Troy — In a driving second-half snow, Cass Tech eradicated two years of disappointment in the Division 1 semifinals with a 48-41 win over Canton that sends it back to Ford Field for its first shot at a state championship since 2012.
In 2013, Cass Tech fell to Detroit Catholic Central in the semifinal. Last year, it fell to Saline, which was upset by Canton in this year's quarterfinals.
The conditions could have easily favored a Canton team that lives to run the ball. And with a first-time starting quarterback in Aaron Jackson taking snaps for Cass Tech, it had every excuse to fold again in the semifinals. But it didn't.
Jackson threw the ball just five times, but he hit Donovan-Peoples Jones for a pair of touchdowns from 78 and 80 yards. Jackson finished 4-for-5 for 205 yards and two scores. Peoples-Jones recorded three catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
"Donovan is the best athlete in the country, I promise you," Jackson said. "There's nobody like him."
Canton cut a 20-point fourth quarter deficit down to seven with 36 seconds remaining, and with its season hanging in the balance, it recovered the onside kick. But that's when the Cass Tech defense stepped up and pressured Canton quarterback Jake O'Donnell into two incompletions following a run play that went nowhere. On fourth down, O'Donnell was flushed from the pocket, and as he stretched out for the first down, the clock expired.
Cass Tech (11-2) could breathe.
Two great performances on the ground from a pair of Cass Tech running backs was the story offensively, as Tim Cheatem carried the ball 11 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns, and Donovan Johnson ran for 126 yards and two scores.
Canton wasn't exactly a slouch on offense, outgaining Cass Tech on the ground (399-293), but a few costly mistakes proved to be the difference. Canton fumbled twice inside the Cass Tech 5. And while it piled up yardage, Canton also turned the ball over on downs three times.
"We left points on the board," Canton coach Tim Baechler said. "It was just sickening. It's going to be hard for our kids to watch this."
Markus Sanders was a one-man wrecking crew that kept Canton in the game. The junior running back went off for 299 yards and four touchdowns on 39 carries.
O'Donnell finished 6-for-13 for 132 yards and a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter that cut the Cass Tech lead to 48-34, but it was clear that he wasn't entirely comfortable throwing the ball while trying to lead the comeback.
With the win, Cass Tech moves on to play Romeo for the Division 1 championship next Saturday at Ford Field. Kickoff is 1 p.m.
Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer