Unbeaten South Lyon continues to believe, surviving surprising Dexter in OT playoff opener
SOUTH LYON — If you want it to happen, sometimes, you just gotta believe.
If there’s any single reason for the separate-yet-eerily similar turnarounds for the football programs at both South Lyon and Dexter this season, it would be that: belief.
Belief that last year’s records didn’t have to be repeated, and that dormancy was not a permanent condition.
Based on where they came from, nobody in their right minds would’ve thought that the two teams that lined up across from each other for 7-on-7s at Brighton High School in July would’ve been toeing the line across from each other in the opening week of the Division 2 playoffs.
And yet here they were, believing, right down to the final play, a heave to the end zone intercepted by South Lyon defensive back Jake Newman to seal a 31-24 overtime win for the Lions.
South Lyon (10-0) advances to the district final, where it will host Walled Lake Western (7-3).
“An old coach said to me a long time ago, ‘Winning’s about a bunch of guys believing in the same thing.’ And that’s what our kids do right now. … Just like last week, and all year — we knew we were going to be better this year. Credit to our kids: Our kids believe in themselves, believe in what we do. I don’t know what to say to it. They’re just a great group of kids, and obviously, they just keep getting it done,” said South Lyon coach Jeff Henson, whose Lions had gone 1-8 a season ago.
“Phil (Jacobs, the Dexter coach) and I threw (7-on-7s) against each other this summer, and we met in pregame, and I go, ‘Well, we probably never would’ve thought we’d be meeting each other in the playoffs when we met in July.’ We both laughed about that.”
Jacobs, whose program hadn’t won a game since Sept. 20, 2013 — a losing streak that had reached 40 games — and a program that had never once in its history made the playoffs, wouldn’t have bought that at the time, either.
“A 1-8 team, and an 0-9 team — 1-17, and here we are squaring off in the first round of the playoffs,” he said. “Yeah, never would’ve thought it.”
One of the dream seasons was going to end in Friday’s D2 predistrict game, regardless, and both teams were bent on going down scratching and clawing.
Every time the Lions pulled ahead, Dexter pulled even, including a 26-yard field goal by Karl Kerska to tie it up with 5:04 remaining.
South Lyon had a chance to win it in regulation, but missed a field goal with 16 seconds left, keeping the game tied at 24-24.
The Lions got the ball first in overtime, and Connor Fracassi found Ron Menard open in the left corner of the end zone for the twosome’s third touchdown connection of the night.
Fracassi finished 12-of-20 passing for 157 yards, while Ian Goins had 96 yards rushing before missing most of the second half with a twisted ankle. Dominic Santoni had 51 yards in Goins’ place, before he, too, got hurt, and Mitch Komorous finished off the game with 54 yards in just more than a quarter.
“Yeah, we were struggling. We had two starters go down last week that really hurt us.
But ‘Next man up.’ This part of the season, everybody goes through it. Everybody’s beat up a little bit,” Henson said. “We’re fortunate that our kids were able to execute, and Connor on that last play in overtime, bought time, and Ronnie was able to sneak out into the end zone there.”
Dexter had a chance to match it, but Newman picked off the third-down pass, his second interception of the night.
“Just reading my keys, just as I was taught. Just reading the quarterback. He rolled out, I rolled out with him. I just high-pointed the ball, and made a play on it,” Newman said. “It’s an awesome feeling. It felt so great to see all my teammates run up to me.”
The Lions led 7-0, 14-7 and 17-14, only to see the Dreadnaughts (6-4) tie it up each time, including one fortuitous bounce just before the half. Quarterback Colin Parachek threw into coverage 40 yards downfield, only to have the ball hit a helmet and deflect 30 feet in the air before plopping down into the hands of Zach Koone, who ran it the rest of the way for a 71-yard score and a 14-14 tie.
Conner Harris hit a 37-yard field goal four plays into the fourth quarter to make it 17-14 South Lyon, but Andy Durand returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to give the Dreadnaughts their only lead of the game, 21-17 with 9:55 left.
The Lions quickly answered, with Fracassi hitting James Haddock in stride for a 52-yard touchdown and a 24-21 lead with 7:56 left, but the Dreads answered with Kerska’s field goal three minutes later.
Parachek finished with 244 yards passing.
“I’m miserable. My heart is aching for this group of kids, these seniors. We had our opportunities. We made big plays throughout the game to stay in it. That’s a good football team over there. Might’ve been the best team we’ve played this year. They’re good. Our kids, they fought, fought to the very end. I’m disappointed for our seniors, that’s what it boils down to,” Jacobs said. “Our kids weren’t just satisfied getting here. You could tell at the very end, it really meant something to them. We’re forever grateful to the senior class, because they have really set the bar for the future. Now it’s up to our underclassmen to take it, and run with it.”
The seniors at Dexter were the ones who stayed the course through four straight 0-9 seasons, finally getting validation with a Week 2 win over Ypsilanti that snapped the losing streak that had grown to 42 games.
“Yeah, that’s when they started believing, for sure. They’ve believed ever since. Every game, we’ve been in. Even the Chelsea game we lost (in Week 1), they thought we could win that game,” Jacobs said, noting how the season has changed the perception of the team in the school. “It’s been great. You saw our community support out here. We’ve always traveled well. I’m proud for our community, I’m proud for our alumni, and I’m proud for our kids. Because football never used to be a thing. Our school, our student body is proud of our football team. They brag about the football team now.”
The same goes with South Lyon, where football used to be a thing.
The 10-0 start is the first since 1995, when legendary Lions coach Bob Scheloske — who has hung around the program, and been a mentor for Henson — took the program to the Class A finals, before losing to Lapeer West. After the 2004 squad went to the Division 1 semis, the program was 2-7 in seven playoff appearances over the next 13 seasons, culminating in last year’s 1-8 record, the program’s worst since 1975.
“We had 24 kids coming back that either started or played significant time last year. We knew that we were going to be better. It was just a matter of how were we going to come together?” Henson said. “The kids dedicated themselves in the offseason in the weight room. … They didn’t forget what it was like last year, and they didn’t want to repeat that. So they did everything they could to make sure it didn’t happen.”
“I was very embarrassed, and angry, actually. We just didn’t play as a team, like we do now. It’s a big turnaround,” Newman said. “We just started believing in each other as a team. Last year, it was just more of yourself, and now we’re all playing together. We’re just starting to trust each other more, and trust the coaches and what they’re doing.”