DETROIT — By the end of this one, a team considered by many to be among the best in the state was going to have a losing record after one week.
As the final snap of the game was had, that fact was still to be determined.
The West Bloomfield High and Walled Lake Western football teams locked horns Thursday afternoon in the opening game of the Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State.
And it wasn’t until the last pass of the game was ruled incomplete that Western could exhale, hanging on for the 19-14 victory.
“It’s great to win a game you’re not supposed to win,” Western coach Mike Zdebski said, hinting at the fact few expected his guys to hang with West Bloomfield. “I guess we’re pretty good, because that’s a really good team (we beat).”
West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy was equally gracious, even in defeat.
“We played a hell of a team today,” he said. “Let’s not be fooled. (Western) lost in the state championship last year. They are every bit as talented as us. But we have to get better, and that’s on me. … This won’t happen again. I guarantee that.”
The close finish was the byproduct of a close game all day.
Things remained scoreless until the final moments of the first quarter.
West Bloomfield quarterback Bryce Veasley finally found the end zone, scoring on a 4-yard run to give the Lakers a 7-0 lead.
That score would hold true nearly to the halftime break.
Western’s offense finally got itself going, and, playing in his first game with the Warriors, Southfield A&T transfer quarterback Sam Johnson III tied the game on a 1-yard run with just 14.5 remaining in the second quarter for a 7-7 tie at halftime.
After forcing a West Bloomfield punt, Western’s offense went back to work at the start of the third.
Johnson hit Kevin Jackson on a 50-yard pass, and while things stalled out, Aidan Jennings drilled a 20-yard field goal to make it 10-7 less than three minutes into the half.
Then, the Western defense went to work, forcing fumbles, and recoveries, on consecutive Lakers possessions.
The second one of the quarter, recovered by Zak Kempster at the West Bloomfield 30-yard line, led to another Jennings field goal, this time from 32 yards out, and a 13-7 lead midway through the third.
West Bloomfield wasn’t going away, thought, as Veasley’s 51-yard pass set up a 3-yard touchdown run for the Lakers’ signal caller.
On their next possession, the Lakers drove right down the field to end the third quarter and looked to add to the lead on the first play of the fourth, but a field goal was blocked by Chris Harris, and Western got the ball back on its own 13-yard line.
A penalty and a sack backed the Warriors up, and a solid punt return by West Bloomfield’s Richard Sanders set the Lakers up at Western’s 25-yard line.
Again, though, nothing materialized for West Bloomfield, which lost seven yards on the drive and turned the ball over on downs.
Johnson then went to work, with his arm and legs, engineering a time-consuming drive that ended with a 3-yard scamper to the end zone for the junior quarterback
The score gave Western a 19-14 lead with 2:15 remaining in regulation.
The Warriors went for two after the score, but failed to convert.
West Bloomfield began its final drive at its own 20-yard line, and eventually got to the Western 23 with nine seconds remaining before a pair of incompletions ended the game.
“This is huge,” Zdebski said of starting the year with a win. “We opened up with the No. 3 team in the state, ranked whatever they are. That’s a really good team and a well-coached team that we just beat, so this is huge.”
The game was the first for the Warriors since losing in the Division 2 state final last November.
“We put so much time into this since December to prepare for this moment,” Zdebski added. “To do what we did, it feels great.”
Asked what the difference was, Bellamy had a quick answer.
“We said the team that was going to win the turnover battle was going to win the game,” the Lakers’ coach boasted. “It happens 75 percent of the time, whatever level. High school. College. Pro. We had a sack fumble. Another fumble and a blocked kick. We have to get better.”
Johnson, who fittingly enough was on the field as Southfield A&T warmed up for its game against Davison High, finished his Western debut 17-of-27 passing for 236 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
“Sam was great for a first-year junior in our program,” Zdebski said. “He was solid in there. He’s going to get nothing but better.”