It’s definitely the appropriate time to provide a reminder that Walled Lake Western forever is an answer to a trivia question as it relates to the state high school football finals.
Which was the first program to win a Division 1 state title in 1999, the first year the playoffs were broken into eight Divisions instead of four classes?
The answer of course is Walled Lake Western.
But it’s a good time to bring that fact up now because Western hasn’t been back to the state finals since 1999, suffering three state semifinal losses in either Division 1 or Division 2 before last Saturday arrived.
Thanks to a 37-34 win over Lowell, Western (12-1) got over that semifinal hump that has plagued it since 1999 and is gearing up for a long-awaited return to the finals when it takes on defending state champion Detroit Martin Luther King (11-2) in the Division 2 state championship game at 1 p.m. on Friday at Ford Field.
“We have been looking at old timelines at what time to leave on (Friday) and things like that,” Western head coach Mike Zdebski said. “I think it helps with the preparation of the week and understanding that these kids have been out here for 16 weeks now. It’s all mental and not physical anymore.”
The question now will be if Western will party like it did in 1999 when it won its second ever state title (1996 was the other in Class AA) with a 19-7 win over Utica Eisenhower.
Instead of going to the Silverdome for those previous three visits to the finals (the championship site was moved to Ford Field in 2005), Western will be heading to Martin Luther King’s backyard downtown and will try to upend one of the most athletic and motivated teams in the state.
Led by senior wideout/defensive back Ambry Thomas, who has scholarship offers from Michigan and Michigan State among others, sophomore quarterback Dequan Finn, junior wideout Jae’Veyon Morton and senior wideout Christian Chatman, King’s only two losses this season were to unbeaten and Division 1 finalist Detroit Cass Tech.
King is also an inspired group playing in honor of Dale Harvel, their head coach who passed away suddenly of a heart attack in August right before the season began.
Harvel was the head coach of last year’s Martin Luther King team that beat Lowell in the state championship game, 40-38, on a 40-yard touchdown catch as time expired by current Michigan State freshman Donnie Corley.
“They are much, much better than they were earlier in the season, and they beat Southfield (A & T) 39-0 the first game of the year,” Zdebski said. “They are better now.”
Western technically hasn’t lost a game on the field this season, but had to forfeit its Week 1 win over Farmington for using an ineligible player.
Many watching the game will look forward to some one-on-one battles between Thomas and Western senior wideout Cody White, who has committed to Michigan State.
But Western hasn’t got this far just because of White.
Senior quarterback John Tracy has thrown for over 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns, senior running back Jalen Marshall has rushed for over 800 yards and 17 touchdowns, senior Kam Ford has close to 1,500 all-purpose yards, senior Rob Hudson is one of the state’s top two-way linemen, and senior Jack Dodge has seven interceptions to lead the secondary on defense for Western.