Romeo’s Brad Tanner had seen it on film this week.
It looked like Brett Droski telegraphed his passes, and with the game on the line and Macomb Dakota driving, down 19-14, Tanner made his move.
“This quarterback telegraphs his passes and I just kind of sat back and saw him go to that receiver,” said the senior defensive back. “I just jumped it. I pretty much baited him.”
Tanner picked off the pass and returned it 65 yards for a TD to seal a 26-14 win for visiting Romeo Friday night, ruining Dakota’s Homecoming and clinching a playoff spot with a record of 6-0 in a Macomb Area crossover.
Romeo QB Paul Hurley had fumbled two plays after the Cougars scored to make it 19-14, so the home team was poised to steal a game in which it had been mostly outplayed.
“Brad Tanner is the man,” said Hurley. “He saved me. He had my back. I tried to blow that game, it seemed like. My team came back every time and had my back. I love those guys.”
Dakota, in a tight race in the Macomb Area Conference Red division, fell to 4-2 overall.
Romeo is 3-0 in the MAC White. “We have many goals, this is the sixth one,” said co-coach Jason Couch. “Curt (Reinas) and the defense had a great game plan.”
The Bulldogs passing game exposed the middle of the Cougars defense and Romeo mostly stuffed Dakota’s offense, minus a long pass play in the fourth quarter.
“I think we had the ball just four times in the second half,” said Dakota coach Mike Giannone. “They controlled the game. They are a good football team.”
On Dakota’s first drive, Kaiser Carleton (11 carries, 93 yards) ripped off a 50-yard run to the Romeo 30. But on the next play, quarterback Antonio Patrico fumbled and Joey Meyers recovered for the Bulldogs.
Romeo turned the turnover into a 1-yard run by Dominic Bongiorno with 5:11 left in the first quarter to give the visitors a 7-0 lead. The Bulldogs then struck through the air with 9:15 left in the half when Hurley hit a wide open Lucas Schimon on a 41-yard pass to make it 14-0.
Dakota finally got on the board when Droski hit Dimitrij Donakov with a 6-yard TD pass with 4:12 left, making it 14-7 at halftime.
After swapping possessions to start the second half, Romeo went on a time-consuming drive, taking the game into the fourth quarter.
Zach Nies kicked a 33-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth to give the visitors a 17-7 lead.
Mitch Heimbuch got off a beautiful punt with 8:16 left in the game, pinning the Cougars back to their own 2. It led to a grounding in the end zone penalty on Droski when he was flushed out of the pocket. The safety gave the Bulldgos a 19-7 lead with 8:07 left.
Dakota broke through with a 64-yard pass from Droski to Evan Sivec, who made a fingertip catch with 2:47 left to make it 19-14. Hurley then fumbled on a quarterback keeper with Benji Marshall recovering with 2:33 to play.
“Before the game our coach said we stop 21 (Carleton) and we make them pass,” said Tanner.