DIVISION 1: Chippewa Valley stops 2-point attempt to dethrone Clarkston as D1 champions
DETROIT — The dethroning came down to a defensive stand, one single play for all the marbles.
Chippewa Valley senior defensive lineman Mike Garwood snuffed out Clarkston’s 2-point conversion attempt for the lead in the waning seconds of the Division 1 state finals and with it lifted the Big Reds to their first D1 state crown ever Saturday at Ford Field.
The Big Reds held on for a 31-30 win in an instant classic of a game against the defending state champs.
Clarkston quarterback Jake Jensen rifled a 7-yard touchdown pass to Matt Miller with 23 seconds left to bring the Wolves back from as many as 14 points down in the second half and had them on the verge of either forcing overtime or a repeat state title — he piloted a 10-play, 80-yard drive to get them there.
Jensen and the Wolves didn’t blink in choosing the riskier path.
Veteran Wolves coach Kurt Richardson rolled the dice and went for 2, calling a reverse to wide receiver Josh Luther, who had run for a first down on a similar play on the same drive, but couldn’t find any breathing room on the conversion and was swallowed up by Garwood (six tackles) on the far right sideline. Tight end Brendan Barker was open in the end zone on the play, Garwood blanketed Luther so well though, the ability to pass the ball never materialized .
Chippewa Valley coach Scott Merchant wasn’t shocked by Richardson’s gutsy call to go for the win.
“This is football, nothing surprises me,” he said. “Clarkston was the champ, they wanted to take their destiny into their own hands and it was up to us to make a play. Garwood stayed home on the backside, he kept contain and got the stop.”
Richardson wasn’t second-guessing his decision in the postgame press conference.
“We play aggressive and we coach aggressive, I don’t regret the call one bit,” he said. “Our sideline, our huddle were all in on that play, it just didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.”
Indiana University-commit and Big Reds star wide receiver David Ellis took a kickoff return 94 yards for a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half to give Chippewa Valley a 31-17 lead at the break. Clarkston senior tailback Jake Honsetteter had just scored on a 3-yard run to make it 24-17. Ellis finished the 2018 campaign with seven special teams returns for scores (five kickoffs, two punts).
Senior quarterback Tommy Schuster was a perfect 13-of-13 passing Saturday for 205 yards and two touchdowns, both to Martice Bunting (a 36-yarder in the first quarter and a 34-yarder in the third quarter). Before Saturday, nobody had gone more than 12-of-12 in state finals history.
“We embraced the challenge to come in here and try to take out the defending champs,” Schuster said. “We went out there and proved a point with our play. That’s all you want to do in games like this, let your play do your talking.”
Last year, Schuster and Chippewa Valley lost to Detroit Cass Tech on a last-second 2-point conversion in the regional championship game. A three-year starter under center for the Big Reds, the cagey and cerebral Schuster tossed 76 career touchdowns and will go down as one of the best field generals to ever suit up in Macomb County.
Jensen was in his first year starting as a signal caller for Clarkston, however, it was hard to tell Saturday, as the senior cut into a formidable Big Reds defense for 110 yards through the air and 122 on the ground. His 44-yard scoring scamper on the final snap of the third quarter ignited the Wolves’ rally. Clarkston special teams stud and Buffalo-commit Tristan Mattson, arguably the No. 1 placekicker in the state, booted a 38-yard field goal in the first half.
Chippewa Valley kicker Niko Kepi legged a 36-yard field goal through the uprights with 4:45 remaining in the second quarter. Senior running back Andre Chenault scored on a 3-yard run early in the first quarter and senior cornerback Ja’Von Kimpson intercepted a pass for the Big Reds as well. Simpson is committed to Miami (OH). All-state linebacker and Michigan State-commit Marcel Lewis logged five tackles for the Chippewa Valley defense.
Clarkston (12-2) has appeared in the state finals in four of the last six years, winning three of them. Richardson assumed command of the Wolves program in 1986. The last state title for Chippewa Valley was a Division 2 trophy in 2001 under Mike Carr.