 3 champions, returned eight starters on defense but this unit had trouble containing the pass.
Hall had three receptions for 155 yards and Sivec had three catches for 27 yards and one touchdown.
Greg Baur made his debut as head coach at Dakota and downplayed the victory to some extent.
“St. Mary’s is really, really good,” he said. “To score 35 points on them is something special. We thought we could get Jaylen deep on them. He’s special. Not many know about him.
“But it’s only one game. I’m real happy we won. But it’s not a league game. It’s a good win but we have (Utica Eisenhower) next.”
Eisenhower is picked to finish in second behind Dakota in the Macomb Area Conference Red Division.