Just based on the postgame reactions Friday, you’d be hard-pressed to know which team won.
For a Walled Lake Western squad expecting big things in this shortened season, a second half where it started drives three times on the Waterford Kettering side of midfield, but only outscored the Captains by a single point, 3-2 — the 24-2 victory certainly didn’t feel like a big win.
“We didn’t play — overall the whole day, offensively, we’ve got some things to fix, obviously. It’s a new team, we’ve got new transfers, got a new line. It’s still young in the season. Twenty-four points is just unacceptable. I take full responsibility for that,” Western quarterback Zach Trainor said.
“Defense gave us opportunities, and we come down here, and I throw a comeback ruled out of bounds, and then penalties … murdered us. It just looked like we were deflated in the second half. We just gotta play better. I take full responsibility for that — it’s just unacceptable. I’ve gotta be a better leader, just a better team player. I can’t be yelling at my guys. This is on me.”
And for the Captains (1-2), who’d gone into halftime down three scores to a Western program they hadn’t beaten since the Nixon Administration, keeping the game within hailing distance the rest of the way was a small victory, in and of itself.
“Defensively, that was a good second half. We felt good about that. Our kids stepped up, and we were making a little less mistakes, but the offense — we just struggle a little bit. But credit to our our kids, we fought hard all night. We had great heart, and good team chemistry. We didn’t lay down, we didn’t give up. We played hard to the end,” Kettering coach Kenny Schmidt said.
“That’s a really good Western team we played. I think we’ve just gotta take the film, and the good things we did, and take that, and look at what we need to improve on, but I’m definitely proud of the kids with how hard we fought.”
The biggest swing in momentum came just before halftime, when the Warriors (2-1) scored twice in the span of 97 seconds off the game clock to expand on a one-score lead.
Trainor connected with Justin Gabriel on a 30-yard scoring strike down the middle, then after a Kettering third-down fumble got the Warriors the ball back, Trainor hit Darius Taylor with a 31-yard scoring pass to make it 21-0 with 1:04 left in the first half.
“Huge. Huge momentum swing. Because of how this season’s played out, I think, for everybody, is we’re beginning to see that there’s just so many momentum swings in a game — in any game — so we’ve gotta take advantage of those,” Western coach Mike Weiskopf said. “One of those things we’ve gotta be really careful about is when we take advantage of that, and swing the momentum, and when we maybe start to play smarter, field-position football. I think we got better at that. I think there’s probably one in this game where — if I were to do it again, there’s probably one I’d be a little bit more conservative on, and maybe one I would’ve taken another shot. We’ve been a big-play offense, for a long time, and that’s kind of what we do, but we’ve gotta find some ways to do some things, and that’s where we’ve gotta improve. …
“I would definitely love to get the ground game going a little bit more. We know we can throw the football — I don’t think there’s any question about that; I’d like to be able to run the football a little bit more.”
Coupled with the first score — a 1-yard Gabriel run set up by a 51-yard catch-and-run by Jonathan Abele to put Western on the doorstep — the two touchdowns late in the half put the Warriors in control of the game.
“Those two touchdowns were huge. I mean, without that, it would’ve been, what — six points? We just gotta play better,” Trainor said.
But Western could never get the dagger to put the game away.
Three times in the second half, the Warriors started drives on the plus side of midfield, twice after botched or partially blocked Kettering punts. But all they could get out of that good field position was a pair of field goal attempts, one successfully converted by Evan Bauman from 37 yards out to make it a 24-2 game.
“I think (another score) would’ve sort of tilted the momentum back to our side. I think we just kept back and forth, back and forth, and no one could really take control of it — even though, lead-wise, we were in control of the game, almost the entire game, a lot of that was our defense,” Weiskopf said. “We made some big plays right there before the half. But, man, the defense did a great job tonight. What a great job. And they’ve just been getting better, better and better.”
The Western defense stifled Kettering for most of the night, not allowing the Captains across midfield in the first half, and just three times all game. Kettering’s best scoring opportunity came late, when Eric Craft won a jump ball tossed up by backup quarterback Chris Bowman, and raced down to the Western 21-yard line, but the drive would stall there, ending on downs inside the final 30 seconds of the game.
Kettering’s only points came on Western’s first offensive play of the second half, when the snap went over Trainor’s head, into the end zone. It was recovered by the Warriors for a Kettering safety.
“Credit to their defense — they played great, and they were stopping us a lot,” Schmidt said. “It just felt like all night, we were shooting ourselves in the foot, and making mistakes that hurt us and stalled us, but they made plays when they needed to.”