West Bloomfield — Southfield A&T took full advantage of Garrett Dellinger’s absence Friday, piling up 460 total yards while coming up big defensively to defeat No. 5 Clarkston, 28-14, in the season opener.
A&T, which went 3-6 last season, showed its physicality up front as well as its speed and its ability to have a balanced attack with transfer receivers in Washington State-bound Christian Fitzpatrick (Waterford Mott) and three-star junior Robert Army (Detroit Renaissance), who has multiple Big Ten offers along with Iowa State, Syracuse and Kentucky.
With an experienced dual-threat quarterback in Florida Atlantic-bound Anthony Romphf, A&T — ranked No. 8 in The News' preseason poll — made big play after big play, tallying a total of five plays for 30 or more yards.
Clarkston won Division 1 state championships in 2013, 2014 and 2017 and advanced to the title game again last year, losing to Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, 31-30.
And Clarkston returned two of the top two-way linemen in the state for the 2021 class in Rocco Spindler (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) and Dellinger (6-4, 280), who is ranked the No. 1 tackle nationally for 2021 by 247Sports.
Dellinger missed Clarkston’s postseason run last year due to a labrum injury, first having surgery on his left shoulder in November and then on his right a couple of months later. He said earlier this month that he would be ready for the season opener, but told head coach Kurt Richardson this week he wouldn’t be ready to play.
Spindler played well, but with Dellinger sidelined, A&T had its way on both sides of the line.
When asked what the prognosis was on Dellinger, Richardson replied: “I have no clue. He hasn’t been practicing much, then on Tuesday told me that he couldn’t go.
“They kicked our (butt) up front. We couldn’t block them, and we couldn’t stop them either way. We got down inside the 5 twice and didn’t score, and you can’t do that against a team like that. We’ll be alright. We’ll get back to the drawing board and work our (butts) off.”
Romphf completed 8 of 21 passes for 118 yards and had several passes dropped. He also rushed for 110 yards on 15 carries.
“Having a good run game makes the pass game easier,” Romphf said of A&T's ground attack, which finished with 343 rushing yards on 35 carries, including 196 yards on 12 carries by junior Rae’Quan Lee. “I have to thank my O-line because without them nothing would happen today, and (receivers) Robert Army, Jeff Bowens and Christian Fitzpatrick, they just make things a lot easier.
“This was his (Lee) first varsity start. He’s an animal He’s been waiting for this moment.”
Clarkston sophomore Mike DePillo showed potential in his first start at quarterback, finding Matt Miller for a 35-yard touchdown on a fourth-down toss on the final play of the half to pull his team even at 14.
DePillo got loose up the middle for a 62-yard run early in the third, but was taken down at the 4 by Bowens. Bowens’ hustle proved to be a big play when Clarkston fumbled on the next play and A&T's Abdul Jabaar jumped on the ball at the 3.
Down 28-14 midway through the fourth, Clarkston had a first-and-goal at the 6 but failed to get the ball in the end zone, including a fourth-down incompletion in the end zone.
Lee got things rolling with a 64-yard scoring run with 3:38 left in the first quarter to pull A&T even at 7.
Clarkston had taken a 7-0 lead with Devin Parkison’s 2-yard touchdown run, which was set up by Alec Boan’s interception at the A&T 24 off an ill-advised pass by Romphf.
Romphf tossed aside the turnover by leading a 14-play, 80-yard drive that really covered more than 100 yards due to multiple penalties. Romphf broke loose for a 17-yard run and found Fitzpatrick, who made an outstanding fingertip catch near the right sideline, on a third-and-15 for 16 yards before scoring on a 2-yard run with 1:14 left in the half.
Lee, who had 103 yards in the first half, had runs of 18 and 16 yards during the long first-half drive. He scored on a 32-yard run with 10:14 left in the third for a 21-14 cushion.
A&T concluded the scoring when Romphf found Fitzpatrick for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 4:45 left in the third.
A&T and Clarkston will cross paths again in Week 6 during Oakland Activities Association Red Division play.