Kyle Thomas leads Western to a 35-14 victory over Dow and the Warriors will play Lowell in a Division 2 semifinal
Walled Lake – Walled Lake Western had been in control for much of its Division 2 regional final against Midland Dow on Saturday but the Warriors still found themselves leading by just seven points late in the third quarter.
In the final minute of the quarter the Warriors scored two touchdowns in 10 seconds to take a 28-7 lead over the Chargers and Western cruised to a 35-14 win.
The victory sets up a rematch with Lowell (11-1). Western (12-0) defeated Lowell in the season opener, 42-40, at Lowell and the teams will play in a semifinal next Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
Western last reached the semifinals in 2011 when it lost to Lowell, 42-35, in overtime.
Western coach Mike Zdebski said that after his team scored on each of its first two drives in the first half, the Warriors hurt themselves with penalties throughout the remainder of the first half, something they focused on limiting in the second half.
“We stuttered ourselves with the holding penalties,” he said. “We went in at halftime and told them to clean those three penalties up and we took a couple of scores off the board in the second quarter. But we did a good job in the second half.”
Staked to a 14-7 lead at halftime, Western used its rushing attack on a long scoring drive capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by Kyle Thomas to push the Western lead to 21-7 with just under a minute left in the third quarter.
Western then recovered the ball on the ensuing kickoff and Thomas connected with Javon Gabriel for a 48-yard touchdown on the first play to give the Warriors a 28-7 lead.
Zdebski said that after recovering the kick, his coaching staff wanted to break the game open with a big pass on the next play.
“We wanted to try and hit a home run right there,” he said. “Our offensive coordinator Mike Weiskopf wanted to see if we could get them now and it opened up. We ran the ball that last drive, the kids did a good job up front, the backs did a good job, they ran through some arm tackles, so those safeties had to come down a little bit harder and it opened it up off play action.”
The Chargers (10-2) responded early in the fourth when quarterback Bruce Mann threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to Devontae Stine to cut the deficit down to 28-14.
But after the Dow defense forced a Western punt, Western’s Cody White recorded his second interception of the fourth quarter, returning the ball 34 yards for a touchdown to push the Western lead back to 21 with 4:35 left to play.
“I just saw him go inside and run the slant route that he had run a couple of times,” White said. “I just jumped it and took it, the rest is history.”
In the first quarter, Western jumped out to an early 14-0 lead after a 1-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to White on the first offensive drive for the Warriors. Jacob Prokes followed with a 5-yard touchdown run.
Thomas, a Hungry Howie’s Mr. Football candidate, said the fast start for Western was an important factor in the win.
“It’s easier to play on top than having to play from behind,” he said. “The first two touchdowns were a key to the victory today.”
Dow’s lone first half touchdown came late in the first quarter when senior receiver Mike Robb grabbed a tipped pass from Mann and scored on a 77-yard touchdown reception.