Clarkston defeats Saline, repeats as champions
Detroit – Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson and his quarterback D.J. Zezula were on the same page on Saturday. Even when Clarkston trailed 10-7 at halftime to Saline Richardson and Zezula didn’t alter the game plan, they trusted with what worked the past two seasons.
Clarkston rushed for 206 yards in the second half, scored the three unanswered touchdowns then held on to defeat Saline 33-25 in the Division 1 final at Ford Field.
Nolan Eriksen rushed for 172 and scored three touchdowns on 28 carries for Clarkston. Eriksen’s brother, Ian, also rushed for three touchdowns in last season’s state final. Ian Eriksen was redshirted this past season at Eastern Michigan.
Clarkston (14-0) had never played in a title game before last season. The Wolves defeated Detroit Catholic Central 32-14 in last season’s final and currently own the state’s longest winning streak at 27 games.
“I made more of a mental adjustment (at halftime),” Zezula said. “Just go out there and do what I do.”
Zezula has proven to be a winner since he became a starter in 2012. Clarkston is 38-2 with him as a starter. Clarkston was upset by Rockford 25-14 in a 2012 region final and lost the ’13 opener to Rochester Adams, 12-7.
A dual threat quarterback, Zezula shock off a sub-par first half by throwing a 52-yard touchdown pass to Merrick Canada and rushing for 97 yards including a 70-yard touchdown run that gave the Wolves a seemingly safe 27-10 lead with 8:17 remaining.
“I’ve got to give it to the kids,” Richardson said. “The old Kurt would have blown up at halftime. We had two turnovers and I just told them we didn’t play well.”
Clarkston cleaned up its act in the second half as it had one penalty and no turnovers.
Nevertheless Saline (12-2), playing in its first state final, was never out of it. Josh Jackson’s 1-yard sneak pulled the Hornets to within 27-17 with 5:15 left and Kevin Gross’ 2-yard touchdown run and Jackson’s conversion pass had Saline within one score with 1:09 remaining. Shane Holler recovered the onside kick and Clarkston ran out the clock.
Jackson, a junior who became a starter this season, played well. He was 20 of 31 for 237 yards and one interception, and had 17 carries for 82 yards.
Saline missed on a number of opportunities to score, the first coming on a muffed a punt in the first quarter that gave Saline possession at the Clarkston 37. Cole Chewins blocked a Saline 36-yard field goal try ending that drive.
It also missed a 24-yard field that would have trimmed Clarkston’s lead to 20-13 early in the fourth.
Saline coach Joe Palka said his team had the momentum at halftime after kicking a field goal on the last play but that Clarkston took away that momentum in the third quarter.
Clarkston scored on its first drive to take a 13-10 lead and held Saline to 11 yards on its first two drives.
Palka said his defense had difficulty containing both Eriksen and Zezula.
“(Eriksen) has the good combination of toughness and speed,” Palka said. “He’s more powerful than he looks on tape.”