DIVISION 1 FOOTBALL STATE FINALS: Clarkston gains first state crown with resounding victory over perennial power Catholic Central
BY DAN STICKRADT
DETROIT — In its first-ever appearance in a football state title game, Clarkston made a few mistakes Saturday at Ford Field. The Wolves had a pass intercepted in the end zone, missed an extra point and even had a pair of two-point conversion runs stalled before the goal line.
But make no mistake about this fact: Clarkston is the 2013 Division 1 state champion.
Clarkston, which fell short in the Final Four three times in the past 14 years, finally finished the season on the highest of notes, downing perennial state powerhouse Novi Detroit Catholic Central, 32-14, for the school’s first football state championship.
It marked the Wolves’ first state title in any sport since the girls cross country team won three straight D-1 crowns from 2003-2005.
“This one is for every kid that has ever worn the (Clarkston) uniform for us, every fan that has sat out there and frozen their butt soft, every parent that has come out and called me names and whatever…this one is for C-Town,” smiled Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson, who took over the Wolves program back in 1987 and has compiled a 203-78 record over 27 seasons without ever coaching on the season’s final day until now.
Senior running back Ian Eriksen, bound for Eastern Michigan University, finished his final game in a Wolves uniform with 32 carries for 237 yards and also finished with multiple single-game, season and career records during his stellar three-year varsity career for Clarkston. Eriksen scored on runs of 37, 1 and 12 yards, all in the second half, in the title game.
Junior DJ Zezula finished a crisp 10-for-15 passing for 154 yards and two touchdown passes and senior Caine Watlington (two catches, 53 yards) and junior Shane Holler (three catches, 34 yards) were also key factors behind Clarkston’s powerful offensive line anchored by Nick Mattich and Adam Mattich.
Merrick Canada, Reid Kaminski and Jacob Armstrong all had seven tackles, while Nick Mattich, David Beadle and Eriksen all recorded sacks for Clarkston. Tim Cason had the lone interception for the Wolves.
Finally having the right makeup of players and reaching the summit together was a dream for Clarkston’s players for several years.
“This was the goal all along, but with the injuries and other things that happened, you just never know,” said Eriksen. “We believed that once we got here that we could beat them. We knew what kind of talent we had on this team. So many of us have played together since we were (in elementary school) and we are all so close.”
Clarkston (13-1) collected 442 yards of offense and punted only once, controlling the clock throughout long stretches of the contest. The Wolves forced the Shamrocks into three punts and only 290 yards of offense. Clarkston stopped CC inside the 20 twice, while chewing up 27:58 of clock.
Controlling the clock is Catholic Central’s bread-and-butter year-after-year and the Wolves defeated the Shamrocks at their own game.
“They did a great job of controlling the clock,” said veteran Catholic Central coach Tom Mach, who is now 10-6 all-time in state title games, all with the Shamrocks. “They are big, strong, powerful team and, yes, I think they beat us at our own game.”
Clarkston, after being picked off in the end zone on its second drive, put together a long drive beginning at its own 9 that ended when Zezula hit Holler down the middle for a 15-yard touchdown strike with 13 seconds left in the first half. The extra point was missed, leaving the Wolves with only a 6-0 lead at the half.
Clarkston outgained Catholic Central 193-102 in the first half while holding the Shamrocks to seven first downs and no points over the first 24 minutes. The Wolves intercepted the Shamrocks once inside the 25 in the first quarter.
Clarkston (13-1) took the opening drive of the second half down the field, capped by Eriksen’s 37-yard burst for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, leaving Clarkston still in the driver’s seat at 12-0 with 8:18 left in the third quarter.
The Wolves padded their lead to 18-0 with 3:59 to play in the third stanza, with Eriksen bouncing through traffic for a 1-yard score. Again the conversion failed.
Catholic Central finally broke into the scoring column when Dylan Rodney scored on a 2-yard plunge, ending a nine-play, 80-yard drive with 45 seconds left in the third frame. Zach Bock nailed the extra point to cut the deficit down to 18-7.
Clarkston, only the second team to score more than 30 points against the Shamrocks’ stingy defense this season, answered again with 8:35 to play when Zezula found a streaking Watlington down the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown pass. Shane Hynes nailed the extra point for a comfortable 25-7 advantage.
The Shamrocks (11-3) chewed back into the lead, courtesy of Alexander Bock’s 48-yard touchdown reception from the arm of Sean Birney and Zach Bock’s extra point that brought CC some hope in a 25-14 hole. That was as close as Catholic Central would get.
Clarkston capped the scoring with 4:06 to go when Eriksen scored on a 12-yard dash and Hynes booted the point-after-attempt. Eriksen set up the play with a 30-yard scamper on the previous play.
The Wolves also halted CC on the Clarkston 17 yard line with 2:35 remaining to help seal the deal.
“A lot of these kids have been together since the fifth grade, the sixth grade, so they came up through the ranks and they have (grown up) together,” said Richardson. “Getting here was the goal — it has been for years. But in the beginning (of the season), there were issues…believe me we had issues. We improved so much since the first game of the season.”
For Catholic Central, it marked the third straight season the Shamrocks lost in the state title game.
“It’s always the goal to get here and it’s never an easy road,” said Mach, whose team played in the state finals for the fourth time in five years. “I’m proud of our team and the fact that we got here again. We improved a lot since the beginning of the season and I didn’t think at the beginning of the year that we would be here.”
Connor Holton had 44 yards on nine rushes for Catholic Central, while Birney finished 13-for-23 passing for 166 yards. Alexander Bock corralled four passes for 79 yards and Zack Bock had five catches for 59 yards for the Shamrocks.
Jack Van Acker had 12 tackles and Jordan Jenkins added 11 tackles for Catholic Central, which failed to collect a sack and forced only one turnover in the contest.
For the Clarkston community, which has long since starved for a football title and watched Oakland County powerhouse programs like Novi Detroit Catholic Central, Birmingham Brother Rice, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Farmington Harrison, Birmingham Detroit Country Day, Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, Rochester Adams and Lake Orion combine for more than 30 state championships during Richardson’s tenure, this win was decades in the making. The Wolves can finally put their program in that same elite group.
“(Winning a state championship) has obviously been our goal for a long time,” added Richardson. “We wanted to bring our program to that point. Winning breeds winning and this obviously helps our program to stay strong.”
Strong enough to be No. 1 when its counts the most.