Troy — Just when it looked like Cass Tech had opened a door that appeared shut just minutes earlier, Makari Paige bolted the door and swallowed the key when he jumped in front of an Aaron Jackson pass with 44 seconds remaining.
After forcing five Cass Tech turnovers, it was the final one that sent West Bloomfield to the state championship game for the first time in school history with a dramatic, rain-soaked 9-7 win over Cass Tech in a Division 1 semifinal on Saturday afternoon.
“I saw the play coming,” Paige said. “I stayed focused and made it happen. It feels great.”
An unnecessary roughness penalty with 1:20 left extended a Cass Tech drive that had gotten into the red zone before stalling on downs. Trailing 9-0, Cass Tech cashed in with a Jaren Mangham touchdown that cut the deficit to 9-7.
Noah Womack recovered the onside kick for Cass Tech, but two plays later, Paige made what could be the biggest play in West Bloomfield history.
“He stepped up,” West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy said of Paige. “We’re a team of destiny and we’re going to continue to ride this wave.”
With the win, West Bloomfield heads to Ford Field next Saturday for a showdown with Oakland Activities Association Red Division rival Clarkston, who won 27-7 over Detroit Catholic Central, at 1 p.m. next Saturday
West Bloomfield (11-2) handled Clarkston, 37-16, when the teams met in mid-September.
Senior kicker Nick O’Shea accounted for all of West Bloomfield’s points, as he hit from 31 yards in the first quarter and added a pair of 26-yard field goals before halftime.
It was a special moment for O’Shea, who lost his father to a heart attack in October.
“I just did my job,” O’Shea said. “It was definitely tough. My team got me through it.”
“That kid has a heart of gold,” Bellamy said. “He’s special. I love him. He plays for his father every week. His father’s looking down on him, looking down on our football program.”
Cass Tech will be left scratching its head after Jackson threw two interceptions, both of which came with his team deep in West Bloomfield territory.
Jackson also fumbled the ball out of the back of the end zone as he catapulted himself into the air on fourth-and-goal, allowing West Bloomfield to hold onto its 9-0 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“We said the team that wins the turnover battle in this weather is the team that’s going to win the game,” Bellamy said. “I don’t think they thought we were very physical, but we took it to them.”
Cass Tech (9-3) outgained West Bloomfield, 293 to 245, but it was Bellamy’s kids who made the plays when it counted most.
Collin Heard led the way on the ground for West Bloomfield, finishing with 67 yards on nine carries.
Quarterback Bryce Veasley finished 10-for-17 passing for 68 yards and didn’t make the big mistake. Veasley took advantage of good field position in the first half to get his team in field goal range.
Jevin Swanigan had 68 yards on just two carries for Cass Tech. He did most of his damage on a 66-yard run in the third quarter.