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Utica Eisenhower holds off Chippewa Valley to improve to 4-0

By: Jeff Dullack, September 16, 2017, 12:12 am

Clinton Township – Coming out of halftime holding a 28-7 lead over Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, Utica Eisenhower looked like it was well on its way to a fourth convincing win to begin the season.

But Chippewa Valley wouldn’t go quietly as the Big Reds trimmed Eisenhower’s lead down to just seven points in the fourth quarter and would have an opportunity to tie the game in the closing seconds. But a last second throw to the end zone as time expired was knocked down by the Eisenhower defense to preserve a 49-42 victory in a Macomb Area Conference Red Division game at Chippewa Valley.

Eisenhower coach Chris Smith said he was pleased with his team’s performance on Friday, particularly on offense, and added that winning a tight, closely-contested game is key in the division race.

“I thought our kids were outstanding,” he said. “We scored 49 points and we played just great enough to win it right at the end. But you have to win the close ones like that in this league.”

After the two teams exchanged touchdowns to open the second half, Chippewa Valley would cut the deficit to 35-21 on a 35-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Tommy Schuster to David Ellis late in the third quarter.

Eisenhower (4-0), ranked No. 3, would respond on its next drive with a 32-yard touchdown run from junior Caleb Oyster to seemingly put the game out of reach, giving the Eagles a 42-21 lead with 8:28 left.

 “It was a lot of grinding, there was no play where we took off, every play, we had to earn it,” said Oyster, who rushed for 186 yards on 23 carries. “Towards the end of the game, it was more we had to stay in bounds, get the ball downfield and keep the clock running.”

The back-and-forth scoring would continue as Andre Chenault scored on a 1-yard touchdown run for Chippewa Valley (3-1), the Big Reds recovered the ensuing onside kick and again drive deep into Eisenhower territory. But the Eagles intercepted in the end zone to turn Chippewa Valley away with five minutes remaining.

On the next play, Chippewa Valley senior linebacker Brian Schieweck scooped up a fumble and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown, cutting Eisenhower’s lead to 42-35 with 4:54 remaining.

Chippewa Valley coach Scott Merchant said that after scoring just seven points in the first half, he felt his team did a good job of eliminating mistakes, which made a big difference for his team’s offense in the second half.

“We didn’t make mistakes,” he said. “We moved the ball (in the first half). We had penalties, we turned the ball over, we put the ball on the ground, but we got the ball to start the (second) half and we came out and scored. We didn’t change anything, we just executed. They out-executed us in the first half, they hit their play-action passes and did different things. When we don’t make mistakes – self-inflicted mistakes – and we don’t turn the ball over, we’re a pretty good offense.

But once again Eisenhower would respond. The Eagles went on a 93-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a 32-yard touchdown run by Oyster, who took a pitch from senior quarterback Max Wittwer and broke a pair of tackles to put his team up 49-35 with 2:06 left to play.

Wittwer, one of the 10 candidates for this year’s Mr. Football Award, completed 11-of-14 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 51 yards in the win for Eisenhower.

Wittwer said that he’s been pleased with his team’s offensive play through the first four games of the season as the Eagles have averaged nearly 40 points per game so far and credited his team’s coaching staff for the offense’s play.

“Our offense, week-in and week-out, we’ve been clicking on all cylinders,” he said. “We’ve got too many weapons to handle, in my opinion, but I might be a little biased. Coach (John) DiGiorgio, coach (Scott) Debbs, coach (Chris) Layson and coach (Brad) Morris, they just do a great job, you’ve really got to give them all of the credit.”

Smith also credited Phil Crum, another assistant coach on the offensive side.

Chippewa Valley would again cut the Eisenhower lead to just seven as Schuster scored on a 4-yard touchdown run with less than 35 seconds left to play to make it 49-42.

The Big Reds’ second onside kick attempt of the game would float out of bounds, giving Eisenhower the ball back, but Chippewa Valley’s Marcel Lewis recovered a fumble on Eisenhower’s first play of the drive to give the Big Reds one final chance to tie the game. A Schuster pass into the end zone was batted away as Eisenhower held on.

Smith said that while his team is obviously happy to improve to 4-0 on the season, the Eagles need to clean up on some of the mistakes they made in the fourth quarter, which allowed Chippewa Valley to hang around late in the game.

“The end of the game was crazy, because they got an onside kick on us, and then we fumbled twice and gave them the ball back,” he said. “We fumbled once when they stripped the ball right out of our hands, but then we fumbled again when we could have iced the game. So we’ve got to clean those things up. We had a big lead at that point. So we have to clean those things up and not make it such a tight game.”