A week ago in pre-districts, the Walled Lake Western football team nearly lost to a South Lyon squad that Pinckney had previously beaten by more than 30 points. That, of course, gave Pinckney confidence that the top-ranked team in Division 2 could be defeated.
Pirates head coach Jakob Gailitis also preached caution, though, when discussing last week’s game, stating that while it was encouraging to his guys, it could serve as what he called, “a double-edged sword.” He said that the Warriors near loss to the Lions may have woken them up.
It was a case of both on Friday night.
It took quite a while, as the two sides went back and forth and Pinckney gave Western every bit of the battle it had hoped to entering the district title game. But unfortunately for the Pirates, the beast that ended the year as the No. 2-ranked team across all divisions, according to the Detroit Free Press, sprung wide awake in the fourth quarter.
Walled Lake Western scored 27 points in the final 12 minutes to make what was a five-point game a deceiving, 41-16, rout, claiming a district championship and simultaneously ending one of the Pirates’ most impressive seasons in school history.
“We played really well for three quarters,” Gailitis said. “They hit one big play, and then we threw a pick-six, and sometimes when a team makes a play like that, it snowballs on you. And it snowballed on us and got out of control. But we battled so hard for so long.”
After Nick Cain’s 65-yard touchdown reception with 28 seconds left in the third quarter, the score stood at 14-9 in favor of Western. It appeared that whichever team got a stop or two on defense, and punched in another score in the fourth would come out on top.
Western went and punched in four as the wheels fell off for the Pirates in the final period.
The first play of the fourth quarter — the ensuing possession following Cain’s long TD — went for a 75-yard catch-and-run score by Kam Ford, one of the receivers Gailitis mentioned that his team needed to contain ahead of the game.
The Pirates did a great job doing so — until that play.
Now trailing 12, the Pirates knew they needed a score to keep it close and give themselves a chance, but Western’s Jack Dodge had other plans. The Pirates “tried some different things,” according to the Pirates head coach, to try for the retaliation score, but Dodge intercepted a pass from Pinckney quarterback Jack Wurzer and returned it to the end zone.
The two Western touchdowns came 23 seconds apart. Just like that, things were out of hand.
“They hit a long fade on third down, and it looked like (the Western quarterback) overthrew (Ford), but he was fast enough to get there, and he tipped it to himself,” Gailitis said. “He batted it with his hand, caught it, and never broke stride and scored. And then we throw a pick-six.”
“That’s what it came down to,” Pinckney senior Wes Smith said. “They just executed those two plays.”
Although it seemed bleak for the Pirates, they weren’t going to surrender and call it a season. They continued to fight, but suddenly couldn’t get the stop they needed, despite having gotten those stops for most of the season.
Michigan State University wide receiver commit Cody White lined up in the wildcat and scored on a 16-yard run, and that was followed with Ford’s second TD reception on Western’s next reception this time the catch being 31 yards to put the Warriors up 32.
Suddenly, the score was lopsided.
A similar situation unfolded for the Pirates in Week 3 against Livonia Franklin, another talented team that was amongst the best in Division 2. The Pirates trailed, but only by three, 10-7, late in the game before running out of gas.
Gailitis said that wasn’t what happened in the loss to Western.
“I don’t think we ran out of gas tonight,” Gailitis said. “Our kids fought really hard, both teams did. (Western) is just a good team. When you play a team like that with so much talent and so much potential, you can’t make too many mistakes.”
And he wasn’t just referring to the fourth quarter.
Going into the half, Pinckney was down 7-0 but had a chance to notch the equalizer. On a hitch-and-go, the Pirates had Western’s defensive back beat for what looked like a long touchdown. Instead, the ball was intercepted by White, who also played defensive back, in the end zone.
After the Pirates were rewarded a safety following a bad snap, they had a field goal blocked.
Instead of leading 12-9, that kept them down by five.
“We were getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback (in the first),” Smith said. “And we stopped the run. The run was not doing much right, and we were playing hard. But they had athletes, and their athletes made plays.”
Too many plays in the fourth quarter, and that effectively ended Pinckney’s season.
The group was, of course, emotion after the game, but happy with what they had accomplished.
“I’m extremely proud. This has been huge for us,” Smith said. “We always played as a team, we stuck together as a team, and for us to go out in the KLAA like we did is huge. We’re all super happy about our season.”
“This team just faces adversity so well, and they did that because they battled and they played for each other,” Gailitis said. “We really emphasize brotherhood and family, and the way that they bought into that motto is so refreshing and exciting.
I just love these guys. They really gave this program everything they had. That’s all you can ask. I love every single one of them."
Tag(s): News Walled Lake Western WLW JV WLW Freshmen