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Grand Blanc clears out the bag of tricks to jolt Carman-Ainsworth early, stay unbeaten with 42-14 win

By: Matthew B. Mowery, September 15, 2018, 12:32 am

FLINT — Finally, nothing’s left in Clint Alexander’s hip pocket.

The Grand Blanc coach took the handcuffs off his offense and emptied out the playbook, using a pre-scripted onside opening kickoff and three first-quarter interceptions to build a 21-0 lead before Friday’s game was five minutes old.

The early barrage rocked Flint Carman-Ainsworth back on its heels, and the host Cavaliers could never complete regain their footing, as Grand Blanc stayed unbeaten with a 42-14 win.

Afterward, the second-year head coach apologized to his offensive assistants for having let them take the heat from players who were frustrated with the plan to keep the attack vanilla through three weeks, then spring the surprise in Week 4, “saving it for our friends at Carman,” as Alexander said.

“That was a a great start. We’d hamstrung the offense for three weeks, and those poor coaches were catching a lot of heat, but I didn’t want to show a lot of stuff until we played these guys,” Alexander said. “Now, the cat’s out of the bag.”

There were new players in new places. An expanded playbook.

But the first surprise was the onside kick.

“Yeah, we saw something on film that we felt like we could do it. And I told the guys in the locker room, ‘Look there’s a one-percent chance we won’t get this. If that happens, rally up and play great defense. But we’re gonna get this thing.’ And we worked on it. We worked on it every day,” said Alexander, who relied on his son, the team’s kicker, Colton, to execute it. “He (Colton) was 7 years old, on our practice fields, working with those kids, and they were gracious enough to teach him. And they worked so hard with him. I’m just so proud of him that he’s hung in there and done that, because we count on him.”

Just one play after the recovered onside kick, the Bobcats (4-0, 2-0 Saginaw Valley League Blue) went deep, with Tylor Leedom connecting with Nicholas Erlenbeck for a 49-yard touchdown.

“Normally we’re a slow team at the start. We’ve been known for that since last season,” Erlenbeck said. “It was good to get jumped off from the start.”

Three plays later, Malik Bashir-Cager grabbed the first of three interceptions of passes by Carman-Ainsworth quarterback Dustin Fletcher, setting up a 48-yard scoring pass from Leedom to Ethan Aspberger, and a 14-0 lead before two minute came off the clock. An interception by Colton Alexander got the ball down to the doorstep of the Cavaliers (2-2, 1-1 SVL Blue), and Leedom punched it in himself, making it 21-0 at the 7:31 mark of the first quarter.

“We knew they were really ready. We wanted to get a juggernaut. They let us know they were ready when we took the field,” said Alexander. “We figured if we could hurt them early, and kind of take some of that shine off their enthusiasm, we’d have a chance. Because they are, they’re a bigger, faster team than us.”

The Cavaliers did rally, bouncing back from the third interceptions to score on their next two drives, and had a chance to tie it up on a third, before turning it over on downs.

“Unfortunately, guys start to relax, and then we end up where we do. I said, ‘Guys, we’ve got a lot of time.’ I told the kids at halftime, ‘Look, we’ve gotta win the second half.’ You guys are scoring so fast — we’re either punting, or you guys have scored, and I’ve just finished talking to the defense. I need some first downs, because we’re getting tired,” Alexander said. “We were fine with them running the ball. We were letting them run the ball, but we weren’t giving up deep passes. That’s going to burn clock, and we’re OK with that.”

The Bobcats were fine with leaving their two corners — Kortez Toles and Myles McNeal — in man-to-man coverage.

“The other (key) was Malik (Bashir-Cager). We’d hidden him,” Alexander said. “We knew we’d need him this game, we hadn’t needed him prior to this, so we’d hidden him as a corner, and he comes out and gets the first interception of the game.”

The Cavaliers looked like they were avoiding throwing at Toles, instead picking on McNeal, who responded by tipping away several passes, adding an interception and another that was negated by a pass interference call.

“Well, I mean, Myles is a D-I corner. Every time you turn around, he’ll get a deflection or a pick. Rarely do you see him get beat. So when they don’t go to me, and they go to him, I’m happy for him,” Toles said. “In practice, we were switching players from offense to defense, to match athleticism to athleticism. We knew they’ve got fast receivers who do vertical routes, so we did that, and it ended up working out good. We just matched up with them.”

McNeal was fine with being picked on.

“Just a little bit, but I just make sure I did my job, because I knew I was prepared, and could handle it,” the junior said. “We kind of expected it. We just prepared playing man (coverage) the whole week, and just did our job.”

Grand Blanc held Fletcher to 149 yards on 10-for-25 passing. He threw a 38-yard bomb to Trent Barron that set up a Chris Coleman run for the Cavaliers’ first touchdown, then hit on a fade-stop to Idris Bray that the receiver turned into a 42-yard score.

But that would be it for the scoring for the Cavaliers, as Grand Blanc scored the only three touchdowns of the second half. Leedom hit Erlenbeck again for a 43-yard score late in the second quarter to make it 28-14 at the break, and added a 28-yard scoring strike to Luke Bogan on the first drive of the second half to make it 35-14. Ryder Brotebeck’s short TD run capped the scoring.

The Bobcats can’t rest long after the win, with Davison and Lapeer coming up the next two weeks.

“Look, Davison’s a whole different kind of team. Big rival. They run a whole different type of offense, so it’s right back to the drawing board,” said Alexander, who’s familiar with this sort of rugged stretch from his last job.

“Yeah. It’s fun. Where I came from (Woodberry Forest School in Virginia), I told kids somebody could beat you every week. It was fun. You just knew you got done with one powerhouse, and you had the best team in Carolina, and now you’re playing the best team in Jersey. I’m kind of used it. I’m hoping the kids can get used to it, because we’ve got a tough stretch.”