In Play with Tom Markowski

Cass Tech heads to Ford Field after slipping past Canton, 48-41, in the snow

Football   | Tom Markowski

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Troy – Aaron Jackson had never played in weather conditions quite like he did on Saturday. The sophomore quarterback from Detroit Cass Tech had never started a game until Cass Tech’s Division 1 semifinal against Canton.

The blizzard that swept across the state looked to be the perfect storm for Jackson to fail. In his corner was a talented team, one with experience, one that plays with poise.

He did everything but fail. Jackson’s threw two long touchdown passes to one of the country’s top junior receivers, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Cass Tech held on to defeat Canton, 48-41, at Troy Athens.

Cass Tech (11-2), state champions in 2011 and ’12, will play Romeo (12-1) for the title next Saturday at Ford Field at 1 p.m.

Romeo will make its first final appearance.

“Of course I was nervous,” Jackson said. “I have the best teammates. I was confident playing with them. (Peoples-Jones) is the best athlete in the country.

“It was a good nervous. I was anxious. It’s a team thing. It was definitely the worst (conditions) I’ve played in. But it’s definitely one of the best days of my life.”

When Donovan Johnson scored on a 21-yard touchdown run with 7:39 left to give Cass Tech a 48-28 lead, Canton’s hopes appeared to be dashed.

But the Chiefs came back to create some anxious moments for Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher.

Quarterback Jake O’Donnell threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Brennan Pelland to pull the Chiefs to within 48-34 with three minutes left.

Colin Troup recovered the onside kick at the Technicians’ 48 and nine plays later Canton workhorse Marcus Sanders’ 2-yard touchdown run brought his team to within 48-41 with 36.4 seconds left.

Again Canton recovered the onside kick the Chiefs did not seriously threaten.

Canton (10-3) was often its own worst enemy. It lost three fumbles. Twice it fumbled on Cass Tech’s 1-yard line.

“We left some points on the board,” Canton coach Tim Baechler said. “We stopped their run, finally, in the second half. Our corners played like eight graders. The fumbles? What can you do about them? It’ll be hard to watch the film of this.”

Sanders was outstanding, as he has been throughout the season. The junior had 303 yards and four touchdowns on 40 carries.

Sanders got the attention of Wilcher all week in preparation.

“We just wanted to stop him,” Wilcher said.

Cass Tech’s starting quarterback, Rodney Hall, suffered a leg injury last week forcing Wilcher to go with Jackson. Jackson was 4-of-5 passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns. Peoples-Jones had three receptions for 185 yards.

Cass Tech’s rushing attack was solid. Donovan Johnson had 146 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries, and Tim Cheatem had 128 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries.

“(Jackson) did things he was supposed to do,” Wilcher said. “I knew we had two good quarterbacks. I wasn’t concerned.”

The Technicians were extremely efficient in the first half as the scored on all four possessions to take a 28-14 lead.

Trailing 7-0, Cass Tech tied the game on Cheatem’s 34-yard touchdown run.

After stopping the Chiefs on a fourth down try, the Technicians took over on their 35. Three plays later, plus a Canton personal foul, Donovan Johnson scored on a 24-yard run for a 14-7 lead with 5:39 left in the first quarter.

Canton drove to the 1-yard line but on fourth down it fumbled into the end zone and Cass Tech recovered.

It took Cass Tech eight plays this time to score. A 20-yard pass from quarterback Jackson to Marcel Paul set up Jackson’s 3-yard touchdown run.

Sanders’ 1-yard touchdown run brought the Chiefs back to within 21-14 and, after Jesse Warner recovered an onside kick, Canton took over on Cass Tech’s 47 but failed to gain a first down as, again, Canton was stopped on fourth (and-1) down with 1:54 left.

That left the Technicians plenty of time to score. Jackson’s 27-yard pass to Peoples-Jones to the 1-yard line led to Cheatem’s 1-yard touchdown run with 25.6 seconds left.