Through three quarters Friday, Walled Lake Western had allowed visiting Pinckney to remain within striking distance, leading by just five points with the momentum having just swung against it.
The Warriors’ response was swift and resounding, however, as the team scored on the opening play of the fourth quarter and tacked on another touchdown just 23 seconds later with a defensive score. Walled Lake Western’s 27-point binge in the final stanza made for a cushy final margin of victory, 41-16, to capture a Division 2 district title.
“We got things together at halftime and played the way we should in the second half,” Warriors coach Mike Zdebski said. “I think we played a really good defensive game against a really good offensive team. Honestly, I was a little surprised how well we were able to stop the run because (Pinckney) had been running the ball down everybody’s throat.”
Late in the third quarter, the Pirates scored on a 65-yard pass from Jack Wurzer to Nick Cain to cut their deficit to 14-9.
Before Pinckney’s celebration even ceased, however, Western got its payback when senior quarterback Johnny Tracy connected with senior wideout Kam Ford, who snared the pass at the sideline before racing 75 yards to the end zone.
“That was big. It was the momentum change,” Zdebski said of the play. “Anytime you can regain the momentum and bring it back to your side, that’s huge. Especially in a game like this when things had gotten tight again.”
On the Pirates’ ensuing drive, senior Jack Dodge recorded the Warriors’ fourth interception of the ballgame, returning it for a touchdown to put Western up 27-9 in a flash.
Two more fourth-quarter touchdowns came later. Senior Michigan State football commit Cody White scored on a 16-yard run after taking the direct snap out of the wildcat formation. Ford added another late touchdown, this time from 31 yards to put the game well out of reach.
With the victory, Western (10-1) advanced to next Saturday’s regional final, which it will host at noon against Fenton (9-2) – a 49-42 shootout winner over Midland Dow on Friday.
The Warriors scored on their opening possession of the game, capped off with a short touchdown run by senior Jamon Benson, his first of two on the night.
Several key defensive plays helped Western keep Pinckney off the board in the first half, carrying a 7-0 lead into the break.
Dodge’s first-quarter interception established a new school record for a career, as his two picks on the night brought his total to 16 in just two seasons.
White and junior Ben Reilly also recorded interceptions, each at the goal line as the Pirates (8-3) were threatening for points.
“We stepped up tonight and were playing like ballhawks. We were being very aggressive going after balls and getting a bunch of picks,” White said.
Jason Peets and Alex Anthony also recorded key sacks in the game for Western, while Zak Kempster blocked a field goal try by Pinckney in the third quarter.
Pinckney’s remaining first points came on a safety at the very start of the second half and on a touchdown catch by George Petty with under one minute to play in the game.