I have to start by telling you how big of an amateur sports fan I am. I love watching all these unpaid athletes go out and lay it all on the line. High School football is one of my most favorite things to watch. Every week on Friday night, I'll go out and find a game, whether its good or bad, it keeps my interest when seeing kids go out and compete. Playoffs started a few weeks ago and the winner of Friday nights games advance to the semi-finals for the state championship. This is when the best of the best come out and sometimes it brings great games. Although I have seen some great games, the one I saw this weekend takes all the cake of any game I have seen in person or on tv.
The teams taking the field were both ranked in the top 10 in the state. Sterling Heights Stevenson Titans and Lake Orion Dragons both played great ball to this point. The Titans (10-1), coming out of arguably the best conference in Michigan (MAC RED), just came off a huge win agains't the favorite to win the state title. The Dragons (10-1), who has been used as the MAC RED's whipping boy the last few years, beat two MAC RED teams to advance to the quarter final game. Its only loss came to the new favorite for the state title in week one this year. On paper, this was going to be a great matchup, and neither team disappointed.
Its the start of the game on a cool, wet night. There had to be over 5,000 fans at the game to cheer on the teams. On the opening drive, the Titans were known for its passing attack and didn't let anyone down. Led by a JR QB, the Titans drove the field for the opening score (7-0). The Dragons didn't look sharp early on. Led by a FR QB, he struggled to complete a few passes and the Dragons went strictly to a running game. With a SR, JR, and a SO in the arsenal, it had no trouble running the ball through the Titan defense. After tying the score, the Dragons continued its onslaught and took a 21-7 lead into halftime. It seemed as though the Titans were not ready for this caliber of game.
Coming out of the gates in the second half and the Dragons were fired up. They continued to run the ball scoring on the opening drive and taking a 28-7 lead. The Titans received the ball and went three and out. On the Titan 23, the Titans were punting when the Dragons come right up the middle and blocked, then returned the ball for another score. After the point, many people started to get up and leave. Those people missed one of the greatest finishes ever witnessed in person.
With 8 minutes to go in the third and trailing 35-7, the Titans never gave up. They knew they had to score and quick. They took the next drive 70+ yards to score in a matter of minutes. Since the clock was a factor, they went for two points and converted (35-15). After the Dragons punted on a three and out, the Titans came with an air assault yet again scoring quickly. This time not going for two points (35-22). With a few minutes left in the quarter, the Titans intercepted a pass and return to good field position. This set up another score, this time on the ground and cutting the Dragons lead to 6 points with seconds left in the third. Now the Dragons began walking off the field holding their heads down. The Titan fans were in an uproar and the players were ready to let it all hang out in the fourth.
It didn't take long into the last quarter for the Titans to answer the call, making the most improbable comeback in sports. Once down 35-7, the Titans looked confused and unfocused. After turning the tables, they now had the Dragons on its heels. Coming out and delivering to the fans the lead they had been waiting for. The Titans now fueled by a one point lead (36-35) had the game in hand and were determined to move on and put the Dragons down and out.
The Dragons were in need to convert a fourth down at mid-field and missed with 1:44 to go in the game. The Titans still struggled with the run and it showed at this point too. After taking a knee, the Dragons used its last time out to spare precious seconds (1:41). Second down and a sweep to the right side was stopped with a loss and the clock running. Third down and the JR QB played keep away. Unfortunately he ran backwards before falling at the 32 yard line and taking a 15 yard loss on the play. The clock ran down to :15 seconds and the Titans took its second timeout.
The Dragons did what it needed to and was able to force a punt to get the ball back. Taking a fair catch at its own 45 with 9 ticks remaining, the Titans called its last timeout after the offense set up. Coming out of the timeout and a play set up, the Dragons threw a 23 yard strike on the sideline to get to the Titan 32 yard line. It was a prefectly drawn play that left 2.5 seconds on the clock. With each team lacking a timeout, the Dragons put in the kicker for the 49 yard field goal attempt. This kid has a personal best 37 yarder in his career and was going to attempt to best that by a large margin.
As the kick sailed, every fan was standing and leaning to see where the kick would go. The players on each sideline waited and I had a tough view from the opposite end of the field. The ref's made the call and it left a team in defeat. The fans cheered and the roar could've been heard across the entire town. The kicker now set a new personal best giving his team the victory. The final score 38-36.
The intensity of this game will ring with me for a while. I will never forget how both teams met the task and got the job done. This is what amateur sports is all about. Laying it all out and giving each ounce of strength for a game that only produces character. I think both teams were winners, but only one will play next week.