Detroit — Jackson Lumen Christi opened the second half of Friday’s Division 6 championship game at Ford Field with 28 unanswered points, disrupting the plot of a brewing underdog story and claiming its third consecutive state title with a 42-28 victory over Montague.
Lumen Christi (13-0) opened a 14-14 tie at halftime by scoring twice and forcing a turnover in a 3:36 span during the third quarter, and then delivered a knockout punch with Cy’Aire Johnson’s 29-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth.
"It's a great feeling, because it's new every year," Lumen Christi head coach Herb Brogan said. "You have different successes, different problems ... I'm just really proud of our kids."
Brogan said that his team's depth was the biggest difference in a tale of two halves.
“We had a few less kids going both ways than they did, and I thought that paid dividends,” Brogan said.
Senior Nick Thomas rushed for 237 yards and two touchdowns and Johnson picked up 95 all-purpose yards and reached the end zone twice. Lumen Christi’s defense forced a loss-of-yardage on five of Montague’s drives; Bobby Willis had two interceptions and Dayton Keller recovered a fumble.
Thomas said that he could tell that the lanes were opening up more in the second half against Montague’s exhausted defense.
“We wanted it a little more than we did in the first half,” said Thomas, who recently committed to the Air Force Academy. “My boys up front did good.”
Offensive lineman Keegan Smith added, "Our running backs try to push us to be better and better every day. After every play, they're saying, 'One more, one more.' "
For a time, it looked like Montague (11-3) might be up to the task of knocking off the defending champions.
Senior running back Bryce Stark put his team on the board first. He took a direct snap on the first play of Montague’s second drive and followed flawless blocking on his way to a 57-yard score that gave his team a 7-0 lead.
“I just kind of waited patiently,” Stark said, adding that he “saw the crease, had to break a few tackles, and just made it big.”
Lumen Christi’s defense was forced to bounce back from its lapse in coverage quickly.
Thomas was stripped by Remington Schneider, and Sebastian Archer returned the loose ball to Lumen Christi’s 42-yard-line.
The ensuing Montague drive lasted just three plays and lost 4 yards, giving Thomas a shot at redemption — and he did not disappoint. He countered with a 57-yard touchdown run of his own to tie the score at 7-7 and eclipse 100 rushing yards on the day with 9:44 left in the second quarter.
Lumen Christi took its first lead 2:35 later. Senior quarterback Joe Barrett found Cy’Aire Johnson wide open over the middle for a 40-yard touchdown pass to go up, 14-7.
The two offenses traded turnovers to end the half. Montague wound up benefiting from the gaffes, as it moved 18 yards down the field after the exchange.
Willis picked off his first pass of the day and returned it to the 35, and then quarterback Drew Collins made up for his error by recovering a fumble on defense two plays later at the Lumen Christi 41-yard-line.
Stark ran the ball three times on Montague’s four-play drive, getting in the end zone with a 21-yard rush to tie things up, 14-14, with 1:17 left in the first half. Before the touchdown run, he turned a play that looked destined for negative yardage into an 18-yard pickup.
“I just kept pushing and kept pushing and eventually, the guy kind of let loose, and I broke free,” he said.
After the half, Lumen Christi’s championship pedigree started to pay dividends.
Its defense opened the second half by forcing a Montague drive into negative yardage for the fourth time. Thomas got Lumen Christi into the end zone with a 12-yard touchdown run to complete the ensuing 52-yard drive.
And in case that wasn’t a big enough statement, Dayton Keller made sure Montague’s spirits were crushed for good. He recovered a fumble at the Montague 24-yard-line, and then caught a 5-yard touchdown pass to give Lumen Christi a 28-14 lead, its largest of the day.
“We ran out of gas today,” Montague head coach Pat Collins said. “If it was a video game, and you guys don’t get tired, it’d be a closer game.”
Collins threw another interception to Willis near the end of the third quarter, setting up a 29-yard touchdown run by Johnson that put the game away.
Collins said that Lumen Christi’s relentless pass rush “caused a lot of problems” in the second half.
“They were sending six, but we’d always miss one or two,” he said. “It just folded the pocket down, and we just didn’t have a lot of time to throw.”
Stark finished with 159 yards on the ground and Montague receiver Brennan Schwarz caught touchdown passes of 48 and 77 yards in the game’s final three minutes to tighten up the score. Brock Fitzpatrick added a touchdown for Lumen Christi.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.