Midland takes ‘win or out’ city championship showdown with Dow, putting Chargers’ season on the brink
MIDLAND — Win or go home.
There is nothing more quintessentially fitting for the Midland-Midland Dow rivalry than a situation like Friday’s where each team came in still one win shy of automatically qualifying for the playoffs.
Somebody was getting in. Somebody was going to have to wait.
And each team wanted to put the other’s season on life support.
In the end, it was Midland Dow that ran out of time in its comeback, falling 14-8 when a last-second heave by Shane Astrike was intercepted in the end zone, giving Midland the city championship, as well as the playoff berth.
“That’s so sweet, to know that we’re the ones that knocked them out, and to know that we came out with the victory, is awesome, man,” said Midland Chemic senior Christian Gordon, who had 189 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns on offense, and a key interception on defense, kneeling down in elation as time expired on the clock.
“Man, that’s relief. That’s everything, that’s everything we worked for as a team to get to this point. We had an 0-2 start, and we battled back. That’s just the love for the game, the love for the team. It’s so fun, man. I’ll never forget that. … To be honest, I don’t feel a thing right now. It’s just excitement. I’m just so happy we got the job done.”
The Chemics (6-3, 6-1 Saginaw Valley League Red) know they’re in. Now it’s just matter of when and where.
For the Dow Chargers (5-4, 5-2 SVL Red), the feeling is a little different.
Now they wait.
“That’s what I told the boys: What a weird feeling. Your season might be over, it might not. I told them, I don’t know what to tell you about how to balance your emotions this weekend, I really don’t,” Charger coach Jason Watkins said. “I think the smartest course would be to plan on playing next week, but Monday, we might be picking up your equipment.”
For better or worse, they’ll find out when the MHSAA playoff brackets are announced Sunday evening.
As a 5-4 team, they’ll have to get in on playoff points, and they came in with only the 27th-most points of the five-win teams in the state, a sign that doesn’t bode tremendously well for their hopes.
It would be a rare thing for one of these two to sneak in at 5-4, as well.
In the 19 seasons (prior to this one) since the playoffs expanded to 256 teams in 1999, with every six-win team making the postseason, the Midland-Dow game has determined the playoff fates of the losing team six times.
Four times (1999, 2003, 2009 and 2012), Midland kept Dow from the six-win plateau. Two more times (2014 and 2016), a Dow win in Week 9 kept Midland from even getting to the five-win mark to hope they make it on playoff points at 5-4.
In 2000, Midland beat a 6-2 Dow team, 21-12, to get to 5-4, and make it on playoff points, the only time either team has snuck in as a five-win playoff team.
“It’s an unbelievable ballgame every year. Every year, the community, the pageantry that is this event is second to none. … I’m super excited for our guys, but it’s just a shame someone’s season had to end,” Midland coach Eric Methner said. “What a hard-fought win. Both teams played their guts out. It’s a shame that one of these teams was going to lose and not go to the playoffs.”
The Chemics rode Gordon for most of the game, feeding him 28 carries for 148 yards and two short first-half touchdowns on the ground, while a stiff cross-wind (and holding the lead) kept them from having sophomore quarterback Al Money do much all that creative or risky on offense. But it was a drag route to Gordon that netted 41 yards on the run after catch, that set the Chemics up for a potential three-score lead, when momentum changed.
Gordon had the wind knocked out of him on the tackle, and the Chemics went to a Wildcat play, but the snap went over Kadin Jacobs’ head, and the Chargers recovered.
Four plays into the fourth quarter, Astrike ripped off a 57-yard touchdown run, then punched in the 2-point conversion, and momentum had clearly swung to the Dow sideline.
“That was a tough one to swallow. We were reeling a little bit, and it took us a little while to get our composure after that. But credit them. They fought and battled. They’ve got some playmakers on that team. But our defense stepped up. To hold that team to eight points, with all the points they’ve been scoring this year, and the things they do offensively to stress you out, our kids did a great job,” Methner said. “It just seemed like things were snowballing on us a little bit. But then our guys were resilient. They kept fighting, they kept battling, and we made the plays we had to, down the stretch.”
Gordon intercepted Astrike on the next drive, the additional possession allowing the Chemics to chew another three minutes off the clock before giving it back to the Chargers.
Dow drove 56 yards, with a 22-yard catch by Brennan Doyle taking them down to the Midland 22 with 27.1 seconds, before the drive began to stall.
“When we talk to the boys all the time, we say ‘What do you want out of a game?’ You want a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. We had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter,” Watkins said. “It’s that sickening feeling of feeling like you have some level of control, and you lose the game.”
On 4th-and-31 from the Midland 44, and with 7.7 left on the clock, Astrike heaved it to the end zone, but was picked off by Eli Gordon to seal the Midland win.
“I just kept telling my receivers, ‘I’m going to throw that ball up, and I need someone to go up and fight for it.’ It just came down to that last play there, and their player made a really good play on it. That’s how it ended,” Astrike said. “Obviously disappointed in tonight, and wish it would’ve come out better, but now, there’s nothing that we can do, except hope and pray that we get another shot at it.”