Detroit — Sam Johnson saved his best for last in the season opener Thursday night at Adams Field, leading No. 6 Walled Lake Western to a 19-14 victory over No. 4 West Bloomfield in the Prep Kickoff Classic.
Johnson, a 6-foot-4 junior quarterback, converted three third-down passes on the decisive 68-yard drive, capped off with his 2-yard TD run for the 19-14 lead with 2:15 remaining.
And, the winning drive came after Western’s defense came up with a big stop, forcing a fourth-down incompletion from the 32 by West Bloomfield quarterback Bryce Veasley.
“It was all about execution,” said Johnson who completed 17 of 31 passes for 236 yards. “First of all, I have to credit my offensive line because it wouldn’t have happened without them. You just have to keep executing. When we get in the red zone we have to get points off the drive, just can’t go in there empty. Thanks to our defense, they helped us out a lot.”
Johnson — a transfer from Southfield A&T — quickly went to the air, finding Malcomb Baker for 21 yards to the West Bloomfield 47, then hitting Justin Thomas with a perfectly thrown ball down the right sideline on a third-and-10 at the 37.
Then, after a penalty wiped out a third-down completion, pushing the ball back to the Western 49, Johnson found Kevin Jackson on a third-and-24 play for a 32-yard gain to the West Bloomfield 19, then hitting Jakkell Moore-Wells on a third down screen to the 8 to set up the TD.
“At that point somebody has to make a play, that’s all I’m thinking, somebody has to make a play and the line gave me time to find him,” Johnson said of the third-down pass to Jackson.
Johnson had to make plays with West Bloomfield’s defense stuffing the run, limiting Western to 47 yards rushing on 29 carries.
“Sam and I are best friends so we have our own signals and he looked at me and I looked at him and knew it was coming,” Thomas said of his third-down reception.
“I don’t know of a quarterback that can do that (complete three third-down conversions on a winning drive). He’s the best quarterback in the state in my opinion.”
West Bloomfield led 7-0, taking advantage of a short field after forcing a fumble at the Western 42. On a third down and 16 play, A.J. Abbott, a transfer from Northville, got behind the secondary and Veasley found him for a 33-yard gain to the 4. Veasley followed with a 4-yard TD run.
Western, which lost to Detroit King in the Division 2 state championship game last season, pulled even in the second with Johnson scoring on a 2-yard keeper after finding Baker for 14 yards to the 2 on a third-down pass with 14.5 seconds left in the half.
Western had the chance to break the game open in the third quarter, getting a 25-yard field goal from Aidan Jennings on its first drive for a 10-7 lead.
Then, Western forced two fumbles, only to come away with a 32-yard field goal by Jennings.
Veasley, who completed 17 of 36 for 208 yards while working with an offense that featured Wisconsin-bound receivers Abbott and Mustapha, misfired on his final four passes of the game after advancing inside the Western 25 in the final seconds.
Veasley, a Bowling Green commit, was the game’s leading rusher (115 yards on 16 carries), using his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame to break loose for a 51-yard run to set up his own 3-yard TD run with 4:59 left in the third for a 14-13 cushion.