BY WENDI REARDON PRICE
Clarkston News Sports Writer
The Wolves eschewed a chance at a tie and went all in for the win in the final seconds of the State Championship at Ford Field, Saturday, but fell short by a single point.
Long-time Head Coach Kurt Richardson wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“We have been aggressive forever – that’s how we play football,” Richardson said. “The offensive guys made some great choices as far as going two for two, (but) it didn’t work. I wouldn’t change the call. Our offensive guys thought they had a great call and I stick with them 100 percent. We were all in on it. It is what it is.”
With 23 seconds remaining in the MHSAA Division 1 Football State Championship game, Clarkston scored a touchdown on a 7-yard pass from senior Jake Jensen to junior Matt Miller, narrowing the score to 31-30 against Chippewa Valley.
The Wolves then had two options – bring in senior kicker Tristan Mattson for a PAT and tie the the game at 31-31, or take a chance and go for the 2-point conversion to win.
They picked the conversion, a play they had practiced for weeks, said Jensen.
Jensen pitched the ball to senior receiver Jake Billette, who handed the ball off to senior Josh Luther, who was stopped before he could finish the play, ending the game with a 31-30 win for Chippewa Valley.
“I was the intended receiver,” Jensen said. “I was supposed to leak out and get behind the corner defensive back. Josh was supposed to lob it over, but things didn’t go that way.”
It was a great high school football game, Richardson said.
“They played their butts off and our kids scrapped and scrapped like they have all year,” he said.
The Big Reds (14-0) opened the afternoon with 14 points in the first six minutes of the game off a 3-yard run by Andrew Chenault and a 36-yard pass from Tommy Schuster to Martice Bunting.
The Wolves put three points on the board with 2:52 remaining in the first quarter from a 38-yard field goal from Mattson.
Chippewa Valley’s next score also came off of a field goal with 4:45 remaining in the first half.
Luther caught the kick off return, beginning the play for the Wolves on the 33-yard line.
Clarkston moved closer to Big Reds endzone before landing in it off a 3-yard touchdown run by senior Jacob Honstetter with 41 seconds remaining in the half. A PAT from Mattson put the score, 17-10.
Before the Wolves had a chance to celebrate, David Ellis scored a touchdown on a 94-yard kick off return to end the half with Chippewa Valley up 24-10.
“I think that moment really defined these guys because that’s the time you go, it’s just not going to work today,” Richardson said. “They came out and they kept scrapping. They didn’t give up. Chippewa Valley would answer, then we would answer. It’s a great high school football game – again. Scott Merchant is an awesome coach and that’s a great program.”
Clarkston opened with possession of the ball in the third quarter and scored on a 5-yard touchdown from Billette.
The Big Reds fought back before the Wolves could score again with a 25-yard pass from Schuster to Bunting with 1:20 left in the third quarter.
Luther caught the kick off return again, starting Clarkston on the 21-yard line. Jensen passed the ball twice to Luther for a total of 35 yards as the Wolves closed in on Big Reds’ endzone.
With 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Jensen held onto the ball and made a 44-yard touchdown run. A PAT from Mattson put the boys seven points within reach of Chippewa Valley.
Jensen went 10-for-15 in passing for 115 yards with Luther catching four of the passes for 52 yards. Conor Donahue caught three passes for 59 yards and Matt Miller caught three passes for 21 yards.
Jensen also rushed the ball nine times for 127 yards.
“Jake has just grown and grown as a quarterback and as a leader. We felt comfortable putting the ball in his hands. He had some nice catches,” Richardson added.
Billette carried the ball 11 times for 60 yards and five first downs yards.
Senior Max Nicklin led defense with five tackles and five assists. Luther had five tackles and two assists. Senior Brendan Barker, senior Aaron Berti and sophomore Rocco Spindler had four tackles and two assists. Junior Zach Reid had five tackles, senior Josh Croll had three tackles and four assists, and Honstetter had two tackles and three assists.
The Wolves finished the season 11-3, as OAA Red league champions, district champions and regional champions.
“Our kids feed off each other,” said Richardson, adding it’s a tight community. “The first thing college kids do when they come home is get in the weight room. You have a kid like Cole Chewins starting for Michigan State University and he is in the weight room working with our guys. It’s a very tight community, very tight group of kids. They come through our camps, they come through our programs. They all feed off each other. It’s awesome for me. It makes things easy for me.”
“It’s very humbling. Great coaching staff. It’s a brotherhood,” said Spindler on his second trip to Ford Field with the football team. “No one even gave us a chance to come back here and we did. I promise you we will be back here again before I leave.”