West Bloomfield holds off Cass Tech to advance to the Division 1 Final for first time in school history
Troy – Entering the 2017 season, West Bloomfield had the goal of winning the Division 1 state championship and was considered to be one of the favorites to do so. But the Lakers got off to a less than promising start to the season, losing their first two games of the season and faced a bit of an uphill battle just to make the playoffs.
Since its week two loss, the Lakers rattled off 10 consecutive wins to advance to their first Division 1 semifinal appearance in school history and faced Detroit Cass Tech, one of the perennial powers in Division 1 for a chance to advance to Ford Field at Troy Athens high school on Saturday afternoon.
Behind a dominant defensive effort, West Bloomfield, usually known for its offensive firepower, jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the first half behind three Nick O’Shea field goals and held on for a 9-7 win over Cass Tech to advance to the Division 1 final for the first time in school history.
In the Division 1 final, West Bloomfield will face Clarkston, which beat Detroit Catholic Central 27-7 in its semifinal game on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s surreal,” West Bloomfield head coach Ron Bellamy said. “We worked so hard and it’s here. The path that we took to get here, playing in a tough OAA and drawing a tough Bloomfield team that beat us and a 9-1 Waterford Mott and undefeated Eisenhower and the defending state champs in Cass Tech, what a road we had to take to get here. But we’re here and we’re just embracing this moment and this is unbelievable.”
With West Bloomfield holding a 9-0 lead in the fourth quarter, the West Bloomfield defense made a number of stands throughout the final stanza to preserve the shutout.
The Lakers’ first big defensive stand of the fourth quarter came less than two minutes in as Cass Tech quarterback Aaron Jackson scrambling toward the end zone, but was hit as he jumped toward the end zone and lost the ball, which was recovered in the end zone by West Bloomfield, resulting in a touchback.
West Bloomfield would turn Cass Tech away once again midway through the fourth quarter when the Technicians opted to go for it on 4th down and 6, but sophomore linebacker Cornell Wheeler stopped Jackson in the backfield to end another Cass Tech drive.
Wheeler, who finished with a team-high 12 tackles and two sacks, said that entering Saturday’s game, the top priority for the West Bloomfield defense was to stop the Cass Tech rushing attack and force the Technicians to throw the ball.
“Just stop the run,” he said. “They have nice running backs, Jaren Mangahm and Lew (Nichols), so we wanted to stop the run first and we did that, so they had to go to the passing game.”
But the Technicians would finally break through and find the end zone with just over a minute left to play when junior running back Jaren Mangham scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 9-7.
Cass Tech would line up and recover the ensuing onside kick attempt, but on the second play of the drive, West Bloomfield’s Makari Paige stepped in front of a Jackson pass attempt to seal the West Bloomfield win.
While the West Bloomfield offense has established itself as one of the most dangerous offensive units in the state, Saturday’s cold, rainy weather limited the Lakers throughout as quarterback Bryce Veasley, a Mr. Football candidate was held to just 72 yards on 11-of-18 passing.
In the first half, West Bloomfield managed to sustain drives into Cass Tech territory, but was unable to find the end zone as the Lakers settled for three field goals (31 yards, 26 yards, 26 yards) from O’Shea, who accounted for the only scoring on the day for West Bloomfield.
O’Shea, who lost his father to a heart attack back on October 10th, said that it’s obviously been a difficult time for him recently, but said he was excited to have come through for his team on Saturday.
“It was definitely tough these last couple of weeks,” he said. “But with my team and my coaches, they make me feel comfortable out there. They put all of their confidence in me and I’m happy to do it for them.”
Bellamy said that his team has played for more than just the outcomes of games and said he was excited to see O’Shea perform and come through for his team on Saturday.
“It’s not just a game, it’s more than that,” he said. “When we play football, we’re playing for wins and losses, but it’s more important than our wins and our losses. We’re playing for a kid who lost his father, we’re playing for a family, we’re playing for our community, we’re playing for our school. There’s a lot that we’re playing for, our kids are playing for the name on their chest and today, that’s what willed us to victory.”