Detroit — Pewamo-Westphalia began its season with a 14-0 shutout victory over the defending Division 8 state champions. On Saturday at Ford Field, it ended its season with a 14-0 shutout victory over the three-time defending Division 6 champions.
Senior Aaron Bearss intercepted Jackson Lumen Christi quarterback Brendan Wilson and then caught a 27-yard touchdown pass 34 seconds later, providing the winning score in Pewamo-Westphalia’s third Division 7 state title in four years with three seconds to go in the first half.
“It went by in the blink of an eye,” Bearss said of the moments that made him the game’s hero. “(I was) just trying to slow the game down, and just be with my teammates.”
Bearss’ shining moments added some sparkle to an otherwise ugly, dirty, physical football game — just the way these two teams like it. Pewamo-Westphalia (14-0) gained 119 total yards of offense to Lumen Christi’s 109, with both teams finishing with an average of 2.3 yards per play.
Lumen Christi (12-1) had won three consecutive state titles in Division 6 before dropping to Division 7 this season.
Despite Pewamo-Westphalia entering Saturday with eight shutouts to its credit, one of the game’s biggest surprises was its ability to stop Lumen Christi running back Walker Plate. Plate looked to become the fourth consecutive Lumen Christi back to rush for over 200 yards in the title game, but instead was limited to 49 yards on 22 attempts.
“We take pride in the fact that nobody runs the football on us,” Pewamo-Westphalia coach Jeremy Miller said. “They’re huge up front, so the fact that we were able to limit what they wanted to do on the ground is why we’re sitting here.”
After going three-and-out on its first offensive series, Lumen Christi found a groove on its second drive, thanks to start at midfield. It ran 14 plays, converting on fourth down once and third-and-long twice. It’d come away with no points after missing a field goal at the 5-yard line, a huge stop for a Pewamo-Westphalia defense that had begun to crack.
“Emotionally, you just felt pumped up, ready to go, get back out there,” said Pewamo-Westphalia's John Martin, who finished with a team-high 11 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles-for-loss.
“It was a big momentum-changer.”
Plate picked off a pass from Ethan Thelen and returned it to the Lumen Christi 43 with 1:03 to go in the half, one last chance to put up points before the half. Bearss stepped up to pick off Wilson just two plays later.
“I was just in the middle of the zone, saw both guys coming, and I just started reading the QB’s eyes,” Bearss said. “Once I saw the ball was thrown, I just went and attacked.”
Pewamo-Westphalia converted on third-and-2 with 16 seconds left and no timeouts to go in the half. Thelen rushed to the line, stopped the clock with a spike, and relayed a message to Bearss.
“I said, ‘I’m going to give you a shot, you go make the play,’” Thelen said. “Right on the snap, the safety was there, our slot guy made a great play and ran the safety off so Aaron had one-on-one.
“I knew he was going to come down with it.”
Pewamo-Westphalia threatened to extend its lead early in the fourth quarter. Carter Thelen returned a punt to the Lumen Christi 15, and after six plays, Pewamo-Westphalia lined up for third-and-goal at the 2. Ralph Golden flew around the left-side edge to drill Ethan Thelen as he loaded up for a throw to the end zone, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Lumen Christi lineman Keegan Smith at the 24.
Carter Thelen’s 43-yard return was spawned by a fake reversal after fielding the punt, allowing him to break free down the field’s right side. Pewamo-Westphalia’s Nate Martin also returned a punt 58 yards in the second quarter.
“They hurt us on special teams,” Lumen Christi coach Herb Brogan said. “We didn’t perform very well there.”
None of Pewamo-Westphalia’s units seemed to have as much firepower as its defense, though. Following the emotionally charged stop by Lumen Christi, Pewamo-Westphalia settled down, forced two incompletions and a loss of two on Plate’s third-down run.
Carter Thelen slammed the door shut on the ensuing Pewamo-Westphalia possession, finishing the job he started the previous drive on a 16-yard touchdown run with 2:16 left in the game.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.