Stepney's 2-yard run lifts Dakota over MAC Red rival Romeo

By Nolan Bianchi
Special to The Detroit News

Macomb Township — Romeo and Dakota provided a sequel to their double-overtime contest from Week 7 with a slugfest in a Division 1 predistrict matchup at Dakota Friday night.

The two Macomb Area Conference Red heavyweights traded punches all game, with a 2-yard touchdown run by Dakota’s De’Javion Stepney being the difference in a 21-17 Dakota victory.

Dakota also prevailed 37-30 in the double-overtime encounter in Week 7.

Dustin Solomon took 30 carries for 139 yards and Brandon Michalak had 65 yards receiving and two touchdowns for Dakota (8-2).

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The 5-foot-8 Solomon missed a handful of games this season with a knee injury. Dakota head coach Greg Baur saluted the senior running back’s effort. 

“Dustin Solomon is a warrior,” he said. “He was probably 80, 85 percent, but it was all heart.”

Solomon said that he was merely a beneficiary of great downfield blocking.

“The linemen getting downfield, getting to the safeties and the linebackers at the second level,” Solomon said, “made it easy to read the cuts.”

Dakota picked up the early momentum when Matt Love recovered a fumble by Romeo’s Ty Czapski, who put the ball on the carpet while fighting off defenders on a run that went 20 yards.

Solomon got Dakota started after the turnover, picking up 27 yards on four runs to put Dakota at the Romeo 34. Mark Tocco then threw his first pass on second-and-9, a 34-yard touchdown completion to Michalak to put Dakota up 7-0 with 7:44 left in the first.

Romeo (6-4) got its mojo back via the passing game. Jack Wendt got Romeo into the Dakota red zone with consecutive completions of 9, 45 and 12 yards. Romeo wound up settling for a field goal after a red-zone stand by Dakota, making it 7-3.

With 12 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Dakota sent its field-goal unit out after being stopped on third-and-goal from the 5. But after Romeo called a timeout to ice the kicker, Dakota’s offense trotted back out, and Michalak made a diving catch in the corner of the end zone to put Dakota up, 14-3, at half.

Romeo got back in the game after a fourth-down stop by its defense to start the second half. 

Running back Brock Horne went for runs of 15 and 14 yards before crossing the goal line on a 2-yard run, making it 14-9 after a blocked extra point.

Romeo wasted no time taking a lead after stopping Dakota on the next possession.

Czapski made up for his first-quarter fumble with a 97-yard touchdown run, going untouched up the middle. Romeo converted on the two-point attempt to make it 17-14 late in the third.

Baur said that an injury forced his team’s defensive line to shift things around, resulting in a handful of missed assignments on the play.

“The play that they ran, we actually told our defense it was coming,” he added. 

Dakota marched right back down the field with Solomon and Tocco carrying the rock before a 20-yard completion to Patrick Merolla put Dakota at the 2-yard-line, allowing De’Javion Stepney to reach the end zone with his first carry of the game to make it 21-17 with 8:16 remaining.

“(Tocco) is, in my opinion, the best quarterback in the state,” Solomon said. “He can run, he can pass… he reads perfectly.”

Romeo had three drives to get back in the game — including a recovered pooch punt that was botched by Dakota at midfield — but couldn’t get anywhere near the red zone with Riley Orlando sacking Wendt to put a stamp on the victory. 

“We were actually in the wrong coverage twice in a row,” Baur said. “We decided to send some blitzes in at the end that rushed the quarterback and that was the key to that drive.”

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.