Utica Eisenhower thwarts Romeo on late kick, 16-14
Shelby Township — Utica Eisenhower continued to show it is the class of Macomb County and one of the premier teams in the state Friday night, pulling out a 16-14 victory over defending Division 1 state champion Romeo on a 37-yard field goal by Anthony Tocco with 1 second left.
Romeo had taken a 14-13 lead, its first lead of the game, on Kade Messner’s 2-yard run with 1:29 left, followed by a 2-point conversion by Ryan Medley.
But Romeo (3-2, 2-1) left too much time for Eisenhower (5-0, 3-0) — ranked No. 5 in The News Super 20 poll —and its standout junior quarterback Max Wittwer.
Wittwer led a drive starting at Eisenhower’s 27-yard line, connecting on four of five passes for 30 yards, including a 12-yard pass on third-and-long to Ryan Chargo near the right sideline to set up Tocco’s field goal in the MAC Red showdown before a standing room only crowd of 6,500.
“We work on the two-minute drill just like a lot of teams and those are the types of things we execute in practice and Max did an outstanding job of running it,” Eisenhower coach Chris Smith said.
Obviously, Smith had high praise for Tocco.
“That’s his first field goal for us this year,” Smith said. “This is his first year kicking for us. He’s a soccer player and I’m just so proud of him.”
Romeo’s ball control offense dominated the second half, leaving Eisenhower with just 33 yards on seven plays before the final drive.
“We just changed up the game plan a little bit, made some adjustments to what they were doing and got it done,” Wittwer said. “The coaches did a great job with the plays and I was happy to execute. We all did our jobs and we did awesome and I feel great right now.
“And, about Tocco, he was shaking at the start of the season, but that kid came around real nice and I’m so happy for him. We’re partying right now.”
Eisenhower’s triple option attack was never more impressive than during its 97-yard drive early in the second quarter to open a 13-0 lead. The key play was a 24-yard pass from Wittwer to tight end Ben Mets to Romeo’s 8.
Two plays later, Jacob Albrecht went around right end for the 2-yard TD with 10 minutes left in the half.
Jack Provencher opened the scoring for Eisenhower with a 13-yard TD run in the first quarter.
Eisenhower defensive lineman Salvator Vultaggio played well, stopping Medley on third-and-1 early in the second quarter for no gain, then tackling quarterback Austen Malczewski short of first down to force a 32-yard field goal by John Messing with 19 seconds left in the second quarter to hold a 10-point halftime lead.
Lukas Gjelaj also came up with a big play during the final drive of the half, sacking Malczewski on second down to set up a third and long.
Vultaggio again caused problems for Romeo early in the fourth, tackling Messner for a four-yard loss to set up a third-and-15, forcing another Messing field goal, this time from 22 yards.
Eisenhower’s defense has played well all season. Following a 26-13 win over four-time defending MAC Red champion Macomb Dakota in Week No. 2, Eisenhower came up with consecutive shutouts against Roseville (49-0) and Chippewa Valley (42-0).
Romeo was trying to avenge last year’s 17-14 loss to Eisenhower which was the Bulldogs’ lone loss en route to beating Detroit Cass Tech in the state title game at Ford Field.
Romeo’s ball control offense came alive during the second half, especially on the touchdown drive when Malczewski connected on multiple third-down passes to keep the drive alive.
Messner also made multiple big plays, including breaking a tackle on a fourth down run to get to Eisenhower’s 4 to set up his touchdown.
Still, Romeo just left too much time for Wittwer and company, who could be well on their way to the type of special season Romeo enjoyed a year ago.