In a matchup of Divison 6 heavyweights, Jackson Lumen Christi came away with a 40-34 victory over Ithaca to take its second straight state football championship on Friday at Ford Field.
The win gave Lumen Christi (12-1) its 10th football title and coach Herb Brogan his eighth state championship since he took over in 1980.
Lumen Christi recorded 514 rushing yards as a team, the third-most in an MHSAA title game, with 349 of those coming in the second half.
“We’ve said all year long that the offensive line was the strength of our team, and we’ve got some pretty good backs to run behind it, but I really thought they (the offensive line) asserted themselves in the second half and took control of the line of scrimmage,” Brogan said.
Lumen Christi wrestled momentum away from Ithaca (13-1) with an offensive explosion after going into halftime down 13-8.
It scored on its first drive of the third quarter, a 14-play, 80-yard possession capped by a 4-yard touchdown plunge by senior fullback Kyle Minder.
On its next drive, Lumen Christi turned again to Minder, who picked his way through the line and then got a big block to rumble 43 yards for the score and put Lumen Christi on top, 24-13.
It was part of a massive day for Minder, who had 206 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns.
“I owe it all to the offensive line. They put everyone on their back and really came through for us,” Minder said.
Senior running back Sebastion Toland also had a huge day for Lumen Christi, recording 244 yards and a score on 33 attempts. With 10:48 left in the game, Toland broke two tackles then turned on the jets for an 80-yard touchdown, putting Lumen Christi up 32-13.
Like the rest of his team, Toland did most of his damage in the second half.
“It was all mental. I just came out in the second half and focused on my keys. In the first half I was kind of rushing everything. It was a slow start. I came out in the second half and just relaxed,” Toland said.
“We knew coming in that Toland was going to be one of the fastest backs we’ve seen maybe ever. Then they’ve got the power of Minder. We would stop him, but he’d still get 4, 5, 6 yards, and that kept the chains going for them,” Ithaca coach Terry Hessbrook said.
Ithaca frustrated Lumen Christi in the first half, harassing quarterback Troy Kutcha into an interception and four sacks. Brogan changed the game plan at halftime, and Lumen Christi never passed in the second half except on two-point conversion attempts.
“Part of our problem in the first half was on the coaches. We tried to make too many big plays. That first half was as tough a half as we’ve had all year long,” Brogan said.
“They asked me on TV at halftime what I thought their adjustment was going to be for the second half and I said we’d see a lot more power run game,” Hessbrook said. “Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we got.”
Lumen Christi's only touchdown in the first half was by junior Nick Thomas, who took a reverse 72 yards down the right sideline, outrunning the entire Ithaca defense along the way.
“Two of our coaches texted us last night and asked, ‘Do you have what it takes to join the back-to-back club?’ and that really stuck with us and gave us an edge to come give it everything we had and leave it on the field and join that club,” Thomas said.
Ithaca gave a feisty effort, and if history is any indicator, it will be back to the state finals sometime soon. Ithaca has appeared in seven title games since 2010, winning five.
Senior quarterback Joey Bentley scored once on the ground and four times through the air for Ithaca. Adam Culp had two touchdown receptions, and Devin Barnes and Colton Campbell each had one.
“I’m just proud of my teammates and how hard they fought in this game,” Bentley said.
Ithaca scored with 2:27 left get within one score, but its onside kick attempt failed, and because Ithaca had no timeouts, it only took Lumen Christi one first down to seal the victory.
“I was glad the clock ran out when it did. Our defense made a few mistakes that kept them in the ballgame,” Brogan said.
“When you coach a team, all you ask is that they play as hard as they possibly can. My kids do that. They do that for me and my coaching staff,” an emotional Hessbrook said. “I told those guys at halftime that Jackson Lumen Christi has never seen a team like Ithaca High School because we have no quit in us. We never have, and we never will. And these kids, I’m so proud of them.”
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer