Walled Lake Western carried a 31-10 lead into the fourth quarter of what basically was the KLAA North Division championship game, and coach Mike Zdebski had a chat with his inexperienced secondary.
“Just keep everything in front of you,” he said. “They have to throw.”
And Walled Lake Northern did just that, quickly throwing a touchdown pass. When Western fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Northern scored again — and to make things interesting, Northern threw another touchdown pass to tie the game with 6:51 left.
Undaunted, Zdebski told his coaches: “Here’s your championship-winning drive right here. If we’re good enough, we’ll hit this drive.”
Western did, but it wasn’t easy for the No. 2 team in Division 2.
The Cowboys needed John Camilleri’s 35-yard field goal with 50 seconds remaining to provide them with a 34-31 victory.
Under normal circumstances, Camilleri can hit a 35-yarder in his pajamas and bedroom slippers. But Western’s field runs east to west, and the field-goal attempt was into the teeth of a strong wind.
“All I asked him was: ‘Do you have a shot,’ ” Zdebski said. “He said: ‘I’ve got a shot.’ ”
Had Friday’s wind been at his back, Camilleri would have been good from 55 yards, but there was no certainty he would make this one.
“That’s why that kid was all-state last year,” Zdebski said. “He hit two field goals (Friday) night. Just like last year, the one he hit against (Farmington Hills) Harrison against the wind to put us into overtime, he can hit that clutch field goal.”
Camilleri also is a terrific punter who regularly pins teams inside the 20-yard line, which often translates into good field position for his offense and quarterback Kyle Thomas, who had another impressive performance given the windy conditions.
Thomas completed 13 of 26 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns. He added 111 yards rushing and a touchdown on 17 carries.
“Kyle is awesome,” Zdebski said. “He can make something out of nothing. The nice part is he understands defenses because he’s put a lot of time in. He knows where he’s throwing the ball and why he’s throwing the ball. He can stay calm in those tough situations.”
If there is one thing Western appears to lack, it is the killer instinct. It isn’t able to put teams away like state championship teams are capable of doing.
“We’re allowing teams to stay with us right now, in my opinion,” Zdebski said. “If we just do the simple things right, once we tie all those things together, we’re going to be pretty damn good.”
Churchill is on the move
Four turnovers will get any team beat, but there was more to Livonia Churchill’s surprising 33-14 victory over then-No. 2 Canton than the Chiefs’ four turnovers.
Entering Canton’s final drive, the Chiefs had managed only 175 yards of offense.
Canton runs the full-house T-formation offense with two tight ends, and sometimes it is impossible to figure which of the three running backs has the ball. That means the defense must be extremely disciplined and assignment conscious, which is difficult to do against that offense.
“You can do good for a drive or a couple of plays, but if one kid runs up field and gets trapped, it’s 50 or 60 yards or a touchdown,” Churchill coach Bill DeFillippo said. “We’ve been working on that, and discipline hadn’t been our strongest suit going into it. Hopefully that will help us take the next step moving on here.”
One of the key plays was a pick-six that went for 60 yards by Churchill cornerback Jamal Allen late in the second quarter for a 14-0 halftime lead.
“I don’t think anyone in the staff room could have said after three quarters we’ll be shutting them out and pretty much stopping all of their inside run game,” DeFillippo said. “Usually when we played them in the past, even when we’ve won, it’s been 40-35 or 43-40 because both teams struggle stopping the other one.”
The Chargers returned two starters on offense and three on defense. Linebacker DeMarko McKinney led the way Friday with 16 tackles.
Churchill is 4-2 and could tie for the KLAA South Division title with a win and a Canton win over Plymouth this week.
“We’ve had some issues with being a young team and having some immaturity and some lack of discipline at times,” DeFillippo said. “That’s why this last game almost drives you more crazy. You’re like: ‘Oh, my God, you guys wait until Week 6 to play like this?’ ”
Churchill is 3-3 in its past six games against Canton, and the Chargers also are 3-3 against Plymouth.
“It’s a good sign kind of being mentioned with those guys who are always constantly in there,” DeFillippo said. “That’s where we want to get to.”
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