Fugate rushes for 3 TDs, GR Catholic defeats Escanaba, 24-0, gets shot at defending D4 title on Friday
Traverse City – Not much has changed in a year.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central remains the team to beat in Division 4 and Escanaba continues to show improvements but the Eskymos are still a notch below the best team.
Catholic Central, the defending state champions, scored two touchdowns in a 2:09 stretch late in the first half to increase its lead to 17-0 and the Cougars went on to defeat Escanaba, 24-0, in a semifinal on Saturday at Thirlby Field in Traverse City.
Catholic Central (13-0) will play Edwardsburg (12-1) in the state final on Friday at Ford Field at 7:30 p.m. Edwardsburg trailed River Rouge, 21-12, before coming back to win, 32-21. The Eddies will be making their first appearance in a state final.
Last season Catholic Central defeated Escanaba, at home, in a regional final, 34-0.
Escanaba (10-3) was making its first semifinal appearance since 1981, the season where the Eskymos won their only state (Class A) title.
Catholic Central senior Nolan Fugate, one of the state’s most proficient running backs, rushed for 277 yards and three touchdowns on 44 carries. On many of Fugate’s carries he didn’t get touched until three to four yards downfield.
He had 142 yards and two touchdowns in the first half as the Cougars established their superiority in the second quarter and it carried over to the second half.
Escanaba had 48 yards in the first half. In last season’s regional final Escanaba was held to 36 rushing yards.
“That’s a heckuva team,” Escanaba coach Dave Howes said. “I hope they win states. It was like déjà vu from last year. They’re a fast team. They’re well-coached.
“Their (offensive line) is big and physical. We ran into a better team. It was a good run. The last couple of years we took a couple of steps forward.”
Escanaba was 5-5 two years ago and 9-3 last season.
The Cougars and Fugate left little doubt in the outcome on the first drive of the second half. Catholic Central started the drive on its 41-yard line and it took the Cougars 14 plays, 12 rushes by Fugate, to score. Fugate gained 66 yards (there was a 10-yard holding penalty on the drive) and finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run for a 24-0 lead. The drive ate up 6:38 off the clock.
Much of Catholic Central’s success is credited to its offensive and defensive lines. Escanaba gained just one first down in the first three quarters and had difficulty getting in Fugate’s way.
Fugate has had his way in many other games this season. Escanaba was just another team. Fugate has 2,655 yards this season and has scored 32 rushing touchdowns.
Jalen Mayfield, Catholic Central’s 6-5, 280-pound two-way lineman, dominated as he has so often. Other top linemen include Gabe Fernandez and Finn Perdue.
“It starts with every guy in our locker room,” Mayfield said. “It’s starts with the offensive and defensive lines. We talked about being the most physical team in the state. We don’t pride ourselves on making big plays. We want to drive the ball down the field.
“I think (Fugate) is clearly the best running back in the state. We just gave him a little crease.”
Catholic Central coach Todd Kolster and his staff much receive much of the credit this season. He had to replace 10 starters on defense and of the 16 seniors the Cougars lost to graduation, 15 were starters.
“Our offensive line has performed well all season,” he said. “We have so much expectations. It works hand in hand (running the ball). Fugate is over 200 pounds. If he has some room to run, he makes the linemen look good.
“Jalen is a difference maker. He gets a lot of publicity for making tackles behind the line and his sacks but he’s also our leader on the offensive line. He’s as good a football player as I’ve coached.”