WL Western survives Lowell's comeback attempt to advance to first state final since 1999
Brighton – When Walled Lake Western took a 37-14 lead early in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Division 2 semifinal against Lowell, it looked like the Warriors would easily cruise into their first state championship game since 1999.
Lowell, however, had other plans, scoring the next 20 points of the game to cut the Western to just three in the fourth quarter. But after the Western defense forced a turnover on downs, the Warriors faced a fourth down of their own, from the Lowell 31 yard line, trying to seal the game.
Western put the ball in the hands of Mr. Football candidate Cody White, who took a direct snap and made his way through the Lowell defense to get the first down and sealing a 37-34 win over Lowell, one year after falling to the Red Arrows in the semifinals, to advance to the Division 2 state final.
In the State Final, Western will face the defending State Champions, Detroit King, who earned a 14-7 win over Birmingham Groves in the semifinals.
Western head coach Mike Zdebski admitted that he considered a couple of different scenarios on fourth down, including punting, but felt that putting the ball in White’s hands was the best option.
“We thought about it a little bit and felt they were going to sell the house and then we thought about field position,” he said. “But we said let’s see if we can make a play here and keep it and put it in Mr. Football’s hands and there you go.”
While it was a celebratory moment for the Warriors, White felt a sense of relief.
“It was a relieving feeling,” White said of his first down run. “We accomplished our goal and now we’re going to Ford Field.”
A 40-yard touchdown pass from White, a wide receiver by trade, who has seen extended time at quarterback throughout the year, to Kam Ford with 9:45 left to play in the third quarter pushed the Western lead to 37-14, but from there, Lowell began climbing its way back into the game.
The Red Arrows responded almost immediately on a Nate Stephens 54-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit down to 37-21 and after forcing a three and out on defense, Lowell cut Western’s lead down to just 10, 37-27, following a David Kruse touchdown run from 1-yard out.
After Western drove down inside the Lowell 5-yard line late in the third quarter, the Red Arrows would force and recover a fumble to give its offense the ball. Lowell would then go on a 14-play 97-yard drive, capped off by a 15-yard touchdown run by Kruse to make it 37-34 with 7:46 left to play.
“Our kids have been doing that all year,” Lowell coach Noel Dean said of his team’s comeback bid. “I just think that playing a team that has a lot more talent than we have, our players played with a lot of poise and tenacity and played hard all the way through.”
Western would jump out to a 14-0 lead after one quarter after a 7-yard touchdown run by quarterback Johnny Tracy and a 6-yard touchdown run by Kam Ford. Ford’s touchdown was set up by a 38-yard pass from Tracy to Ford.
Zdebski noted that what led to his team’s success early on and allowing the Warriors to take a comfortable lead early on was his team’s ability to run the ball. Zdebski also added that if not for the turnover deep in Lowell territory in the second half, his team’s rushing attack would have more than likely prevented much of late game drama.
“We were able to run the ball,” he said. “If we punch that last one in instead of fumbling it, now you’ve got a little bit of cushion right there and there’s not so much drama.”
After Kruse score his first of three touchdown runs to cut the deficit down to 14-7, White took off on a 61-yard touchdown run after looking like he would be tackled for a loss, the senior Michigan State commit danced around defenders, found a hole and took off down the field, stiff arming a Lowell defender and found the end zone, pushing the Western lead to 21-7. White would later tack on a touchdown run from 24-yards out to give the Warriors a 28-7 lead late in the first half.
“He’s a gamebreaker, State’s getting a really good kid” Zdebski said of his senior star. “He just has a knack for making those plays and that’s why he’s going where he is and that’s why he has all the accolades that he does. Because plays like that, at critical points in time in a game. He’s done it many times during the season.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Remember to watch the highlights from this game on the STATE CHAMPS! HS Sports Show, Sunday morning at 9:00 am on Fox Sports Detroit!