By JAMES COOK email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Two teams coming off close losses to their crosstown rivals met up Friday at Thirlby Field.
Only Traverse City Central was able to get the bad taste out of its mouth with a victory.
The Trojans stormed out in the second half to outscore Lapeer East 24-7 over the final 24 minutes in a 31-14 non-conference football victory.
TC Central — which was limited to 40 total yards in the first half and didn’t score on offense — put points on the board the first five times it touched the ball in the second half.
“In the first half, our line wasn’t quite there,” said Trojans fullback and linebacker Joe Schepperly, who scored two second-half touchdowns. “And basically coach challenged us in the locker room to toughen up and go out there and play our best. Our line came through. Seth Tice and all them came through and just were killing people.”
The Trojans (2-2) were coming off a 17-14 setback to Traverse City West, while Lapeer East (2-2) fell to Lapeer West 19-13.
Central’s defense clamped down on the Eagles much of the game, holding Lapeer to 208 yards — only 89 of those in the second half.
“We didn’t do much as far as changing things up,” Trojans coach Tom Passinault said. “We just challenged the kids to block better. We found a set — the double set with Schepperly in the backfield — that was giving them some problems. Excellent win for our team and program, coming off that tough loss last week. I’m extremely proud of our kids on defense. They played great.
“We’re a good football team, and it would have been very frustrating to sit here at 1-3, because I know we’re a good team.”
Schepperly later added a 14-yard TD pass from Sean Williams — who didn’t start, but came in to complete 9 of 13 passes for 78 yards.
Kicker Jake Gorter was 2 for 2 on field goals — hitting from 26 and 31 yards. He was also perfect on all four extra points and booted his first five kickoffs for touchbacks.
Gorter’s 26-yard field goal with 1:33 left in the third was set up by an incredible Zach Egbert catch. The Trojans were going for it on fourth-and-3 from the 39, when it appeared Williams had overthrown a wide-open Egbert behind the Eagle defense, but Egbert jetted under it for a lunging catch at the 7. Gorter’s kick made it 17-7.
Lapeer would come right back to score a touchdown on an eight-play, 80-yard drive with a 4-yard TD run by Division 1 recruit Kyle Rachwal (6-3, 225). The Eagles cut it to 17-14, but that wouldn’t last for long.
Anthony Kratovil took the ensuing kickoff from the 5 and would weave through the Lapeer coverage unit, finally being dragged down after a 92-yard return. Three plays later, Ethan Campbell scored from 2 yards out on a stretch play for a 24-14 lead — and the Trojans would never lead by less that double digits the rest of the way.
“Anthony had some challenges early,” Passinault said. “We kind of threw him into the quarterback position. I’m very proud that he had such a huge play for us. That very well could have been the play of the game. They had just scored, and we took the momentum right back.”
The first half’s biggest play was Alex Liggett’s triple crown. After Central’s first drive ended with a three-and-out, Liggett forced a fumble by Eagles returner Tom Gabryel on the punt. Liggett also scooped up the loose ball and ran it in from 18 yards for a 7-0 Trojan lead 4:51 into the game.
One play — fumble forced, fumble recovered, touchdown.
It was also effectively Central’s only offense of the first half, which ended 7-7.
“At first I thought I missed the tackle, but I ended up getting my hand right on the ball and stripping it,” Liggett said. “Then I saw the ball, grabbed it and just ran.”
It was Liggett’s first varsity touchdown.
“The concern this week was offensively,” Passinault said. “Sean Williams was out with a mild shoulder sprain, and we didn’t think he’d play at all. Each day, he progressed and got better, but we decided to start Anthony. It caused us a few problems with the snap and a few disruptions, so Alex’s touchdown was huge in that it got us on the scoreboard and gave us a little bit of confidence, even though we weren’t able to score on offense.”
Lapeer’s only score of the opening half came one play after Seth Dixon recovered a fumbled shotgun snap, when Elijah Hunt hit Chris Frank on an 8-yard quick hit to the slot to tie up the game with 10:03 remaining.
In the second half, Central put up 181 yards of total offense to Lapeer’s 89. The Trojans’ total could have been bigger, but the defense and special teams set them up with field position deep in Eagles territory twice.
“We knew they were going to be a tough team,” Schepperly said. “They were a big, strong team. We knew we had to power it though. Eventually, it came down to what team was going to hit harder. Just between the tackles, we ran it straight up the middle.”
Austin Podsaid’s interception early in the fourth quarter set up Schepperly’s touchdown catch for a 31-14 lead with 9:41 remaining.
Schepperly rung up 81 rushing yards on just seven carries as three of the first four times he touched the ball went for over 20 yards each.
Josiah Lopez-Wild led the defense with 10 tackles, including sniffing out the Eagles’ direct snap to Rachwal along with Rhys Adle on a fourth-quarter fourth-and-1 that ended the drive and set up Gorter’s second field goal. Adle made eight stops, Schepperly and Mitch Wynkoop made seven tackles each and Daniel Youker six.
Lapeer tailback Travis Merino ran for 92 yards on 12 carries, but left on the third quarter’s final play with a leg injury and didn’t return. Hunt threw for 131 yards on 11 for 20 passing, with Rachwal hauling in 62 yards and Frank 64, both on five receptions.