Walled Lake Western gets over the hump, reaches first state final in 17 years
Walled Lake – When a program experiences success over a period of years it’s easy for those involved to take for winning for granted.
Walled Lake Western won state titles in 1996 and ’99, and reached a semifinal in ’01. Mike Zdebski was the head coach of that ’99 team and was an assistant in ’96. Despite having some fine teams recently, highly-rated teams, the Warriors were never able to get back to a final. Twice Lowell eliminated Western in the semifinals in the last five years and on Saturday the two schools played once again in a semifinal. This time Western prevailed, 37-34.
“It is gratifying,” Zdebski said. “Our (assistant coaches) have been working hard and (Sunday) morning they came in and said they were tired. I said, hey guys we haven’t been here in a long time. Let’s enjoy this.”
Western (12-1) will play defending champion Detroit King (11-2) for the title on Friday at Ford Field at 1 p.m. and because of the short week to prepare Zdebski had his staff get back to work quickly after defeating Lowell. There’s no time to celebrate a semifinal victory when there’s just five days to prepare.
“We got started at 5 p.m. (Saturday),” Zdebski said. “We watched film, then I took a nap, and got up to watch more film (Saturday) night.”
Western jumped out early on Lowell and led 37-14 in the third quarter before the Red Arrows made it interesting.
Cody White, a State Champs Mr. Football candidate, led Western again. He rushed for two touchdowns and 104 yards and his 41-yard touchdown pass to Kam Ford gave Western its final touchdown.
Then Lowell woke up.
“Once they created a little momentum, they began to move the ball,” Zdebski said. “Their quarterback and running back aren’t small, and our tackles started to become arm tackles. They started to find gaps. The 2-to-3-yard gains became five and 6-yard gains. They started to get first downs and that was it. They bounced back quick after we scored and because of that they didn’t have to abandon the run game.”
At times Western helped the Red Arrows along. The Warriors committed 15 penalties and some were quite costly.
“They won’t happen again,” Zdebski said. “We survived but (the penalties) were frustrating.”
Utica Eisenhower’s 32-28 loss to Detroit Cass Tech in Saturday’s Division 1 semifinal was another heartbreaking loss for the Eagles. Four times Eisenhower reached a state final under coach Bob Lantzy and four times it lost. His last game at Eisenhower was in the 2011 state semifinal, also against Cass Tech, and the Technicians won that game, 6-3.
Much was made of Cass Tech’s fourth-quarter comeback and rightly so. The Technicians trailed 21-13 after three quarters and it was quarterback Rodney Hall and receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones who were given much of the credit for that comeback.
Let’s not forget two-way back Donovan Johnson, the player who rushed for over 200 yards the previous week in a 43-42 victory at Saline. Eisenhower held Johnson to two yards on four carries in the first half before Johnson broke loose for 121 yards on nine carries in the second half. His 41-yard run help set up Cass Tech’s second touchdown (Hall’s from 11 yards out) and his 35-yard run help set up Jaron Mangham’s 1-yard touchdown run that brought Cass Tech to within 21-19.