FOOTBALL: Clarkston hopes to reverse trend of semifinals past
BY DAN STICKRADT
CLARKSTON — As Clarkston enters Saturday’s Division 1 football state semifinals, the Wolves hope to do almost everything but let history repeat itself.
Clarkston, one of Michigan’s largest high schools with a deep-rooted football history that does not own a state championship in that sport, has lost in the Final Four three times — all in the last 14 years. The Wolves lost to Utica Eisenhower in 1999 (14-9), Grand Ledge in 2002 (17-15) and most recently Sterling Heights Stevenson in 2009 (37-35).
All three of those games Clarkston held the lead late in the fourth quarter. Utica Eisenhower used an interception to score on a late drive and Grand Ledge had a long drive in a swirling wind and snow to take down the Wolves the following year.
Perhaps no defeat in school history was more crushing than the 2009 semifinals loss to fellow state powerhouse Stevenson. In game at Troy Athens, a couple of controversial calls went Stevenson’s way and the Titans scored the game-winning touchdown on the final play of the contest.
“We don’t even talk about it with the kids. The coaches remember,” offered Richardson, who took over as head coach in 1987 and has compiled a 212-78 record. “Honestly, these kids probably know nothing of what happened in ’99 or 2000. They were little kids then. A few of them might have saw the Stevenson game and remember that. But that’s not what we are worrying about. We are worry about Carman.”
The Wolves next opponent is seventh-ranked Flint Carman-Ainsworth, which No. 2 Clarkston will face at 1 p.m. on Saturday at neighboring Lake Orion High School.
Carman-Ainsworth is making its first-ever appearance in the semifinals. That doesn’t make Richardson and staff any less apprehensive.
“Their quarterback (Javonte Alexander) is good. He is quick, doesn’t pass a lot, but he can really move. He’s elusive,” noted Richardson. “We can’t give him any space. We have to get to him before he gets going (beyond the line of scrimmage).”
While Alexander and the Cavaliers are enjoying their best season, perhaps Clarkston is could be in the midst of their best season as well — and all that lies on a victory over Carman-Ainsworth.
With a plethora of Division I and Division II college recruits, the Wolves opened the season in every publication’s top five. Clarkston then dropped its season opener to Rochester Adams, 12-7, a game the Wolves got a chance to redeem themselves.
In last week’s regional finals, Clarkston pounded Adams, 56-28, which is tied for fifth as the most points Clarkston has ever scored in a game under Richardson and second most during the postseason. The Wolves tallied 57 points in a 57-56, quadruple overtime victory over Macomb Dakota in the 1999 regional finals that vaulted them into the Final Four for the first time.
Clarkston, which is averaging around 38 points a game while yielding only 14 points an outing, is led by several highly-touted players.
Senior Ian Eriksen (Eastern Michigan), who missed part of the season with an injury, was the state’s leading rusher a year ago and is a dynamite running back with track speed. He is healthy and back to lead the ground assault. Junior quarterback DJ Zezula has been sterling all season, passing for more than 2,000 yards.
Seniors Nick Mattich (Western Michigan) and brother Adam Mattich anchor the offensive line and David Beadle (Michigan state) is a terror on the defensive front.
Senior kicker Shane Hynes (Kent State) is another D-I weapon, as is Tim Cason (Purdue), the Wolves’ top receiver in a deep well of offensive talents.
“We do have a lot more balance, and I think DJ’s development this year is a reason for that,” said Richardson. “He’s come a long ways. He’s a college prospect at quarterback. No doubt about it.”
No Clarkston team has had as many college recruits as the 2013 Wolves, but Richardson has beat that point down to players that games are won on the field and not by reputation. He said his team learned a valuable lesson with that season-opening loss to Rochester Adams.
Clarkston has outscored the opposition 455-167 this season with two shutouts and no team has scored more than 28 points against the Wolves. Clarkston is primed to get to its first state finals.
Carman-Ainsworth, which also sports an 11-1 record, has forced 41 turnovers this season and the Cavaliers’ defense has pitched five shutouts in12 games. They face one of the state’s top offenses in Clarkston.
“We always preach four quarters of football and we have to play that way at this time of the season,” said Richardson. “Everyone is good (at this stage). We’ll be ready.”