De La Salle shuts down Detroit Catholic Central, 24-6, in Prep Bowl XLVI to repeat as Catholic League A-B champs
DETROIT — Nolan Schultz is sorta getting the hang of this quarterback thing.
And Warren De La Salle is making a habit of winning in Ford Field.
Led by Schultz’s breakout game as a quarterback, the Pilots rolled over Novi Detroit Catholic Central, 24-6, in Saturday’s Prep Bowl XLVI at Ford Field, as the defending Division 2 state champions repeated as Catholic League champs, as well.
Schultz ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 128 yards, as the offense was much more effective than it had been a week earlier in a 10-7 loss to CC in the Boys Bowl.
Was it Schultz’s best game as a quarterback, since taking over for the injured Anthony Stepnitz in Week 4?
“I’d say so. We changed a lot from last week. We blocked well, blocked a lot better, executed well, and really played well as a team,” Schultz said. “I feel as comfortable as ever. First game was all right, but I feel really confident now.”
The diminutive senior, who’d been primarily just a safety before Stepnitz’s injury required him to go both ways, got De La Salle (7-2, 2-1 CHSL Central) on the board with a 1-yard quarterback sneak in the first quarter. He would end the Pilots’ scoring in the fourth quarter, with a dazzling scramble where he spun out of several tackles, and turned it into a 70-yard scoring gallop.
“I don’t even know what those plays were. He just makes them up. When he gets back there, it’s just a toss-up. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We call a certain play, and there he goes — he’s running. He can run. He’s a good player. I said I would not talk about his height anymore — he’s just a good player. I’ll talk about his heart,” De La Salle coach Mike Giannone said. “It’s awesome, and he’s in great shape. He played the entire game. You know how it is in here. It’s dry. So it’s a testament to his athleticism and his conditioning, as well.”
It both helps and hurts that Schultz plays both ways.
Obviously, he can get worn down, as he appeared to in the Boys Bowl, when he was getting battered around by the Shamrocks’ pass rush.
“It feels fine on the field,” he said. “Thinking about it, I feel tired, but once I’m on the field, I feel fine.”
But it also helps as a quarterback, as he quite often can use his experience as a defensive back to see what the defenses are trying to do to stop him.
“For sure,” he agreed. “Years prior, I played quarterback, but I didn’t really know the defense. But this year, especially, I really know the defense.”
That makes a difference in him trying to force the ball to playmaker Josh DeBerry, when defenses are trying to take him away with double- or triple-teams.
“I felt like we should spread the ball out as much as possible,” Schultz said. “The last couple of weeks, I really mainly focused on Josh, because I didn’t understand the defense. This week, especially, I really learned more as a quarterback.”
The Pilots did try to get the ball in DeBerry’s hands as much as possible, running him on a handful of jet sweeps, and even lining him up at quarterback once in the Wildcat.
“Yeah, that was because our quarterback got his helmet knocked off, or pulled off,” Giannone laughed. “He’s a great player. If you don’t get it in his hands — I always say this: You can’t replace 64 people on our team, but you can replace one, and that would be me. So I’m not dumb enough not to get it into his hands. We’re going to do that. We’re going to make sure of it.”
But Schultz knows not to force it. And, even when he does, he also knows that DeBerry’s abilities can sometimes bail him out.
After Evan Vaillancourt’s 20-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-1 capped the first drive of the second half for De La Salle, putting the Pilots up 14-0, it was a catch in double coverage by DeBerry that set up a 37-yard field goal by Daniel Heppler in the waning seconds of the third quarter to make it 17-0.
The rest of the credit goes to the De La Salle defense, which only gave up a score by the Shamrocks when the backups were in for the final three minutes. Marco Genrich hit Nate Anderson with a 6-yard touchdown pass, but the 2-point conversion run failed, leaving it 24-6.
“Our defense was always good. They played well last Sunday, and they played well all year. They came through again. We never doubted our defense,” Giannone said. “It’s something that’s gotten us through the entire season, so far.”
Both teams will now await their postseason destinations, to be announced on Sunday evening’s selection show on Fox Sports Detroit. Giannone isn’t sweating it.
“I never cared about that (playoff points),” he said. “Tell us where we gotta play tomorrow night, and we’ll have some pizza, and we’ll tell the kids goodbye, and start working on that. It’s just time to work. We’re just happy to be back in the playoffs, because that’s been our goal since I started here three years ago. Worked it out again. We’re lucky enough to get back in the playoffs.”
And Schultz wouldn’t be adverse to playing in Ford Field one more time.
“Extremely excited (for the playoffs)” he said. “I’ve got faith in our team to be back here, state championship time.”