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Southfield A&T beats rival, clinches playoff spot

Geoff Robinson
The Detroit News

Southfield — With its playoff hopes on life support, Southfield A&T bounced back behind sophomore running back Lew Nichols after a miserable first half on offense, scoring 28 unanswered points to down rival Oak Park, 28-14, in an Oakland Activities Association crossover game Friday.

With its sixth win of the season, A&T (6-3) guaranteed itself a spot in the state playoffs.

“This is the best team in school history,” A&T coach Tim Conley said with a grin about his first-year team comprised of students from the former Southfield and Lathrup high schools. “It’s great for the kids.”

Nichols carried the ball 27 times for 265 yards and two touchdowns, gaining 217 of those after halftime — and with his team in a 14-0 hole.

The sophomore gave A&T the lead for the first time on a 62-yard score to start the fourth quarter and scored again on a 59-yard touchdown with just over six minutes remaining to give his team a two touchdown lead.

“I had to just keep going,” Nichols said. “I kept believing in my offensive line and running hard. I knew I was going to pop one.”

Said Conley: “He was on fire all week in practice. He’s a star in the making. We wore them down.”

The A&T offense wasn’t running smoothly all game, as it shot itself in the foot routinely in the first half, unable to capitalize on great field position. It committed all eight of its team’s penalties and came away empty twice after getting inside the Oak Park 12-yard line.

A&T was playing without its starting quarterback Sam Johnson. His replacement, John Darby, was 11-for-21 for 89 yards and a touchdown.

Oak Park (6-3) and its banged-up offensive line — UM recruit JaRaymond Hall left in the first quarter with an ankle injury — weren’t exactly clicking, but they were able to take a 7-0 lead when Dwan Mathis punched it in from 1 yard out after finding DaJohn Davis for 38 yards on third-and-21 to get down to the goal line on the previous play.

After forcing a three-and-out to start the second half, Oak Park scored on its first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, as Don Barbin burst through the line for a 59-yard score.

A&T’s defense didn’t give up any more points. A&T sacked Mathis six times, forced three turnovers and held the Oak Park quarterback to 2-for-9 passing for 64 yards.

“They turned it up,” Oak Park coach Greg Carter said. “We really didn’t get anything going offensively today. They did a good job of pressuring us and the offensive line fell apart.”

Lorenzo McCaskill got A&T on the board with a 27-yard run late in the third quarter. A&T pulled even after a Marcus Fuqua interception led to Darby finding Mathew Gilbert for a 15-yard touchdown.

Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.