Eriksen leads Clarkston back to Division 1 state championship game with win over East Kentwood
Brighton – A year ago Nolan Eriksen watched from the sideline as Clarkston punched its ticket to play in its first ever state championship game, led by his brother, Ian’s 355 yard performance as the Wolves would go onto win their first ever football state title one week later
But on Saturday afternoon in the Division 1 semifinals, it was Nolan’s turn.
The junior running back turned in a dominant effort as he rushed for 209 yards and two touchdowns to help lead Clarkston to a 35-13 win over East Kentwood as the defending Division 1 state champions reserved a spot in the state championship game for a second straight year.
In the Division 1 state championship game, the Wolves will face Saline, which topped Cass Tech 30-15 in its semifinal game on Saturday afternoon, held at Troy Athens.
“It was really cool and there were similar conditions, so we knew that we were going to have to run the ball a lot and I’m just glad our offensive line was able to get it done and we did what we needed to do to push the ball down the field,” Eriksen said of his big performance on Saturday.
“It’s really special, especially in the semifinals. The entire city’s here watching, it’s a really cool feeling.”
Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson said that Eriksen was key all day long on Saturday, but also credited his team’s offensive line for its play in front of Eriksen.
“He was awesome, but it all starts with the boys up front,” he said. “In the last couple of series, there were huge holes for him. It was the guys up front.”
Clarkston wasted no time getting on the board early on as senior quarterback D.J. Zezula connected with Jacob Fisher for a 40 yard score to give the Wolves a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game and after an interception by defensive end Cole Chewins Zezula and Fisher connected for a seven yard score to give Clarkston a 14-0 lead with 5:57 left to play in the first quarter.
Zezula said that on the first touchdown pass, he saw an East Kentwood blitz coming and spotted Fisher over the middle and he was able to run away from the East Kentwood defense.
“It was awesome, I recognized the blitz and when we get on the same page like that, it’s unstoppable,” he said. “It starts to click and he got past the second level of linebackers and he was wide open, it was great.”
Eriksen then pushed the Clarkston lead to 21-0 with 3:32 left in the first quarter as he scored on a five yard run, giving the Wolves more than enough scoring in less than nine minutes of play.
With Clarkston holding a 21-3 lead heading into halftime, shortly after senior quarterback D.J. Zezula was shaken up after a hard hit, the Wolves turned to their junior running back in the second half.
After a long East Kentwood drive ended in Bryce Lovelace’s second field goal of the day to cut Clarkston’s lead to 21-6, Eriksen went to work.
With 8:36 left to play, Eriksen took off on a 36 yard touchdown run as he hit the hole hard and ran past the East Kentwood defense to push the Clarkston lead to 28-6.
“Our offensive line did a really good job,” said Eriksen of his touchdown run. “I saw a good block (by guard Alex Snyder) that opened up a hole and I found space and got in the end zone.”
After Clarkston forced a turnover on downs in its own end, the Wolves again turned to their workhorse as Eriksen picked up tough yards to keep the clock moving including a run down inside the East Kentwood 20 yard line which set up a 14 yard touchdown run by Zezula to give Clarkston a 35-6 lead with just over two minutes left to play.
East Kentwood would notch a late touchdown by sophomore backup quarterback Evan Maday, who scored on a sneak from a yard out to cut the deficit to 35-13, but Clarkston would drain the rest of the clock to seal its second straight trip to Ford Field.
“It’s been a little different in that the bull’s-eye on our back has been a little bigger,” Richardson said of his team’s second straight trip to Ford Field being a little different. “Everybody was gunning for us and I think the kids have responded very well and it’s going to be nice. It’s going to be warm.”