In Play with Tom Markowski

Jake Smith shines in the second half, Ithaca takes down Clinton, 27-20, to win fifth Division 6 title in last six years

Football   | Tom Markowski

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Detroit – Sometimes it’s the tough-love talk that produces the best results.

Stymied and frustrated for just over a half, Ithaca began playing like a team that recently won four state titles.

Senior quarterback Jake Smith was rather ordinary in the first half (67 yards in total offense). In the second half he was the best player on the field.

Smith passed for two touchdowns and ran for two, all in the second half, as Ithaca erased a 13-0 deficit and defeated Clinton 27-20 in the Division 6 final on Friday at Ford Field.

Ithaca (14-0) won titles in 2010, ’11, ’12 and ’13 before losing to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in the final last season, a loss that snapped a 69-game winning streak.

Smith, whose bother, Travis, was the starting quarterback on the last two title teams, made his brother proud.

But it took a few words of encouragement from coach Terry Hessbrook in order for Smith to get the message.

“I called Jake out,” Hessbrook said. “They have Mathew Sexton and some great players. I challenged him.

“I was pretty hard on him.”

Smith responded as he rushed for 134 yards on 20 carries and was 5-of-11 passing for 119 yards, all in the second half.

“I ran hard the whole game,” Smith said. “It was just the offensive line and how they opened up the holes. I wasn’t panicking. I wasn’t going to let what happen last year happen. Everyone wants to go out on top.”

Smith’s 14-yard touchdown run got Ithaca on the board with 8:03 left in the third.

Ithaca’s next possession features the game’s strangest play, one that Smith said was the biggest. Smith threw a sideline pass to Spence appeared to be a play that could go for a touchdown. But as Spence broke free he tight-roped down the left sideline when suddenly he dropped the ball. He alertly scooped it up and completed a 22-yard pass play. Two plays later Smith threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to DeMull for a 14-13 lead with 4:31 left.

“I don’t how I broke he tackle,” DeMull said. “Then I was running down the sideline and I felt the ball slowly slipping from my hands. Luckily I picked it up.”

Ithaca scored again on its next series as Smith went back to pass, scrambled and bounced off a hit by linebacker DeShano at the 20, made spin move at the one before crossing the goal line for an 11-yard touchdown run.

Ithaca faced a thord-and-21 on its next series when Smith completed a 27-yard pass to Grant Gimmey for a first down. Smith’s 24-yard run led to his 1-yard touchdown run and a 27-13 lead with 7:47 left in the game.  

Clinton senior running back Noah Poore’s 4-yard touchdown run with 4:59 left cut Ithaca’s lead to 27-20.

Jace Demenov recovered the onside kick but Clinton wasn’t though. It stopped Ithaca on downs and took over on its 30 with 1:47 remaining. A 16-yard catch-and-run by Poore was the last first down Clinton managed and Derek Teed’s sack on fourth down effectively ended the game with 1:10 left.

“We played some great defense in the first half,” Clinton coach Scott McNitt said. “We got tired and we lost some momentum then. Their defense is really quick.

“We didn’t let (Smith) loose in the first half. He showed he was the best player on the field.”    

Sexton led Clinton (13-1) with 141 yards on 20 carries. The rest of the team had 38 rushing yards.