Walled Lake — Gaining momentum was not easy for Walled Lake Western’s vaunted offense, but in the second and fourth quarters it found traction, scoring 21 points to down Livonia Churchill, 21-7.
The win sends Western (11-1) to the Division 2 state semifinals, but 21 points are the fewest Western has scored this season.
“We missed three deep shots early that could have opened up the game, but our guys rose to the occasion when it mattered most,” Western coach Alex Grignon said. “Our message all year has been to be as good as we can every day. It paid off and they made it work.”
The Western ground game struggled with no player gaining more than 36 yards, but senior quarterback Zach Trainor looked comfortable at the controls of Western’s high-powered passing game.
“We didn’t score many points, but a win’s a win,” Trainor said. “It feels surreal. This is the biggest game I’ve ever played in and it feels great. I have the best receiving corps. Every game a different guy blows up.”
Trainor was 17-for-26 passing for 182 yards and three scores.
“There’s no moment too big for him (Trainor),” Grignon said. “He may try to do too much once in a while, but he understands the game. He understands what the moment is, how much time is on the clock, everything you want your game manager to do. He’s a junior, and this is his first year starting. He was patient, and it’s paying off.”
Churchill (7-5) made a charge in the fourth quarter, scoring all of its points, but its defense couldn’t get Western off the field at crucial times, minimizing Churchill’s chances on offense. Western recorded four time-sapping sacks in the second half.
Grignon is in his second season as head coach at Western and has now advanced at least one game further in the playoffs than in his first year, but Western has been to the Division 2 finals as recently as 2016.
“I knew the pressure I was getting into when this job was offered to me,” Grignon said. “That’s what you coach for, right? These are the types of games you want to be in.”
Grignon has plenty of support. He was an assistant coach at Lincoln Park for four years under his dad, Jamie, who joined the Western’s defensive staff this year.
“I grew up the son of a coach,” Grignon said. “I grew up on the sideline. I understand high school football pretty well. When the opportunity came, I was ready for it and ran with it.”
Western wide receiver Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen remembers 2016’s trip to the finals well. Yaseen’s talent was obvious even then, even as a freshman, when he was seeing snaps on a very talented team. Now, three years later, despite a recent Michigan State scholarship offer, Yaseen plans on heading to Northwestern next year. But first, at least one more high school football game.
“It’s a great feeling (to get back to the semis). We worked so hard for this. We have to handle business (in the semis), but I’m looking forward to the chance to get back to the finals. We struggled a little bit (on Friday), but we’ve just got to get back to work.”
Yaseen finished with 68 yards on five catches with one touchdown.
The first quarter ended scoreless after the teams traded several punts.
Western registered the first big play of the game in the second quarter when senior free safety Jeff Petruno made a diving interception. On the ensuing drive, Trainor, while running to his left, fired a laser 21 yards to senior slotback C.J. Brown for the first score of the game, putting Western up, 6-0.
After a Churchill three-and-out, Trainor showed nice poise, executing a two-minute drill to perfection and capping the drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Cameron Kinaia. A successful two-point conversion attempt made the score 14-0 for Western at the half.
Defenses reigned again in a scoreless third quarter before Churchill broke through in the fourth. Junior quarterback Gavin Brooks launched a prayer that was brought down by senior wide receiver Brendan Lowry for a 46-yard score to tighten things at 14-7. Brooks went 13-for-20 throwing for 122 yards in the second half to spearhead Churchill’s comeback attempt.
Fewer than two minutes later Trainor struck back with a long touchdown throw of his own, a 32-yarder hauled down by Yaseen to lengthen Western’s lead back to 14, 21-7.
Lowry scored on a four-yard end-around to make it 21-14 with 2:01 left, and Churchill recovered an onside kick, but Western’s defense stiffened to force a turnover on downs, ending the game.
Western will take on Muskegon Mona Shores (10-2) in next week’s semis.
More regional games
Detroit Denby 40, Dearborn Heights Robichaud 18: Latrell Thompkins had 11 tackles with two sacks and returned a kick for a touchdown, Marquez Bridges had 237 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns and Karl Foster had 10 tackles and three sacks for Denby (10-2). Robichaud finishes 9-3.
Detroit King 49, U-D Jesuit 21: Lynn Wyche-El caught four passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns, Peny Boone carried 13 times for 183 yards and three touchdowns and Jaylen Reed had 10 tackles, forced a fumble and blocked a punt for King.
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer; Detroit News staff contributed