Punter’s play saves Clarkston, as D1 champs hold off Grandville at Battle at the Big House
ANN ARBOR — If you’ve been burned by it once, you coach the countermove so it never happens again.
Ever since being burned when an errant punt snap was downed on the doorstep of the end zone a few seasons ago, Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson made sure that his punters were well-schooled on how to deal with the situation, if it ever happened again.
And it did in Friday’s nightcap of the Battle at the Big House, with the Wolves sitting on a five-point lead against Granville with just over two minutes to go, punting from their own 33.
Rather than panic when the snap sailed over his fingertips, Clarkston punter Tristan Mattson just let his training take over.
“I was thinking, ‘How smart is that kid going to be?’ That kid made a great play. Credit them: They probably practice that. You can tell they’re a well-coached team. We were hoping he’d fall down, and we’d fall on it in the end zone. Or go to the 1-yard line, and we’d fall on it,” Granville coach Eric Stiegel said. “He made a great play — and that was probably, ultimately, the biggest play of the game.”
Calmly as can be, Mattson retreated into the end zone, scooped the ball up and out of the back of the field of play for a safety.
It ended up saving the day, as the Bulldogs didn’t handle the free kick well, then failed to move the ball at all in four plays, a fourth-down sack by Jayvair Suggs turning the ball back over on downs to seal the 12-9 win for the defending Division 1 champs.
“No, you don’t (forget). You gotta coach those things,” Richardson said of Mattson’s scoop play. “Oh, yeah, because we got burned on it (before. Our punter) fell on it on the 2, and they get a first-and-goal at the 2. So it’s something we practice.”
Mattson, who’d given the Wolves a 6-0 halftime lead with a pair of short field goals, just treated it as part of the job, going over to the sidelines to a flurry of high-fives and fist-bumps for his heads-up play.
“It happens every once in a while. You just gotta get the ball out of the back of the end zone, keep them from getting six,” Mattson said. “Muscle memory. It’s just like kicking. Once you get back in those steps, muscle memory just takes over.”
With both teams content to pound the ball and march on long drives, possessions were at a premium. It was low-scoring, too, because a pair of staunch defenses kept turning the other offense away.
Clarkston settled for a pair of field goals, then stopped Grandville twice inside the 5-yard line, once with a goal-line stand in the second quarter, once in the third.
“I thought our defense played pretty damned well,” Richardson said. “They (the Bulldogs) going to score a lot of points.”
Stiegel didn’t second-guess his decisions to go for it on short-yardage fourth downs in both of the stalled drives in the red zone, though, rather than kick field goals.
“No, not when we’re that close. No. We should be able to get that,” the coach said. “
“I was hoping we’d get one or two more (scores) and be able to put some pressure on them, get them off their game. … We had chances all night. I think we found again that, if we want to play with teams like Clarkston and the team we’ll play next week, Warren De La Salle, if they make a mistake, we’ve gotta jump on it. … We didn’t capitalize when we had chances to take control of that game, and kind of maybe put some pressure on Clarkston.”
Even after Jacob Honstetter ripped off a 61-yard touchdown run on the third play of the second half, the Wolves left the door open just a crack, missing the 2-point conversion. The Bulldogs made it a one-score game midway through the fourth, when Landon Poll hit Jayden VanDeusen with a 15-yard scoring pass on a 4th-and-5, but Mattson’s play made sure the door didn’t swing all the way back open.
“Too many mistakes. I mean, we’re moving the ball, we get a hold. Moving the ball, jump offsides,” Richardson said. “It’s one of those wins, where you have to get the win, and you still have things you can pound on them about.”
Stiegel felt the same way.
“It’s not the NCAA, where we need to have a ranking,” he said. “We need to worry about getting better, so we peak in Week 9 or Week 10, and hopefully head to the playoffs with a head of steam.”