By: Dan Stickradt
DIVISION 1 STATE FINALS: Clarkston’s defense stifles West Bloomfield’s high-powered engine to win third D-1 state crown
HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SCENE: Visit our site for sttate championships photo galleries.
BY DAN STICKRADT
DETROIT — All football coaches need to make adjustments in games or even at various points of a given season.
Such is the case at Clarkston.
Through Week 6 of the regular season, the unranked Wolves sat 4-2 following losses to West Bloomfield (37-15) and Rochester Adams (21-14) and out of the title chase for the OAA Red Division championship.
Clarkston, honorable mention in the Division 1 polls, made some much-needed adjustments after that point and posted eight straight wins to cap the season, including Saturday’s defensive showcase which ended in a 3-2 upset of No. 10 West Bloomfield in the Division 1 state finals at Ford Field.
Even though Clarkston was the favorite in 2013 and 2014 — when they captured its first two state titles in wins over Novi Detroit Catholic Central and Saline, respectively — the Wolves were underdogs this season. They found a way to make a surprise run to the D-1 state title to win the school’s third crown in five years.
“I reamed my coaches after Adams kicked our butt,” admitted 31st-year Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson of a Week 6, 21-14 setback. “We were not getting it done from the coaching standpoint. But we made some adjustments and started playing better. I tell you what, the kids responded in a big way. Our defense was great (down the stretch)."
In a game of field position, West Bloomfield backed Clarkston up inside its own 15. A bad snap on a punt sailed over the punter’s head and out of the back of the end zone gave West Bloomfield (11-3) a safety and a rare 2-0 lead — just the third time in MHSAA state finals lore that the opening points came off a safety.
It turned out to be the Lakers’ sole points of the night.
Clarkston’s defense forced three turnovers — including an interception in the end zone — and held fourth postseason opponent to single digits. Only in a 29-22 regional finals win over Holland West Ottawa did an opponent score double digits against the Wolves — and Clarkston shut out West Ottawa in the second half of that contest.
The Wolves outscored the opposition in the state tournament 124-38, good for 24.8 points a game on offense while holding opponents to a paltry 7.6 points per outing.
Overall, Clarkston outscored its 14 opponents 379-165, which averages 27.1 points a game on offense and 11.8 points on defense.
A first down and a roughing the passer penalty gave the Wolves a first down at the West Bloomfield 13 with six seconds left in the first half. Jermaine Roemer booted the ensuing 30-yard field goal through the uprights for what proved to be the game-winning three points.
“That was obviously huge. Who knew that those would be the difference,” said Richardson. “We knew we had to keep them off the field, force turnover, make things happen on defense. West Bloomfield is too talented to have (their offense on the field) for too long.”
The two interceptions — one late in the second half by Clarkston’s Zach Scott in the end zone — and one fumble recovery stymied West Bloomfield’s lethal threats.
Tieler Houston’s interception shut the door on the Lakers’ final drive at the Clarkston 43.
“I dove to my (left) and came down with it,” said Scott of his interception. I knew I had to step up and make the play.”
"I thought the interception in the end zone was huge," smiled Richardson. "Obviously that was one of the key spots in the game — you could see it. It gave us some momentum. Our defense made the plays at the right time.”
The game featured 14 total punts and set a MHSAA record for fewest points scored when both teams put points up on the scoreboard (five total points). The all-time lowest score was Ann Arbor Pioneer’s 3-0 shutout of Detroit Catholic Central back in the 1987 Class A title game.
West Bloomfield had never advanced past the district finals before this season. The Lakers averaged 33.5 points an outing (468 total points scored) and gave up only 18.3 points a game (255 points allowed).
Self-inflicted wounds led to the setback. An array of penalties — 11 flags for 105 yards — dropped passes, three turnovers and missed opportunities spelled doom for West Bloomfield.
The Lakers held a 285-117 edge on total-yards-offense only to be held to a season-low of points and no touchdowns for the first time.
“We also played great defense, holding them to a field goal,” sighed West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy. “We left a lot of points out on the field. Whether it be the turnovers, penalties, missed opportunities. We had our chances.
"Clarkston is a very good defensive football team, very well-coached and we knew that they would make adjustments,” continued Bellamy. “Every time we threatened, they made the big plays and we didn’t.”