BY DENNIS CHASE
Mmm, Mmm good.
Ethan Campbell was that and more Friday night at Thirlby Field.
The Traverse City Central sophomore, a supporting cast member in the season’s first five games, took on a leading role before an overflow crowd in sparking the Trojans to a rousing 42-28 Big North Conference win over arch-rival Traverse City West.
Campbell figured in the scoring four different ways, giving coach Tom Passinault his biggest win at Central.
Combining speed, power and vision, Campbell scored on a 99-yard kick return, a 22-yard run, a 33-yard pass from T.J. Schepperly and — for his encore — tossed a 28-yard halfback pass to T.J. Schwannecke on a 4th down play with 5:26 remaining that sealed it.
Campbell came into the game with 14 carries for 128 yards — his entire season total. On Friday, he toted the ball 14 times for 107 yards .
He was a difference-maker on a night that Central needed a pickup after losing one of its best players to injury. Linebacker-fullback Nate Pupel suffered a deep thigh bruise in last Friday’s win at Ogemaw Heights and was unable to go in this showdown.
Enter Campbell, who made the most of his opportunity.
“We lost Nate Pupel, so I started running some more and I shined,” Campbell said. “I did what I could for my team to win.”
Did he ever.
Campbell’s impact was almost immediate. After West scored on its opening drive, Campbell returned the ensuing kick for a touchdown, taking the momentum away from the Titans.
“I’ve never felt anything like it,” Campbell said. “It was the greatest thing ever. I was so pumped.’
And that was just the start.
His 22-yard scoring run came with just 35.8 seconds left before half and it gave the Trojans a 21-7 lead. Campbell had a big run just before that to setup the score. Those two bursts came after it looked like Central might just try to run out the clock.
Campbell’s third tally, the 33-yard pass reception, came after the Titans, trying to keep the ball away from Schepperly and Schwannecke, netted just nine yards on a punt that went out of bounds at the Titans 25.
Schepperly and Campbell made the Titans pay for it, too.
West tried to mount a seismic comeback behind quarterback Donny Cizek. The Titans went to a no-huddle spread attack and quickly struck for two scores to tighten the game at 28-21.
With Cizek’s ability to throw, the Titans never seemed out of it. He finished 17 of 27 for 390 yards and three touchdowns.
But Schepperly dashed 60 yards for a touchdown and then Campbell’s pass to Schwannecke on the Trojans next possession put it away.
It, obviously, was a big win for Central. The two teams entered the contest with identical 4-1 overall records, 3-0 in the Big North. Much was at stake.
Central played with an attitude. Sometimes the aggressive play backfired — the Trojans were flagged with some inopportune penalties — but that passion carried the team.
The Titans, meanwhile, had two first-half turnovers in Central territory that thwarted drives, and eventually put them in a hole.
Overall, the fans — officials estimated the crowd at about 9,000 — certainly were entertained on a beautiful fall night for football.
And in the process, a new name emerged.