Traverse City West captures Patriot Game, ends 3-game losing streak to Central with 29-27 victory
Traverse City – Some games just carry more meaning than others during the regular season.
The Patriot Game is one.
Traverse City’s two public high schools, Central and West, played the sixth Patriot Game on Friday before 10,123 at Thirlby Field and West ended a four-game losing streak to its rival as the Titans (3-0) escaped with a 29-27 victory in the opener of the Big North Conference season.
It’s difficult to label anyone or any team as a loser in a game like this. The big winner was Traverse City, surrounding community and the veterans all across northern Michigan. Over 130 veterans were on the field in pregame ceremonies, which included a flyby by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter. Each player on both teams shock the hands of all of the veterans. Moments later the announcer reads off a list of servicemen from northern Michigan who died in action.
Among those names was that of Justin Hansen, a Kingsley graduate and former player for coach Tim Wooer, now the head coach at T.C. West. Hansen was killed in 2012 and it was Wooer who decided to do something for Hansen and others who died in battle.
Thus the Patriot Game was born.
All week the players are reminded, and remind themselves, what the game means. It’s more than just a rivalry. It’s an entire community coming together to remember those who fought for our freedom with the most important football game played as a backdrop.
West senior Ryan Hayes has been on the losing end too often for his liking. This time he was able to celebrate with his family and teammates.
Hayes, a 6-6, 250-pound two-way end, is a State Champs Mr. Football candidate. He had four receptions for 98 yards including a 38-yard touchdown reception that gave the Titans a 22-14 lead with 9:17 left in the third quarter. He also had two tackles for loss, a sack, three quarterback hurries and two of his punts went inside the Central 20-yard line.
“It just feels so good to get the win,” he said. “The games were so close last year, and the year before.
“You just try to block out all of (the emotions) and play.”
Senior fullback Andrew Campbell also played a key role in the victory. He had 13 carries for 103 yards and it was his 45-yard touchdown run with 1:12 remaining that proved to be the game-winning score. It gave West a 29-20 lead, a cushion that withstood Central receiver Bowen Brunner’s 10-yard touchdown catch with 19.2 seconds left. Campbell recovered the onside kick to effectively end the game.
“Ever since my brother’s junior year here I wanted to score a touchdown in the Patriot Game,” Campbell said. “The atmosphere is so different on the field. You just zone it out.
“The win over Central is definitely a relief. We had our hearts set on this.”
Last season Central won both games by scores of 10-8 and 13-12.
The game could hardly have been played more evenly. Each team had one turnover and West held a 337 to 331 advantage in total yards.
The difference? After quarterback Tobin Schwannecke’s second of three touchdown passes, this one to Terry O’Connor from 10 yards out, brought Central to within 22-20 with 11:09 remaining. Schwannecke’s conversion pass to Brunner appeared to have tied the game but Campbell stripped the ball loose to keep his team in front.
“There are so many plays you think about,” Central coach Eric Schugars said. “Early on we gave them the ball on the 10-yard line and they score. But our kids erased that. We took the lead (14-8). On that two-point play, that’s a 50-50 ball. The bottom line is we battled back.”
For Central (2-1) Schwannecke played an inspired game. He was 25 of 42 passing for 238 yards and no interceptions.