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Donovan Edwards carries No. 1 West Bloomfield past No. 3 Oak Park in defensive struggle

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, August 31, 2019, 12:50 am

WEST BLOOMFIELD — One by one, as he sat on the bench, head in his hands, looking like he felt like he’d just cost his team the Super Bowl, Donovan Edwards’ West Bloomfield teammates came over to him, trying to console the Lakers’ star junior running back.

He shrugged them all off, lost in his own misery.

Only one consolation got through, and shook him out of the fog.

“Coach (Ken) Rys, our offensive coordinator, he just said ‘You’re going to score on this play … you’re going to score right here.’ I was like ‘All right,’” Edwards said. “I’ve got confidence in my offensive line, I trust them all day.”

He did just that, taking his third touch of the game to the house for a touchdown, the biggest play in a 20-14 victory for No. 1-ranked West Bloomfield over No. 3 Oak Park, a game that was otherwise largely settled by special teams, field position and defense.

“He’s one of the best players in the state. This is a kid that hasn’t played football, because of the devastating injury, since last October,” West Bloomfield head coach Ron Bellamy said. “This is his first live contact. I knew — a lot of it was jitters, and ‘What if I get hit?’ He got hit, and fumbled, but he shook it off, and showed why he’s a dynamic football player.” 

After fumbling his first game-action touch since his devastating leg injury late in the 2018 regular season — the one that left him on the sidelines for the Lakers’ playoff run that ended in a low-scoring loss in the regional finals — Edwards couldn’t wait to get back on the field again in Friday’s season opener. 

The Knights had capitalized on a break of their own to post themselves to a 6-0 lead just 15 seconds into the game, but couldn’t get further than their own 24 after Edwards’ fumble, punting the ball back to the Lakers. 

Edwards fielded the punt off his chest, muffing it in front of himself, then dove on the ball to save possession at the West Bloomfield 40. On the next play from scrimmage, quarterback CJ Harris turned and handed the ball to Edwards, who more than made amends for his earlier fumble, breaking through a couple of tackles at the line of scrimmage, and then bursting into the open and winning a footrace to the end zone.

“The other running back, Anthony May, made a great block, and I just made a cut,” Edwards said. “I got hit a couple of times in the leg, but I just stayed up, and kept it going.”

Other than that crease, the defense for Oak Park held West Bloomfield to just 137 yards rushing — Edwards had 108 of that — and 166 total yards for the game. Their big three linemen — nearly 900 pounds of muscle between Dondi Price, Justin Rogers and Rayshaun Benny — controlled the line of scrimmage for much of the game.

We did for a while, and then we got tired, because we were on the field too much. Even on the break, that was just bad communication. We had a call that should’ve been made, and kind of slanted out of our gaps, and he just took off. You can’t give a good player like that, that opportunity,” Oak Park coach Greg Carter said. “Defensively, you just can’t give up plays like that to that kid. He’s a tremendous running back.”

It was no surprise to the Lakers that they had issues moving the ball against that defensive line, especially since they were working in three new starters on the interior of their own offensive line. 

“We knew it was going to be tough sledding running the football, throwing it. That defense is loaded with talent. We knew it was going to be tough. We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times in the first half, with two red zone possessions that turned into turnovers — you can’t do that. Probably a different ballgame if we don’t turn it over, and score early on,” Bellamy said. “But we rely on our defense, when we’re struggling on offense a little bit. Our defense stepped up big time for us tonight.”

The West Bloomfield defense held the Knights to just a tick less than 200 total yards, 97 on the ground. Other than the quick strike early on, when Dayvon Young returned the opening kick all the way to the West Bloomfield 2-yard line, setting up a quick 6-yard touchdown run by Travis Boston, the Knights only moved the ball down the field once, right before the end of the first half.

Edwards’ run, followed by 39- and 38-yard field goals by Laker kicker Jake Ward, made it a 13-6 West Bloomfield lead, but Oak Park recovered a second Laker fumble on its own 16 yard line, then drove 84 yards in 13 plays. The Knights capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown catch by Boston, then faked the PAT and ran in the 2-point conversion for a 14-13 lead. 

Outside of the early breakdown, the West Bloomfield special teams was solid, getting the two field goals from Ward, while also pinning the Knights deep in their own territory with solid punting.

“We’re locked in, special teams-wise. We work on our special teams often. A lot. Probably more than most high school teams do. (The early return) was a letdown, a big letdown, but I’m glad the guys overcame that early mistake, and they stepped up,” Bellamy said. “We love our kicker, Jake Ward, and our punter, Sammy Lafata did a phenomenal placing the ball where we asked him to. He got one inside the 5-yard line. We just want to continue to develop our special teams.”

Another special teams play set up the game-winning touchdown, when Sam Hughes recovered a muffed punt at the Oak Park 25, setting up Harris’ 2-yard touchdown run four plays later, making it 20-14 with 3:58 left in the third quarter.

Neither team would score in the fourth.

“It was the worst game I can remember on our part. They played good enough to win, and we gave ourselves a chance to maybe tie it in the end, but we didn’t run the ball well. I don’t know what we were trying to do,” Carter said. “We could never get anything get going.”