Detroit — The West Bloomfield-Clarkston rematch was much different from the first meeting between the teams.
And, a lot more was at stake … like in the way of the Division 1 state championship with the battle being played on the big stage at Ford Field Saturday afternoon.
No doubt, Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson had his team work on its pass defense after getting dominated in the OAA Red Division game back in October, a 37-16 loss to West Bloomfield when Bowling Green-bound quarterback Bryce Veasley threw for 325 yards and four TDs.
This time around Clarkston (12-2) pulled off the upset, defeating West Bloomfield 3-2 to earn its third state championship in the last five years. It was the lowest score in state finals history when each team scored.
Clarkston made West Bloomfield work for every inch, putting pressure on Veasley and giving his primary weapons in Taj Mustapha and A.J. Abbott — both headed for Wisconsin — and Tre Mosley little room to operate.
West Bloomfield (11-3) held a 285-117 advantage in total yards, but Clarkston forced three turnovers, the final one coming on Tieler Houston’s interception at the Clarkston 43 with 1:25 remaining.
Clarkston also made a critical stop during the third quarter on a fourth down at the Clarkston 30 with Michael Fluegel defending Abbott, forcing an incompletion.
“That’s what these kids have been about all year long, finding ways to win,” said Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson whose was without running back Josh Cantu who suffered an ACL injury in the semifinals. “Defensively, we played remarkable against those kids they have, all those skilled kids.
“We spent a lot of sleepless nights watching all their film, watched what they did to us the first time, watched what they did to other people as they went along, and our little guys in the secondary (Houston, Fluegel, Cody Hughes, Josh Luther) rose to the occasion.
“We changed our coverages (from the first game), we wanted to bring the heat, that kind of philosophy we went with and we didn’t turn the ball over, which we did four times the first time we played them.”
Clarkston overcame an early safety by forcing two first-half turnovers — a red zone interception, then a forced fumble near midfield — and kicked a 30-yard field goal in the final seconds of the second quarter to lead 3-2.
West Bloomfield led 2-0 when the snap sailed over Clarkston’s punter’s head and out of the end zone with 3:04 left in the first quarter.
West Bloomfield failed to get good field position following the safety when the kickoff from the 20 went over Collin Heard’s head, resulting in bad field position at the 17.
However, early in the second quarter, West Bloomfield advanced inside the Clarkston 10, but Veasley scrambled out of the pocket, threw off balance and his pass in the end zone was intercepted by senior linebacker Zach Scott.
“It was an empty set, cover zero so it was man coverage and that put me in a little awkward position because I didn’t know where the DB was so I just checked out on him, trailed him (Mosley) and made the play,” Scott said. “I’m happy that Veasley threw a bad ball because if he threw a good one he probably would have beat me.”
The penalty came on first-and-goal at the 7.
West Bloomfield had another drive inside Clarkston territory when Heard was stripped of the ball and Cody Hughes pounced on the loose ball at the Clarkston 46.
In the half's final minutes, Clarkston forced a three-and-out, getting one final chance to put some points on the board and took advantage of great field position — at the West Bloomfield 40 with 19 seconds left — and quarterback Nathan Uballe found Connor Heaton for a 15-yard pass to the 26 and a roughing the quarterback penalty advanced the ball to the 13 to set up Jermaine Roemer’s 30-yard field goal.
“At the end of the half it was a huge spark, you could see the difference walking into halftime, they had no momentum, we had all the momentum and knew our scheme was perfect,” Scott said. “Mostly the seniors were talking (at halftime), seniors were saying things like we’ve got 24 minutes of football left, we have like three kids with offers on our team so not many guys are playing football next year, so it was last 24 minutes of football of strapping it up so you just got to go get the job done and come out as champions.”
Clarkston did just that with the Wolves’ defense again coming up with a big stop, this time after West Bloomfield advanced inside the 30 on a 52-yard pass play from Veasley to Mustapha midway through the third quarter.
Clarkston’s defense forced a fourth-down incompletion with Michael Fluegel providing strong coverage on Abbott.
“We had a lot of success throwing the football, but we had two interceptions and the difference in the game was three turnovers to zero turnovers and you can’t win football games when you lose the turnover battle,” West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy said.
“We knew they were going to blitz more, knew they were going to rotate the coverages. We moved the ball well against those guys, defensively they just grind it out and we had some unfortunate penalties that set us back on some drives. We also had two early turnovers that kind of set the tone for us offensively.”
Said Veasley: “Every time we had a big play the next thing you know you look up and there’s a penalty.”
Veasley completed 15-of-32 for 214 yards, but also had the two costly interceptions. West Bloomfield also was penalized 11 times for 105 yards, one for a substitution infraction that cost them five yards, making Bellamy decide to punt on fourth and 10 from the Clarkston 45 instead of going for it on fourth-and-5 from the 40 with less than five minutes remaining.