Macomb — Antonio Patrico and Kaiser Carleton sprinted with the rest of their Macomb Dakota teammates through a banner which read "Crush Clarkston" while taking the field for the season opener Thursday night.
And Dakota did just that, defeating two-time defending Division 1 state champion Clarkston, 35-10, to end the Wolves' 27-game winning streak, which was the longest in the state.
Patrico had an impressive debut at quarterback for Dakota, throwing for 163 yards, while Carleton — a 5-foot-7, 165-pound junior — rushed for 205 yards (26 carries) and scored three TDs, including runs of 25 and 9 and a 34-yard reception from backup quarterback Brett Droski.
So, how impressive was the victory for Dakota? Well, after trailing 7-0 with Clarkston picking up 39 yards after a 55-yard kickoff to start the game, the Cougars gave up just 40 more through more than three quarters while piling up 447 totals yards to build a 35-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
"We've prepared since January for this game," said Carleton, who has 4.4 speed and has been offered by Ohio. "We came in fired up, so this is humbling. It's humbling. It feels great. They are a great team and have a good tradition. We just came out here and did our thing."
Dakota coach Mike Giannone, who has guided the Cougars to three consecutive MAC Red outright titles, said having a balanced offense was the key.
"Well, that's the key when they're putting in that many guys in the box and they're coming at you, you better be able to throw the ball," said Giannone. "The big thing for our quarterbacks tonight was hit the open receiver and I thought our guys caught the ball for the most part.
"He (Patrico) did a great job. I thought he had a lot of poise. He had a nice run and hit the open guys. I thought they were both pretty right on. And I felt the offensive line did a great job, too."
Sure, Clarkston missed standout running back Nolan Eriksen, who rushed for 1,500 yards and 22 TDs last season. And, the Wolves need to find a passing game after the graduation loss of D.J. Zezula.
"We have to learn from it, that's what it's all about," Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson said. "They put it in a different gear (after Wolves' early lead) and I don't know if we did so hats off to them."
Michael Fluegel took the opening kickoff 55 yards to Dakota's 39, then ran for 33 yards on three carries, giving the Wolves the lead on a 20-yard run.
Then, Patrico and Dakota wasted a red zone opportunity after a first and goal at the 6 in the opening quarter.
Two penalties, a five-yard loss on a running play, followed by a 10-yard loss on a sack had Dakota settling for a 46-yard field goal which was missed.
However, Patrico made sure the Cougars would capitalize on their next two drives in the second quarter, leading them to two TDs in less than two minutes to take a 14-10 halftime lead.
Trailing 7-0, Patrico directed a 13-play, 80-yard drive to pull the Cougars even with 4:56 left. He completed 4-of-7 passes for 54 yards, including a 7-yard, third down pass to Tavin Allison and a 17-yard scramble on a third down play to keep the drive alive.
Then, after Dakota's defense forced Clarkston to a three-and-out, Patrico led the Cougars to a 70-yard TD drive, starting it with a 35-yard toss to Evan Sivec to set up Carleton's 25-yard run with 3:11 left in the half.
Dakota coach Mike Giannone wanted to use the two-quarterback system and Droski, a junior, made the most of his minutes, throwing a 34-yard TD pass to Carleton who picked the ball off his shoe-tops and ran down the left sideline for the score with 9:54 left in the third to open up a 21-10 cushion.
Sonny Cooper scored on a 1-yard run in the opening minute of the fourth to widen the gap to 28-10 after Carleton got the Wolves in scoring position with runs of 26 and 16.
Yes, three TDs in a span of 7 minutes, 2 seconds.
Kicker/punter Alex Kessman was a bright spot for Clarkston, showing why he has an offer from Pittsburgh, kicking a 56-yard field goal with 54 seconds left in the half and also had a 50-yard punt in the opening half and prevented disaster on another punt when the snap went over his head in Clarkston territory.
Kessman retrieved the ball at the Wolves 15 and booted it to Dakota's 44.