By: Kylie Martens and Irving Mejia
The road to Ford Field had not been etched in stone for the Clarkston Wolves, who had previously lost two games in their regular season. Doubt had settled into the minds of their critics as they cited their aforementioned two losses as evidence to the Wolves' failures on the field.
When the Wolves entered Ford Field on that frigid November afternoon, uncertainty continued to hang in the minds of Clarkston's critics. However, the Wolves disregarded these thoughts as the ended their search for their third state championship in only five years.
The grueling path to the MHSAA State Championship may have still been an arduous one to traverse through for the veteran-led Wolves, but by sweeping their way through the remainders of the playoffs, only one challenge stood between them and their final goal, a formidable foe in the 11-2 West Bloomfield Lakers.
Kurt Richardson, Clarkston's head coach of over three decades, understood that the practices leading up to Ford Field needed to be structured different. The majority of the players needed to be prepared for playing on such a colossal stage.
Particularly, Richardson details how the Wolves were prepared to focus and direct one another despite the distracting, deafening volume of the crowds.
"Leading up to Ford Field, while we were practicing at Detroit Country Day, the coaches would blast music during practice, and the guys had to learn to talk to each other and communicate plays."
In week four of the regular season, the Wolves faced a long-lasting blow as they lost to West Bloomfield 37-16. West Bloomfield's noteworthy offensive line and decorated receivers were unequivocally a viable threat going into the finals. This, Clarkston, would not soon forget when they met for their rematch.
The game began as any other before it during the regular season did. Tieler Houston awaiting yet another opening kickoff, and as a matter of fact, his final opening kickoff of his high school career.
During the first quarter, it seemed that each team was vying equally for the title. It was obvious that the adrenaline of stepping onto Ford Field was fueling both contenders as it was reflected in their dynamic and powerful opening plays.
Clarkston then continued on offense with Nate Uballe completing a nine-yard pass to junior, Conor Donahue. Although, subsequently, the drives for the Wolves and the Lakers seemed to stall with both teams gaining relatively low yardage.
After the initial drives, Clarkston's attempt to punt the ball down-field ended in a botched snap. In an uncanny series of events, the ball flew over the punter, Jermaine Roemer's, head, and into Clarkston's end zone. Ultimately, the Lakers received a safety.
With that being said, the first quarter ended in an exhausting defensive tug-of-war with West Bloomfield leading Clarkston by two points. The second quarter opened with West Bloomfield's, Collin Heard, making a twelve-yard run before being pulled down by Clarkston's Joshua Luther and Cody Hughes.
It seemed that the Lakers' came alive in those first few minutes. A strategic combination of an aerial assault and ground and pound offense gained them fifty-four yards in their two and half minutes of possession.
It seemed that the Lakers were all but geared to earn a touchdown as they set up one last play on Clarkston's seven-yard line. The whistle blows, and West Bloomfield's quarterback, Bryce Veasley, quickly darts to his left, cocks his arm back and lets the ball sail into the end zone.
The entire stadium held its breath as both teams waited for a Lakers' wide receiver to grab hold. However, in a shocking turn of events, Clarkston's Zach Scott made a miraculous dive and in an amazing move, snagged the ball before it reached a shocked wide receiver.
And, with that fateful catch, the tides turned in the favor of the Wolves. The stadium vibrated with unrepressed cheers as Scott was applauded by throngs of players, coaches, and fans.
As the quarter continued on, it seemed as if Clarkston's offense was shocked back to life. Junior, Jacob Bilette, with the support of his offensive line was able to rush the ball over thirty yards.
When asked how he prepared for Ford Field mentally and physically, Billete responded, "The coaches always stressed when one man goes down, be the next man up and be ready to go. And, all week at practice, I was just running reps."
Following a handful of incomplete passes, West Bloomfield seemed to gain some confidence and were able to push Clarkston's defensive line back. And, up until the last thirty seconds of the half, Clarkston was losing both crucial yardage and any momentum they appeared to have.
Despite that, in the closing minute of the half, both teams called multiple timeouts. As the seconds dwindled, Clarkston made the decision to go for a field goal at the thirty-yard line.
Senior, Jermaine Roemer, bounces on the balls of his feet before punting the ball successfully through the goal post, earning Clarkston three points.
When asked how he handled the magnitude of the situation, he responded almost nonchalantly. "I really didn't think much of it, I sort of just took it as another kick. I definitely didn't think of it as a game-winning kick."
The third quarter begins uneventfully. West Bloomfield was unable to put yards up against Clarkston's defensive line. It almost seemed as if the pressure from the Wolves disabled the Lakers from completing effective passes.
This concept is especially evident in the fact that Clarkston held possession for eight minutes in the quarter. Also, West Bloomfield's eleven penalties resulted in them losing over a hundred yards.
The third quarter concludes with the Wolves leading by one point. As Clarkston and West Bloomfield walked off the field, they held up four fingers, both teams seemed to be claiming the four quarter, forecasting for an eventful closing.
The fourth quarter opens up with Clarkston losing a few yards after a mishandled ball resulted in a fumble, quickly recovered by CHS's Nate Uballe.
Following a multitude of failed drives where neither team managed to make any definitive strides, the atmosphere in Ford Field became gradually more palpable by each and every play.
As the seconds ticked away, both teams inabilities to move down the field seemed to translate into blatant aggression. In the last two minutes, the Lakers gain possession and begin a last bid attempt to move down the field.
West Bloomfield's quarterback and Bowling Green commit, Bryce Veasley, took a few steps away from the line of scrimmage, and set the ball spiraling through the air to his uncovered wide receiver.
Just as Clarkston's one point lead seemed to be collapsing, Wolves safety Tieler Houston darted towards the receiver, leaped into the air, snatched the ball out of the air for his sixth interception of the season.
With only a minute left to play at Ford Field, Houston's interception secured Clarkston's third state title.
The stadium shook with the mixed vibrations of screams, stomps, and claps. The Clarkston student body known as the "Jungle" valiantly cheered as Clarkston's entire team rushed the field. Players, coaches, and athletic faculty members alike embrace one another.
After the buzz had died down, Michael Fluegel, Clarkston's captain and Columbia University commit, had some advice for remaining lowerclassmen regarding complacency.
"There is always going to be someone who is willing to work harder than you. The guys have to accept that there will be a huge target on their back next season, so they just have to keep working and stay determined."
Clarkston's outstanding football program will no doubt be hotly contested next season, but an entire supportive community will be standing behind them.