Romeo runs away from Grand Ledge, 48, 21, heads to Division 1 final for first time
Brighton — Before the season the state finals were only a dream and a goal for Romeo.
That dream received a pinch that snapped Romeo into reality after a 48-21 victory over Grand Ledge (12-1) in a Division 1 semifinal on Saturday at Brighton.
“This, all of this was in our imagination the last four years,” Romeo senior quarterback Paul Hurley said. “We knew we had the talent and the class to make this a reality. So many things had to go our way, but here we are; victorious.”
The Bulldogs (12-1) will face Detroit Cass Tech (11-2) next Saturday at 1 p.m. in the program’s first trip to the state finals.
Grand Ledge brought a snowplow with them in 6-foot, 210-pound running back Ba Blamo to battle the unforgiving snowy conditions. Entering Saturday’s game, Blamo was seven yards short of a 1,000-yard season.
The senior helped the Comets take the lead, 7-0, on its opening possession on a 23-yard run with 7:09 in the first quarter.
Romeo used a recovered fumble to get the Bulldogs inside the red zone to set-up the offense. Two plays later senior Dom Bongiorno’s 4-yard touchdown run that tied the game, 7-7, with 4:14 left in the first quarter.
Blamo then busted open a 64-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 lead with 10:51 left in the second quarter.
From that point forward, the Romeo’s offense found its rhythm through the air.
“The biggest part was finding a way to plant my feet to make good throws,” Hurley said. “The wind wasn’t awful, but I couldn’t take any three-step drops because it didn’t want to slip as I planted.
“I love my coach for trusting me to get us back in the game.”
Hurley capped the half with a 12-yard touchdown pass to fellow senior Brad Tanner, who pulled it down with an acrobatic one-handed catch. The Bulldogs failed to convert their two-point conversion attempt and Romeo trailed, 14-13, with 3:45 left in the half.
On Romeo’s next offensive possession, Hurley found senior Mitch Heimbach on a 60-yard post route for a 19-14 lead with 2:09 left in the half. The Bulldogs failed their second two-point conversion attempt, which was stymied by a taunting penalty after the touchdown reception.
After Romeo took the lead, the Bulldogs never looked back in the second quarter thanks to more defensive stops.
An interception by senior linebacker Zach Nies on Grand Ledge’s opening possession led to a 3-yard touchdown run by Lucas Schimon for a 26-14 lead with 6:41 left in the third quarter.
Grand Ledge pulled to within 26-21 on a 20-yard touchdown run by senior Robert Willoughby.
Romeo built the 12-point lead back on the ensuing possession when Tanner spun out of a tackle inside Comet territory and capped off a 34-yard run when he dove into the end zone for a 33-21 lead with 11:50 to play in the fourth quarter.
Grand Ledge tried to mount a comeback and drove deep into Bulldog territory and was knocking on the doorstep before the Romeo defense made a big interception.
“They tried to do a tight end delay across the formation,” Heimbach recalled. “I saw that play a dozen times on film, and picked off the pass.”
The senior carried it 85-yards into Grand Ledge territory. Two plays later Hunberto Flores scored on a 10-yard counter play for a 41-21 lead.
The defense forced another turnover late in the fourth quarter that led to an 8-yard touchdown run by sophomore Nate Goralski as the crowd erupted into a “Ford Field” chant.
“This win means so much to our community and our alumni,” Romeo co-coach Curt Rienas said. “Needless to say it’s big. Walking through the grocery store last night, it took me 45-minutes to check out.
“Everyone is excited and proud of what our boys accomplished. We have one more game left, and we’ll be ready.”