Throughout Friday’s Division 2 championship game, there was always a sense that Walled Lake Western was on the verge of a comeback, even as the Warriors continued to play with a zero in their points column.
While its typically high-powered offense struggled to gain traction against Detroit Martin Luther King, Western’s defense kept hope alive by repeatedly stopping the Crusaders in their tracks to return the ball to the hands of the offense.
While the final verdict was an 18-0 defeat to defending champion King, Western’s defensive performance should hold up as one of the best-ever to come in a losing effort.
The Crusaders were limited to just 158 yards and only six of their points came with the offense on the field thanks to a pair of second-half interception returns for scores.
In fact, King’s lone offensive touchdown came when it was gifted a short field, traveling just 26 yards to reach the end zone in the waning seconds of the second quarter.
“We were pretty ready for their passing game. They didn’t surprise us with anything,” said Western senior Cody White, who plays cornerback when on defense. “Obviously, it didn’t come out the way we wanted it to, but I think our defense played like a championship defense tonight.”
White recorded the first of several critical defensive plays, intercepting a pass on King’s second drive of the game, which had reached Western territory.
The next time the Crusaders had the ball, senior safety Jack Dodge forced a fumble, which junior Justin Thomas scooped off the turf at his own 2 yard line, denying King of points in a goal-to-go situation.
Later in the first half, the Crusaders reached the red zone again, but the Western defense held once more by forcing King quarterback Dequan Finn to scramble on fourth down and fire a pass out of bounds for a turnover on downs.
“If we don’t get those turnovers in those situations, there was a chance it would be a really bad situation at halftime,” Warriors coach Mike Zdebski said. “Our defensive coaches put a ton of time in. They all worked extremely hard to prepare for this game and we were extremely fortunate when we made those big plays at big moments to keep us in the game.”
Senior linebacker Matt Alati recorded a sack among his six tackles and also blocked an extra point attempt to end the first half. Another senior, defensive end Jason Peets, came up with a sack that ended another King drive.
“We were right place, right time, and we had to bring some pressure in those situations, but we made plays defensively at opportunistic moments,” Zdebski said.
In the second half, the Crusaders possessed the ball for just eight of 24 minutes as the Warriors forced three-and-outs on each of King’s first three drives. It wasn’t until midway through the final quarter that the Crusaders’ offense had gained positive yardage in the second half.
Dodge made a team-high seven tackles, while juniors Johnathon Moffett and Zak Kempster each tallied five takedowns.
“Offensively, I thought we had a good game plan, but credit to (Western). I just tried to match their good game plan, even if it had to be a 6-0 game,” King coach Ty Spencer said.