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Western's defense comes up big to stop Lakeland, 13-11

By Brad Emons,, 10/01/17, 10:30PM EDT


Walled Lake Western wanted to eliminate the long ball in its Lakes Valley Conference football showdown Thursday night against White Lake Lakeland.

The Warriors gave up some singles and doubles, but their defense kept the Eagles' vaunted Wing-T offense from hitting the grand slam as they held on for 13-11 win in what could be considered an old pitcher's duel.

Western (5-1, 4-1) gave up 176 yards on the ground, but only one touchdown against a Lakeland team that came into the game averaging nearly 30 points per outing.

"No home runs," Western coach Mike Zdebski said. "They 21 50-plus touchdown plays and that's what we eliminated tonight. And we were a few tackles away from not even allowing that to get on the board. Our kids did a great job of preparation and understanding what a Wing-T offense is, and understanding the strengths of their team and what they're trying to accomplish with everything that they do."

The Warriors managed just 123 yards in total offense, but managed to jump out to a 13-0 first quarter lead.

Western took just three plays to score its only TD with 10:27 remaining in the opening quarter as Sam Johnson hit Justin Thomas on a 43-yard TD pass.

Lakeland's Robbie Tracy (with ball) turns the corner

Lakeland's Robbie Tracy (with ball) turns the corner against the Western defense. (Photo: JERRY REA)

A 48-yard punt return by Randall Harris set up a 31-yard field goal by Aidan Jennings, who then followed with another field goal of 39 yards less than two minutes later to give Western a 13-point cushion.

"He's good," Zdebski said of his place kicker. "He's another in the lineage of kickers we've had here. We've had great kickers. He's going to be an All-State dude, too. He kicked two field goals tonight and won the game. He's perfect on extra points this season."

Lakeland (4-2, 4-2) got on the board with 9:20 left in the second quarter when the snap from center on a Western punt sailed over the head of Jennings and through the end zone for a two-point safety to trim the deficit to 13-2.

"He's a tall kid, so if the snap isn't too bad he can get it," Zdebski said. "That one . . . could have made it to the middle school on that safety."

With just 1:32 left in the first half, Lakeland tallied its lone TD on a 1-yard keeper by quarterback Mitchell Boles. The Eagles went for the two-pointer, but got stopped making it a five-point deficit.

The momentum began to change in the third quarter as Lakeland ate up 7 minutes and 47 minutes of the clock driving down to the Western 11, but had to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Leo Skupin with 3:13 to go in the period.

Lakeland's Sean Cullen (left) stiff-arms the Walled

Lakeland's Sean Cullen (left) stiff-arms the Walled Lake Western defense. (Photo: JERRY REA)

But earlier in the drive, a 36-yard halfback pass by Robbie Tracy for the go-ahead TD to Cullen was nullified by a holding call.

"They could have called a hold on any one they wanted to, but they decided to get us on that one," Lakeland coach Joe Woodruff said. "It is what it is. We got three points off the deal, but we should have been up. It was a great pass, a great executed play. We set it up. We'd been waiting for it. The kids did everything they were supposed to do."

Western, meanwhile, ran just nine offensive plays during the second half, but held on when Harris, the senior cornerback headed to Central Michigan University, broke up Boles' intended pass to Cullen on fourth-and-7 with only 1:09 left to seal the win.

"My coach said they'd be running it right at me, they hadn't the whole game, but they were going to run it right at me next play with a pass," Harris said. "I saw the receiver go on a curl route. I saw the quarterback look at him. I broke down on it. I pounced on it real quick and a ripped it out of him for the play."

Lakeland tried seven passes on the night and only completed one for 10 yards.

Walled Lake Western's Randall Harris came up with a

Walled Lake Western's Randall Harris came up with a key defensive pass break-up in a 13-11 win over Lakeland. (Photo: BRAD EMONS)

"Our defensive coordinator put us in the right position to make plays for us," Harris said. "We watched film every single day hours upon hours. Everybody was at home watching film, so we came into this game really prepared for a defensive stand and we knew it would be a defensive battle with them tonight. And that's what we did . . . make big plays."

Four other takeaways:

Pivotal moment: The Warriors burned their final timeout to let their mull over and prepare what Lakeland might throw at them on thecirtical  4th-and-7 play from the Western 48 with just over a minute to go.

And their defense guessed right.

"We were looking for a curl route because our inside (line)backers were coming up hard," Zdebski said. "So our corner (Harris) did a great job sitting on it and making a great play. Randall made a helluva play there. The ball hit him (Cullen) in the hands and he (Harris) took it out of his hands. But you've got to make a play to win a game. Couple of weeks ago when we weren't fortunate (in a 47-37 loss to Waterford Mott), we couldn't make a play when he had to make one more play. But we got that play tonight."

Lakeland's C.J. Davis (28) and Matt Fus (34) team up

Lakeland's C.J. Davis (28) and Matt Fus (34) team up for the tackle on Western running back Jakkel Moore-Wells. (Photo: JERRY REA)

Eagles' defense soars: Western managed just in 123 total yards as Johnson was 5-of-12 for 111 yards, while running back Jakkel Moore-Wells added 29 yards on the ground in nine attempts.

Western had just 12 yards net rushing and six tackles for loss.

"Our defense was phenomenal the way we played," Woodruff said. "We spotted them 13 points out of the gate and it was a shutout from there. Our kids had guts. We played with our guts."

Injury update: The Eagles lost junior starting quarterback Brady Woodruff, the son the Lakeland  head coach, to an injury during the opening period.

"Brady is doing O.K.," Joe Woodruff posted on Facebook. "He had a dislocated hip after a hit in the first quarter, they were able to put it back in place. There is no ligament damage. There is a fracture in the hip, We will know more tomorrow, but we are optimistic. He has the heart of a lion. All he kept asking was who won . . . "

Both Boles and Joe Rzeppa alternated at quarterback to finish out the game.

"When we lost Brady we lost 75 percent of our offense," Joe Woodruff said. "So that tells you where we had to adjust and overcome on offense."

Sharing the load: Seven different Lakeland players had at least one rushing attempt.

Lakeland's leading ball carriers were Cullen (11-for-62) and Tracy (20-for-40).

Another starter in the backfield, Dylan Kutzleb, did not dress after tweaking his knee the week before in a 51-21 win over South Lyon East.

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