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Clarkston gets ground game going, upsets West Bloomfield in OT

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Clarkston — One of the premier rivalries in high school football in the state of Michigan continued Friday night.

And Fox Sports Detroit made sure everyone had a chance to watch No. 2 West Bloomfield face No. 4 Clarkston with the COVID-19 pandemic in play.

Just two fans per player were allowed to be in attendance and they had the chance to see Clarkston (3-0, 3-0) come back from a 21-7 second-half deficit to earn a 24-21 overtime win on Stephen Rusnak’s 31-yard field goal on a chilly, fall night to take a big step toward winning the OAA Red division championship.

West Bloomfield senior linebacker Jordan Hoskins (10) and West Bloomfield senior defensive end Chris Johnson (8) tackle Clarkston sophomore running back Ethan Clark (34).

West Bloomfield (2-1, 2-1) had the ball last in OT from the 10, but a fumbled snap, then two incomplete passes led to a 32-yard field goal which was wide left to end the competitive showdown.

“We wore them down in the trenches,” Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson said. “We rely on our big fellas all the time and they carried us.”

Clarkston arguably has the top offensive line in the state with four-star linemen Rocco Spindler (Notre Dame) and Garrett Dellinger (LSU) leading the way. After being limited to 35 yards rushing in the first half, Clarkston piled up 187 during the second half on 31 carries.

“This is such a great rivalry, it’s so clean, it’s what high school football should be all about,” Richardson said. “This is high school football at its best.”

West Bloomfield and Rochester Adams shared the OAA Red title in 2017 with Clarkston avenging a 37-16 regular-season loss to West Bloomfield with a 3-2 championship game win at Ford Field.

In 2018, Clarkston defeated West Bloomfield 28-25 in Week 2 on its way to a repeat Division 1 title game appearance, a 31-30 loss to Chippewa Valley.

More:Detroit News high school football scores: Week 3

West Bloomfield defeated Clarkston 24-0 last year to win the OAA Red title while Clarkston finished 3-6, failing to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

The game certainly didn’t start the way West Bloomfield wanted with quarterback Alex Short throwing an interception on the first drive and Clarkston linebacker Caleb Stalworth returning it to the West Bloomfield 10 to set up a 4-yard TD run by quarterback Mike DePillo.

Then, Short’s screen pass on the first play of the next drive was turned into an 80-yard TD by four-star running back Donovan Edwards, but a penalty called that play back.

But Short showed his poise by leading an 85-yard, 11-play drive with four-star junior running back Dillon Tatum scoring on a 7-yard run to pull West Bloomfield even at 7.

West Bloomfield has two of the top backs in the state in Edwards and Tatum, but it was 5-foot-11, 220-pound junior Mailk Mathiea who had the bulk of the carries on the scoring drive, rushing for 38 yards on four carries against a Clarkston defense led by Spindler and Dellinger.

West Bloomfield won the battle of field position due to Clarkston’s bad punts and Short engineered a 67-yard, 13-play drive to take a 14-7 lead with 2:28 left in the half, and Edwards showed his talent with a 19-yard reception to the Clarkston 21, then rushed 15 yards to the 6, finally capping the drive with an up-and-over 1-yard TD run on a fourth-down play out of the wildcat.

West Bloomfield dominated the first half, but led just 14-7, failing to take advantage of an interception near the end of the second quarter by Tatum to the Clarkston 39.

West Bloomfield held a 165-47 advantage in total yards and ran 20 more plays (35-15).

West Bloomfield made a pair of big plays in the opening minutes of the third quarter to take a 21-7 lead.

Clarkston put itself in great position to pull even when Logan Forbes returned the second-half kickoff 45 yards to midfield.

But Clarkston’s drive stalled when DePillo’s third-down pass was broken up by Grant Lenton and the 37-yard field goal was wide.

Then, on West Bloomfield’s first play from its own 20, Short found Kentucky-bound Maxwell Hairston over the middle for an 80-yard TD pass for a 21-7 cushion.

West Bloomfield held a 245-77 advantage in total yards after the big TD pass.

Clarkston responded with an impressive 15-play, 97-yard drive to cut the deficit to 21-14 with DePillo scoring on a 1-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Spindler and Dellinger opened the way for sophomore running back Ethan Clark to run for 52 yards during the drive, including a 31-yarder to get his team out of the shadow of its own end zone. Clark had been limited to 17 yards on nine carries before the drive.

West Bloomfield then turned the ball over for the second time when Short connected on a screen pass which was fumbled at the West Bloomfield 28. Clark scored on a 16-yard run to pull Clarkston even at 21 with 10:16 remaining.

How quickly things changed with Clarkston putting 14 points on the board in less than 2 minutes.

“We got off to a slow start, but showed we have the best O Line in the state,” Spindler said. “We attacked and got inch-by-inch, yard-by-yard and took over in the fourth quarter which is the championship round. Clark did a great job for us.”

Clark rushed for 98 yards on 19 carries and DePillo 101 on 18.

Short completed 17-of-23 for 204 yards before the overtime incompletions, finding his receivers in open space in the short passing game and letting them use their speed.