WALLED LAKE — In a game that served as the de facto title game for the KLAA North division this season, Walled Lake Western and Walled Lake Northern delivered a memorable clash on the field Friday, worthy of all the high stakes.
In the final minute, the outcome of the contest rested on the foot of Western kicker John Camilleri, as the senior attempted a 35-yard field goal while staring directly into a relentlessly strong wind.
On the kick, the ball curved and slowed as it approached the uprights, but ultimately dropped into the corner with just enough steam to lift Western to a dramatic 34-31 victory over Northern.
“I was hesitant because we were right on the line where we would not kick it, but they asked me and I said, ‘Put me out there,’” Camilleri said. “It was sailing left and I was just praying to God for it to get there.”
Northern had 50 seconds to work with in a frenzied effort to stay alive, but a fourth down pass was intercepted by Western’s Jack Dodge to end the game.
The Warriors (6-0, 4-0 KLAA North) narrowly avoided a disastrous finish to the game by maneuvering downfield to set up Camilleri’s late heroics. Western, at one time, led 31-10 late in the third quarter before Northern pieced together 21-straight points to knot the score.
“I thought we were going to run away with it when we were up 21 points. The only thing we talked to the kids about was no big plays and to keep everything in front of you,” Warriors coach Mike Zdebski said. “Well, we gave up a post (route for a touchdown), we fumbled the ball, and then we gave up another post. The next thing we knew it was tied up.”
The Knights (4-2, 3-1) drew closer with back-to-back touchdown passes from quarterback Mike Towns to wideout Mike Nelson early in the fourth quarter. A 40-yard scoring reception by Adam Rabaut with 6:51 remaining made it a new ballgame with the score tied, 31-31.
Western began its final drive at its own 20 and covered enough ground to give Zdebski the option of turning to his kicker with the game on the line.
“That’s why (Camilleri) was all-state Dream Team last year, because he can make a kick like that into the wind with that kind of pressure on,” Zdebski said. “We wanted to run the clock down and try to keep as much time away from them (afterward), so we called the timeout and kicked.”
With its win, Western clinched at least a share of the division title and will look to finish a perfect 5-0 in the KLAA North next Friday against Walled Lake Central.
The Warriors, who also clinched a playoff berth Friday, opened the scoring on their opening drive of the game with a 15-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kyle Thomas. Senior Jake Prokes scored three touchdowns in the game for Western, two through the air and one on the ground.
Northern scored a late first-half touchdown by running back Miller Carlock to cut its halftime deficit to 17-10.
The Knights will face Lakeland next Friday.