Wyandotte — Gibraltar Carlson’s football team knows how to do two things — run the ball and win.
Carlson, passing only twice and racking up 209 yards on the ground, held on to beat Wyandotte, 14-7, in a Downriver League matchup Friday to stretch its winning streak to seven games.
“Our defense played a great game,” Carlson coach Jack Giarmo said. “You have to make plays to win these games, and the guys made big plays."
Carlson (7-1 Downriver) puts multiple running backs in on each play. Wyandotte (5-3) defensive linemen didn’t know which running back would get the ball — and where he might go once he got it, with Carlson backs having success up the middle and on the edge.
Carlson’s strategy also proved highly effective in bleeding the clock. Once Carlson got up, it melted several minutes off the clock with almost every possession, limiting the number of chances Wyandotte had to catch up.
Senior running back Tom Sucharski, Carlson’s smallest ball carrier, did the most damage by amassing 73 yards, highlighted by a long of 26 on his first carry.
“I just need my line to keep blocking for me. I love them. It’s all due to them,” Sucharski said. “I knew we had it in us. Even when it got close, I knew the seniors would take care of it.”
Said Giarmo: "Tom Sucharski is a good little fullback. We were just taking advantage of what the defense gave us, and it worked for us. You can’t find Tommy. He’s so small and quick, too.”
Leading Carlson in rushing attempts was senior running back Brandon Stewart. He had 14 carries for 54 yards and both of Carlson’s crucial scores.
“It felt good,” Stewart said. “They’re a good team, but we just focused on our blocks and our assignments. We tried our best to get the win. That’s really all we ever do.”
Wyandotte sophomore quarterback Jalin Pitchford finished 7-for-12 passing for 63 yards and had 28 yards rushing in the losing effort.
“We’ve got to forget about this loss, put it behind us,” Pitchford said. “We came out a little slow. In the second half, we knew what we had to do, but we just couldn’t execute.”
Wyandotte junior running back Christian Cooper ran with physicality but found daylight through Carlson’s defensive front too rarely, ending the day with a hard-fought 65 yards on 18 carries.
Wet conditions contributed to two Carlson turnovers. Without them, Wyandotte wouldn’t have been able to keep it so close.
“We had a good drive going and then fumbled the ball,” Giarmo said. “That’s the game of football. It was a whole different ballgame without those (turnovers).”
Carlson scored a touchdown on its first drive. It featured 10 plays, all runs, for 75 yards with Stewart finishing it off on a 1-yard plunge. The first quarter ended 6-0.
Wyandotte had the ball to start the second quarter and drove into Carlson territory, but a field goal attempt was emphatically blocked by junior quarterback Ian Stewart, who came flying off the edge and dove to get in front of the ball.
On the ensuing drive, Carlson’s mashing front got back to work, this time with the help of a 12-yard pass from Ian Stewart to junior running back Bryce Stewart. Brandon Stewart scored on an 8-yard run to the right, outracing Wyandotte defenders to the corner. A two-point conversion run from Ian Stewart, who has offers from Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, made the score 14-0, which is how the first half would end.
The first half saw Carlson tally 146 rushing yards, almost evenly distributed among four backs.
Wyandotte experienced its only offensive success in the third quarter. After gaining possession on a fumble recovery, Wyandotte was able to move the ball through the air and on the ground. On third down, Pitchford was under duress and threw up a prayer to senior wide receiver Chance Persondek, who took a big hit on the 17-yard, first down reception. Cooper then rumbled into the end zone from 15 yards out, bowling over defenders at the goal line to pull Wyandotte within 14-7.
The fourth quarter began with Carlson turning the ball over on downs in Wyandotte territory. Wyandotte ended up punting but the punt was muffed by Carlson, setting up Wyandotte on Carlson’s 32. On a fourth-and-6, Pitchford couldn’t scramble for the first down, handing the ball back over to Carlson with about 4:30 left.
Carlson went three-and-out and was forced to give Wyandotte the ball back one last time with 2:30 left. But on a fourth-and-11, Pitchford scrambled and was tackled near first-down marker, where he was ruled short after a measurement.
With the loss and only one week left in the regular season, Wyandotte no longer has a chance to repeat as Downriver League champions.
Carlson plays at Lincoln Park next week while Wyandotte hosts Melvindale.
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.